The Best Years of Our Lives
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It's the hope that sustains the spirit of every GI: the dream of the day when he will finally return home. For three WWII veterans, the day has arrived. But for each man, the dream is about to becomea nightmare. Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) is returning to a loveless marriage; Sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March) is a stranger to a family that's grown up without him; and young sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) is tormented by the loss of his hands. Can these three men find the courage to rebuild their world? Or are the best years of their lives a thing of the past? Featuring a brilliant cast that includes Myrna Loy and Virginia Mayo, this postwar classic garnered* seven OscarsÂ(r), including Best Picture. Heart-wrenching, touching and "filled with emotional dynamite" (The Hollywood Reporter), it remains "one of the best films about war veterans ever made" (American Movie Classics). *1946: Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Writing/Screenplay, Film Editing, Music/Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
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Top Customer Reviews
Keeping in mind it's a film from 1946, it looks outstanding. Film grain is present, showing Warner Brothers thankfully did not DNR the film into oblivion, yet there are no obvious flecks or spots in the picture, indicating a meticulous restoration took place.
The (thankfully!!!) mono DTS-HD audio track is excellent as well; Hugo Friedhofer's beautiful soundtrack has never sounded better.
I've never seen this film look better except when I've seen a pristine 35mm print shown at an excellent film venue.
The new Blu-ray also includes the introductory and ending interviews with Virginia Mayo and Teresa Wright shot for the Pioneer Special Edition Laserdisc release in 1995.
I only wish they would have included the Laserdisc's isolated score track, which is still the only source for the ORIGINAL score for the film as the original recording of the soundtrack as was used in the film was never released on an audio format (LP or CD) (any soundtrack recordings available are new recordings of the score being performed by other performers.)
If you love this film or even only like it, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy - a complete steal at the current price (that Pioneer Laserdisc release was itself $39.98 back in 1995!!)
This film was directed by the legendary William Wyler (who also did the hallowed 1959 version "Ben-Hur") and the "Best Years of Our Lives" was immensely popular at the Box-office in America's immediate post-WWII period and went on to win numerous Academy Awards (in 1947) for Best Picture, Actor, supporting Actor, Director, Screenplay, Music-Score and Editing
The main strength of this film comes by way of its authenticity and willingness to present the more realistic and sometimes disheartening realities faced by Veterans (and former heroes) that have basically sacrificed everything for their Country - but unfortunately don't always receive a hero's welcome when they return home, and do their level-best to just try to 'get-on' with their lives and deal with the basics like holding down a decent job and simply re-acclimating into everyday society
The cast is excellent and includes much of Hollywood's A-Team at the time: Frederic March (who won Oscar for best-actor), Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Virginia Mayo and a novice (but amazingly-talented) actor in his first-role Harold Russell who in real-Life had lost both hands in an explosion during WWII and throughout the film uses his prosthetic-limbs to accomplish just about everything 'normal' hands can do - Russell also deservedly won best supporting-actor for this role.
Of course "Best Years of Our Lives" was released in 1946 and, therefore still approached the story from a partially 'old-school' vantage point (for example it doesn't directly-explicitly address the more modern highlighted issues of life-threatening PTSD or suicides, etc. although there are moments when some of the returning veterans do re-live/re-experience traumatic WWII flashbacks-nightmares)
But you still have to give this film much credit for going as far as it did (for the era) and I think it was the first Hollywood film to show vets with life-altering injuries-disabilities (resulting in losses of confidence that must be regained thru perseverance) and the idea that society did not necessarily welcome all vets back with open-arms and did not always provide opportunities for good jobs-good careers upon return - this is certainly true of Dana Andrews character 'Captain Fred Derry' an 'ace' bomber-pilot who attained the rank of Officer, but upon return can only qualify for the same type of minimum-wage job (i.e. server at a 'Soda-fountain') that he had as a teenager before entering WWII. And Harold Russell as 'Homer Parrish' who struggles to adjust to his prosthetic-hands and delivers the most moving performance trying to remain externally upbeat, but inwardly wrestling with issues of self-confidence that inadvertently cause him to coldly cast-aside his faithful pre-War girlfriend 'Wilma' played by Cathy O'Donnell (at least until Homer can fully come to terms with his new situation/reality and recognize his genuine 'good-fortunes' in Life)
This is a truly great film that makes you think about the hardships that nearly all veterans (who witnessed intensive-combat first hand) must directly deal with upon return (whether confronting physical or emotional traumas).
"Best Years of Our Lives" also makes you realize that even though the ultimate-objectives and moral-imperatives of WWII were crystal-clear and beyond question (I.e. resisting-defeating fascism and directly saving-defending pluralistic-democracy's very existence) returning WWII veterans still did not always receive the full-measure of welcome and dignity from society that they fully deserved = imagine how much more difficult it must be for the veterans returning today?
** DVD UPDATE: The January 2013 re-issue DVD offers NO improvement in picture or sound quality from previous DVD releases (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo). Beyond cosmetic changes to the box - this edition brings back the 1995 interviews with Virginia Mayo and Teresa Wright that were on the 1997 HBO Video DVD release of this film - and improves the look of the English subtitles - which were all left off the MGM DVD release in 2000. The January 2013 DVD release is a "must" ONLY if you want everything previously released - on one disc. Remember, the 1997 HBO Video issue was a "flipper" - part 1 of the movie and special features were on side one, part 2 of the movie was on side two. The 2000 MGM issue had NO English subtitles and NO special features other than an old trailer. The January 2013 issue has the entire movie, subtitles and all the aforementioned special features on one side of the disc, with "no flipping" required.
ORIGINAL CONTENT REVIEW BELOW.
* Just before legendary director William Wyler died, equally legendary director Billy Wilder was interviewed about his feelings about Wyler's films, from "Best Years of Our Lives" to "Roman Holiday" to "Ben Hur" to "Funny Girl."
* Wilder, a tough man who hated schmaltz and sentiment, the director of such classics as "Some Like it Hot," "The Apartment," "The Seven Year Itch" and "Sunset Boulevard," suddenly got emotional, expressing great affection for "The Best Years of Our Lives," noting that it was one of the best films he had ever seen.
* He reacted the way I reacted. He said that it was the only film that he could remember where he and the entire audience were drenched in tears within the first 10 minutes. It was an unforgettable experience for him, and he recognized immediately that "The Best Years of Our Lives" was obviously a deeply personal work for Wyler, where every scene, every frame, every note of music and word of dialogue, rang true with authenticity and emotion. This was Wyler's territory. He knew the material. And many of the scenes that were shot mirrored his own experiences when he returned home from war.
* This is why, after so many viewings, I still can't get over the fact that no matter how many times I say to myself, "I'm not going to be moved by this or that scene," I fail miserably. I just can't help it. To say that this is a great film is an understatement of the highest order. And yet I can only count on one hand the number of friends I know who have seen this film from start to finish. I think the running length has something to do with it. You never see it on commercial television at all and unless you're lucky enough to have cable, you'll miss it entirely. And it's not a film that people are banging down the doors to rent.
* The wonderful thing about "The Best Years of Our Lives" is that it still holds up beautifully, unlike a lot of films that seem awkward or stilted. Fredric March, as the patriarch of the family (in an Oscar winning role), is stupendous. His acting and delivery of lines seems effortless and spontaneous, not the product of a script recited from memory. And to have Myrna Loy as his partner and the wonderful Teresa Wright playing his daughter (the latter an Oscar winner a few years earlier in "Mrs. Miniver"), how can you lose?
* Like all great films, time has no meaning. The story sweeps you along like a great wave -- a ride -- that you never want to end. The famous "long hallway homecoming shot" that appears in the first 10 minutes of the film -- I don't care that it's the scene that most people remember and is usually the ONLY scene that turns up in any highlight reel of greatest films ever made -- it gets me every time.
* And the ending, the last line from the movie, the one uttered by Dana Andrews -- despite the sentimental setting -- is so fabulously understated and cynical and yet filled with such hope, that you can't help but be -- what I describe as being -- "happily devastated." It's a wonderful ending that purposely leaves you guessing about what will become of the characters played by Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews, but you can't help but feel that their future looks bright in spite of their apparent state of destitution.
* I just wish more people would see this film. There's a treasure chest of great movies from the past that people overlook every day. This is one of them. I pity people who still buy or rent movies based on slick packaging alone.
* I would rather pay $10 to see this film on the big screen or less than $20 to own this film so I can see it on a little screen -- than pay about $4 to rent junk that has a good looking box -- and a few great critical reviews from people you've never heard of.
* Some films are good enough to rent, but only a few films are good enough to buy. "The Best Years of Our Lives" is a film to BUY.
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