The Best Years of Our Lives is an Oscar-winning classic about three servicemen readjusting to life following World War 2.
Three returning veterans, Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), and Al Stephenson (Fredric March), meet when flying to their home in Boone City. All of them aren’t doing well when it comes to readjusting to post-war life. Al, with a family and two children, may be in the best position as he returns to work at a bank. Homer, engaged to Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell), doesn’t want to force his handicap on his fiance. Regardless of how Homer might think, Wilma still wants to marry him. Meanwhile soda jerk Fred married Marie (Virginia Mayo) before the war. Upon Fred’s return, Marie’s interests lie elsewhere.
Don’t let the length fool you. If you were able to sit through Avengers: Endgame, you’ll be able to sit through this film. I admit that my long-overdue viewing of William Wyler’s classic is because of the time commitment. However, there’s plenty of time right now so I figured why the hell not sit down and watch it. Though in my case, it’s more like lay down in the bed but I digress.
This is a film that’s full of top-notch acting performances. It’s no surprise because Wyler was one of the best directors of his era. This film earned him one of his three Oscars for Best Director. On top of that, The Best Years of Our Lives began a collaboration with cinematographer Gregg Toland. Pay attention to the bar scene and you’ll see the deep focus style in action.
It’s often seen as a risk to cast an unknown. Obviously, the leading roles went to mostly known actors. You’d be a fool to not cast known actors if you want to bring in money. At the same time, the role of Petty Officer 2nd Class Homer Parrish went to Harold Russell. Like his character, Russell lost both arms in the war. And yet, he would go on to earn an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. In many ways, his win was a shock. The Academy decided to give him an honorary award especially since he wasn’t expected to win. Lo and behold, Harold Russell became the only person in history to take home two Oscars for the same role!
While Robert E. Sherwood’s script was based on MacKinlay Kantor’s novel, it’s a subject that Wyler was all too familiar with. Like many others from the era, Wyler volunteered during World War 2. Serving as a major, he would film some documentaries. Wyler is able to direct the film by drawing on own experiences not just in the war but in returning to a post-war America.
Whenever The Best Years of Our Lives is scheduled to air on TCM, it’s definitely worth the time to watch the classic.
DIRECTOR: William Wyler
SCREENWRITER: Robert E. Sherwood
CAST: Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell