The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Approved   |    |  Drama, Romance, War


The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) Poster

Three World War II veterans return home to small-town America to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed.

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  • "Best Years of Our Lives, The (1946)" Myrna Loy & Teresa Wright
  • Dana Andrews & Teresa Wright
  • Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • Myrna Loy and Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • Dana Andrews and Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • Myrna Loy and Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

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23 April 2007 | bkoganbing
10
| The People's War Veterans Return Home
One of the great things about The Best Years of Our Lives that even though it dates itself rather firmly in the post World War II era, the issues it talks about are as real today as they were on V-E or V-J day of 1945. The problem of how to assimilate returning war veterans is as old as the written history of our planet.

And while we don't often learn from history, we can be thankful that for once the United States of America did learn from what happened with its veterans after the previous World War. The GI Bill of Rights is mentioned in passing in The Best Years of Our Lives was possibly the greatest piece of social legislation from the last century. So many veterans did take advantage of it as do the veterans like Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell who you see here.

All three of those actors played archetypal veterans, characters that every corner of the USA could identify with. They all meet on an army transport plane flying to the home town of all of them, Boone City, Iowa.

War is a great leveler of class and distinction. Bank employee March, soda jerk Andrews, and high school football star Russell probably would never meet in real life even in a small town like Boone City. But they do meet and war forges indestructible bonds that can never be broken.

March is the oldest, a man with two children and Hollywood's perfect wife Myrna Loy. He settles in the first and the best. He has some wonderful scenes, getting cockeyed drunk on his return and later with a little bit of liquor in him, tells the bank officials at a banquet off in no uncertain terms.

I also love his scene where another returning veteran, a sharecropper wants to get a bank loan for his own piece of land. Watch March's expressions as he listens to the man's pitch for money. You can feel him read the man's soul. It's what got him his Second Best Actor Oscar for this film.

Harold Russell was a real veteran who lost both his hands during service in the Pacific. He got a special recognition Oscar for his performance. Because of that it was probably unfair to nominate him in the Supporting Actor category which he also won in. His performance, especially his scenes with Cathy O'Donnell as his sweetheart who loves him with or without his hands, is beyond anything that could be described as acting.

Dana Andrews is the only officer of the three, a bombardier in the Army Air Corps. Of the group of them, maybe he should have stayed in. He also comes from the poorest background of the group and he was an officer and a gentleman in that uniform. That uniform and those monthly allotment checks are what got Virginia Mayo interested enough to marry him. The problem is that he's considerably less in her eyes as a civilian.

While Mayo is fooling around with Steve Cochran, Andrews has the great good fortune to have March's daughter Teresa Wright take an interest in him. They're the main story of the film, Andrews adjustment to civilian life and adjusting to the fact he married the wrong woman. Not all veteran's problems were solved with GI Bill.

Myrna Loy gets little recognition for The Best Years of Our Lives. My guess is that it's because her role as wife was too much like the stereotypical wife roles she had patented over at MGM. Still as wife to March and mother to Wright she really is the glue that holds that family together.

The Best Years of Our Lives won for Best Picture for Sam Goldwyn, Best Director for William Wyler and a few others besides the two acting Oscars it got. It was a critical and popular success, possibly the best film Sam Goldwyn ever produced. It remains to this day an endearing and enduring classic and will be so for centuries. It's almost three hours in length, but never once will your interest wane.

The best tribute this film received came from Frank Capra who had a film of his own in the Oscar sweepstakes that year in several categories. In his memoirs he said that he was disappointed to be skunked at the Oscars that year, but that his friend and colleague William Wyler had created such a masterpiece he deserved every award he could get for it.

By the way, the film Capra had hopes for was It's A Wonderful Life. The Beat Years of Our Lives can't get better praise than that.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

According to his biographer A. Scott Berg, producer Samuel Goldwyn re-released the film in a modified format to play on wide screens. It opened with all the hoopla of a new picture, including a gala premiere in Washington, DC, on February 3, 1954, with Sherman Adams, five Supreme Court justices, two cabinet members and 24 senators in attendance. There was a $250,000 campaign advertising it as "The Most Honored Picture of All Time". The film grossed another $1 million.


Quotes

Homer Parrish: I'm lucky. I have my elbows. Some of the boys don't. But I can't button them up.
Wilma Cameron: I'll do that, Homer.
Homer Parrish: This is when I know I'm helpless. My hands are down there on the bed. I can't put them on again without calling to somebody for help. I can't smoke...


Goofs

During Al Stephenson's speech at the bank get-together party, he talks about his division being in Okinawa. The 25th Infantry Division (Tropic Lightning), was part of the Luzon campaign that started January 1945 and ended with the divisions relief at the end of June 1945. At no time was the 25th on Okinawa. The divisions that did participate in the Okinawan campaign (April 1 - June 22, 1945) were the: 7th, 96th, 27th, and 77th Infantry Divisions of the army and the 1st, 2nd, and 6th Marine Divisions.


Crazy Credits

Only twelve cast members are listed in the opening credits. Cathy O'Donnell receives an "and introducing" credit before her name. Victor Cutler, who plays Woody, is listed last in the opening credits but does not appear in the cast list of 23 names in the end credits.


Alternate Versions

The film was modified to play on a wide screen and reissued on February 3, 1954.


Soundtracks

Chopsticks
(1877) (uncredited)
Music by
Euphemia Allen
Played on piano by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Russell

Storyline

Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Drama | Romance | War

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