The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Directed by William Wyler
Written by Robert E. Sherwood
Based on the novel by MacKinlay Kantor
Starring: Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Harold Russell
Al (March), Fred (Andrews), and Homer (Russell) are headed home after serving in the military during WWII. Despite being anxious to get home, each of them has apprehension over going back to a normal life. As they begin to acclimate themselves to the changes, they begin to see just how much has changed in their small hometown and in the people they love.
This Best Picture winner was directed by the incredible William Wyler (Roman Holiday). His work came from the novel by MacKinlay Kantor (Follow Me, Boys!) which was adapted for the film by Robert E. Sherwood (Rebecca). This film also features a great cast, including Frederic March (A Star is Born (1937)), Dana Andrews (Laura), Myrna Loy (Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)), and Harold Russell (Inside Moves). This combination of talented cast, writers, and director put together an incredible film. The movie not only won Best Picture, but was also the winner of six additional awards. This included Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role (March), Best Supporting Actor (Russell), Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Score. The film was also nominated for Best Sound, losing out to The Jolson Story.
This movie also earned Harold Russell an honorary Oscar “for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives”. Russell had been injured while training as a paratrooper, and later went on to star in training films for other injured soldiers. To date, Russell is the only actor to receive two Oscars for the same role. Later, he also founded AMVETS, an organization similar in purpose to the American Legion.
This is a powerful film, made in the wake of World War II. The film must have touched on some very sensitive issues when it was released soon after the end of the war. Audiences and critics both praised the film, which benefited from a wonderful script. In an era of rebuilding, the movie has a redeeming quality to the post-war outlook. Bosley Crowther of the New York Time stated that “Mr. Sherwood and Mr. Wyler have achieved some of the most beautiful and inspiring demonstrations of human fortitude that we have had in films.”
The film goes to great efforts to address some of the challenges of the returning soldiers. This includes some of the more powerful visuals in a film from this era. Harold Russell, who had lost his hands, put this challenge on full display throughout the film. The film makers also chose not to avoid the issues of trauma and substance abuse so common amongst returning soldiers. This decision to confront these issues, and many more, is where this movie becomes a classic.
My criticism with this film comes from the way some of the issues are resolved within the story. Understandably, this movie was not going to seek out the worst-case scenarios, but some of the resolutions are too clean. This is likely something far more expected and maybe even necessary for the original audiences. Those viewers were likely uninterested in seeing nothing but harsh truths, so the film does include some Hollywood magic.
If you’re a fan of human drama this is a movie you need to see. In some ways this is a war movie, focusing on the battles fought by the men trying to assimilate back into normal life. If you’re a fan of any of the stars in this one, this is a must-see movie. I would also recommend this to anyone who is interested in the outlook of post-war America. I give this one 4.5 out of 5 stars.
I love this movie. Nice review!
Thanks for reading! I’m always surprised by these types of films. They really step outside of the formula most movies on this era relied on.