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Film Review: The Best Years of Our Lives
In 1946, William Wyler released The Best Years of Our Lives, inspired by an article in the August 1944 edition of Time Magazine. Starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O’Donnell, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Russell, Gladys George Roman Bohnen, Ray Collins, and Minna Gombell, Grossing $23.7 million at the box office, the film won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Music, an honorary award for Russell and a Memorial Award for Samuel Goldwyn and was nominated for the award for Best Sound Recording. It also won the Golden Globe Awards for Best Dramatic Motion Picture and a Special Award for Best Non-Professional Acting.
Following the end of World War II, servicemen Fred Derry, Homer Parrish, and Al Stephenson return home to their loved ones. However, they have varying levels of success in adjusting to postwar life. Al struggles to reconnect with his family, Homer can’t stand the pity he detects and Fred can only hold a job as a soda jerk while discovering the woman he marries wasn’t worth it.
One of the first films that showed war as it was, The Best Years of Our Lives is very well done. It doesn’t show any battles during the story, rather the audience sees all the damage a war veteran brings back with him. And with the film following three different men and their attempts to readust to civilian life, the film does well in giving each character enough screen time.
First, there’s Al who is a wealthy banker and was a sergeant during the war. While he does come back to a loving family, Al finds that he can’t relate to his wife or children and that makes sense as the kids grew up without him and his wife had to take care of them on her own. Missing all those years will have a negative effect on being able to understanding someone. Combined with the bank dragging its feet at giving other veterans loans, he starts becoming an alcoholic. However, when a veteran he came home with steps up for a fellow veteran, it prompts him to stand up to the bank himself and give a speech, encouraging them to invest in the men that sacrificed for the country. Al’s experiences, while they damaged his personal life, helped him to stand up for what’s right, albeit with a little prompting.
Then there’s Fred, who was a bomber pilot in the war. He comes home and starts having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, prompting bad dreams. Further, he can’t seem to hold a job down and is continually finding out that his marrying right before the war was ill-conceived and that his marriage to Marie wasn’t the idyllic situation that he had built up in his mind and was looking forward to on his way home. However, things do look up for him when he goes to an airplane scrap yard and gets the memories out of his head as it brings about a construction job. There’s also Peggy who realizes that his and Marie’s marriage is practically a sham and wrecks the home, causing her and Fred to get together. Fred’s experiences also ruined his personal and professional life, but also show what a rash decision like getting married primarily due to going off to war can do upon returning. Yet it also shows that there were things worth waiting for.
Finally, there’s Homer, who lost his hands and is ashamed of the artificial hooks he’s been given as they make him feel uncomfortable around anyone. However, despite the overwhelming self-consciousness, they don’t actually impede Homer in any way as he’s able to write a check (which is what prompts Al to stand up) and do a great many other things. And while he sees said hooks as his only feature, most other characters either don’t care or help Homer through the shame. Homer’s experiences show that while his physical appearance was changed during the war, he’s still the same man and though he may hate himself for it what he look like, those who matter look through it to the real Homer. It eventually leads him to marrying his childhood sweetheart.
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