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Sevastyan Antonov
Sevastyan Antonov

The Best Years Of Our Lives(1946)

Al, Millie, and Peggy attend Homer's and Wilma's wedding, where Fred is best man. Now divorced, Fred reunites with Peggy after the ceremony. Fred expresses his love but tells her things may be financially difficult if she stays with him. Peggy's smile makes it clear she will remain committed to Fred.

The Best Years of Our Lives(1946)

Teresa Wright was only thirteen years younger than her on-screen mother, played by Myrna Loy. Michael Hall (1926-2020), at the time of his death the last surviving credited cast member, with his role as Fredric March's on-screen son, is absent after the first third of the film. The reason was that Hall's contract with Goldwyn ended during filming, but the producer was reluctant to pay extra money to rehire him.[8]

It is seldom that there comes a motion picture which can be wholly and enthusiastically endorsed not only as superlative entertainment, but as food for quiet and humanizing thought... In working out their solutions, Mr. Sherwood and Mr. Wyler have achieved some of the most beautiful and inspiring demonstrations of human fortitude that we have had in films." He also said the ensemble casting gave the "'best' performance in this best film this year from Hollywood".[17]

Homer thinks maybe they should stop at his Uncle Butch's saloonfor a drink before they get home. "You're home now, kid," the olderman Al tells him. Three military veterans have just returned to their hometownof Boone City, somewhere in the Midwest, and each in his own way is dreadinghis approaching reunion. Al's dialogue brings down the curtain on theapprehensive first act of William Wyler's "The Best Years of OurLives" (1946), the first film to win eight Academy Awards (one honorary)and at the time second only to "Gone With the Wind" at the U.S. boxoffice. Seen more than six decades later, it feels surprisingly modern: lean,direct, honest about issues that Hollywood then studiously avoided. After thewar years of patriotism and heroism in the movies, this was a sobering look atthe problems veterans faced when they returned home.

That'swhy Homer wanted to stop for the drink. When he left for the war, he had anunderstanding with Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell), the girl next door, but now hefears how she will react to his artificial hands. The other men have fears,too. Fred, raised in a shack by the tracks and working as a drugstore soda jerkwhen he enlisted, quickly married the sexy Marie (Virginia Mayo), who hasstopped writing him. Al has been married for 20 years to Milly (Myrna Loy), andhas a son Rob (Michael Hall) and a daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright). They welcomehim home with love and hugs, but he doesn't feel right; his children havechanged, his life has changed, and after Rob goes to bed he suddenly remembersButch's bar and suggests his wife and daughter join him for a celebration.

Russellwon an honorary Oscar, "for bringing hope and courage to his fellowveterans through his appearance." Although he was actually nominated forbest supporting actor, the Academy board voted the special award because theythought he didn't have a chance of winning. They were wrong. He won the Oscar,the only time an actor has been given two Oscars for the same role. The filmalso won for best picture, actor (March), director, screenplay, editing andscore.

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 become a nightmare. Captain Fred Derry is returning to a loveless marriage; Sergeant Al Stephenson is a stranger to a family that's grown up without him; and young sailor Homer Parrish 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?

The Best Years of Our Lives is classical Hollywood at its finest. Here is a humanist film, with sympathies for the ordinary man. It comes from a point in time when society was transforming. The American economy and way of life was drastically affected by World War Two. This was a rare time when the West embraced a belief in helping individuals and sharing economic prosperity. Yet returning to civilian life, soldiers found their years spent away prevented them from getting jobs. Injuries and nightmares plague those who return. The Best Years of Our Lives depicts these realities. It must have been incredibly affecting for those who saw it on initial release.

The ironic title refers to the troubling fact that many servicemen had 'the best years of their lives' in wartime, not in their experiences afterwards in peacetime America when they were forced to adapt to the much-changed demands and became the victims of dislocating forces. However, it could be argued that the servicemen also gave up and sacrificed 'the best years of their lives' - their youthful innocence and health - by serving in the military and becoming disjointed from normal civilian life. [Photographs in the houses of each of the returning servicemen recall an earlier time that was irretrievably past.]

As they pass over the country beneath them with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, Fred and Al talk about their uncertain future, and their 'rehabilitative' transition and homecoming to the 'real-world' (and relationships) after many years of service for their country. Al is a middle-aged husband in a long-term marriage, but Fred was married to a war bride during basic training only a few weeks before becoming a bomber pilot:

Fred: Do you remember what it felt like when we went overseas? Al: As well as I remember my own name. Fred: I feel the same way now - only more so. Al: I know what you mean. Fred: Just nervous out of the service, I guess. Al: The thing that scares me most is that everybody is gonna try to rehabilitate me. Fred: All I want's a good job, a mild future, a little house big enough for me and my wife. Give me that much and I'm rehabilitated (he clicks his fingers) like that. Al: Well, I'd say that's not too much to ask. Fred: Are you married, Al? Al: Yup. Fred: How long? Al: Twenty years. Fred: Twenty years?! Holy smoke! We didn't even have twenty days before I went over. I married a girl I met when I was in training in Texas. Al: Well, now you and your wife will have a chance to get acquainted.

Bound together as friends after clustered together on the plane, they share the back seat in a taxi-cab ride to their separate hometown addresses. They glance at all the significant changes and how they have fallen behind the times as they drive by: the local baseball park, kids riding a hot-rod jalopy, a hot dog stand, a 5 and 10 Woolworth's department store, a fire station, a used car lot, a diner, and Butch Engle's place with a new neon sign ("the best joint in town"), a saloon run by Homer's uncle. Signs of a return to normality and civilian life are everywhere. Their three faces are grouped together in a shot of the rear-view mirror. Homer is reluctant about being dropped off first: "I wonder if Wilma's home?" Dreading facing Wilma and her reaction to his 'hooks,' he suggests they instead go to Butch's for a couple of drinks. Resolute, Al reminds Homer that he's actually home: "You're home now, kid."

These are some fancy recommendations to be tossing boldly forth about a film which runs close to three hours and covers a lot of humanity in that time. Films of such bulky proportions usually turn out the other way. But this one is plainly a labor not only of understanding but of love from three men who put their hearts into it--and from several others who gave it their best work. William Wyler, who directed, was surely drawing upon the wells of his richest talent and experience with men of the Air Forces during the war. And Robert E. Sherwood, who wrote the screen play from a story by MacKinlay Kantor, called "Glory for Me," was certainly giving genuine reflection to his observations as a public pulse-feeler these past six years. Likewise, Mr. Goldwyn, who produced, must have seen this film to be the fulfillment of a high responsibility. All their efforts are rewarded eminently.

It is wholly impossible--and unnecessary--to single out any one of the performers for special mention. Fredric March is magnificent as the sergeant who breaks the ice with his family by taking his wife and daughter on a titanic binge. His humor is sweeping yet subtle, his irony is as keen as a knife and he is altogether genuine. This is the best acting job he has ever done. Dana Andrews is likewise incisive as the Air Forces captain who goes through a grueling mill, and a newcomer, Harold Russell, is incredibly fine as the sailor who has lost his hands. Mr. Russell, who actually did lose his hands in the service and does use "hooks," has responded to the tactful and restrained direction of Mr. Wyler in a most sensitive style.

As the wife of the sergeant, Myrna Loy is charmingly reticent and Teresa Wright gives a lovely, quiet performance as their daughter who falls in love with the airman. Virginia Mayo is brassy and brutal as the latter's two-timing wife and Cathy O'Donnell, a new, young actress, plays the sailor's fiancee tenderly. Hoagy Carmichael, Roman Bohnen and Ray Collins will have to do with a warm nod. For everyone gives a "best" performance in this best film this year from Hollywood.

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But who stops to think of what happens when war is over? The Spanish film Bienvenido, Mr Marshall! did explore this idea in a humorous way, but from the point of view of people who were mostly non-combatants in the war itself. What happens, however, to men who have spent a few years in battle, men who have actually been in combat, and that too on the other side of the world from where they usually live? What happens when men come back to their everyday lives, their families and friends, to find that their world has moved on? And that they, too, have changed? 041b061a72


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