Friday, November 11, 2011
The Best Years of Our Lives (5 stars)
The Best Years of Our Lives, the Academy Award winning film from 1946, is our family's annual Veteran's Day movie. I have to admit, that is a hardship for me. Oh, not because I don't like it...on the contrary. I absolutely, totally love this film. It is easily one of my top ten favorite movies of all time, which means, I really would prefer to watch it more often than once a year; however, to keep it "special," watching it once a year is precisely what I am doing. (Sort of like keeping It's a Wonderful Life for the once-a-year Christmas night viewing.) Since today is Veteran's Day, it's time for me to enjoy this beloved film once more, and even though most everyone probably knows it, I'm re-running the review I posted when I first began this blog in February.
The Best Years of Our Lives was the Academy Award winner for best picture in 1946. In fact, it won many Oscars that year, including Fredric March for Best Actor and Harold Russell for Best Supporting Actor and William Wyler for Best Director. It was this movie that shut-down the beloved It's a Wonderful Life in the Oscars that year.
A bit on the long side (about ten minutes shy of three hours), The Best Years of Our Lives is a wonderful movie that explores a problem that was very much in existence in those early days after the second world war....the plight of the war veterans who were returning home to a country that in many ways had gone on without them while they were away. The movie stars Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Harold Russell, and Virginia Mayo.
The movie begins when Al Stevenson (Fredric March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), all war veterans from different branches of the service, attempt to find flights home to the hometown they share in common. Unable to find an available commercial flight, they are routed onto a military craft, and lifelong friendships are born as the men get to know one another.
Al is an Army veteran who has been married to Millie (Myrna Loy) for twenty years and has two upper teenage children. Fred, a bomber pilot, had a whirlwind romance and married Marie (Virginia Mayo) only a few short days before leaving for war. And Homer, who joined the Navy fresh out of high school, has two hooks in place of arms, the result of a shipboard tragedy. (I must digress here and say that Harold Russell, who plays Homer, was not a professional actor at all. Rather, like his character, he was a real disabled Navy veteran, who had lost his arms at sea...He actually won two Academy Awards for this role...the best supporting actor and an achievement award as well.)
Anyhow, the men's arrival home is difficult, as life has gone on without them. Al barely recognizes his children, so grown they are. Fred's wife has taken a job and moved out of his parents' home and into an apartment of her own. And when he finally tracks her down, she is none too keen on the fact that he is not a man in uniform anymore. And Homer, painfully aware that his two hooks are disturbing for his family and high school sweetheart to look at, withdraws into himself.
The first night home, Al takes his wife and daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) to a local bar, where he unexpectedly meets up with his two new friends, Fred and Homer. When Al and Fred end up totally drunk and completely passed out, Millie and Peggy take them back to the Stevenson apartment so they can sleep it off. Peggy puts Fred in her bed, removes his shoes, and heads to the couch. In the middle of the night, however, she is awakened by Fred screaming, as he has a nightmare about a bombing raid. She soothes him, and then they both go back to sleep. In the morning, she drives him to his wife's apartment, and there is a definite connection between them.
Fred's reunion with his wife does not go well. She doesn't like that he now needs to find a civilian job or the fact that he is a man out of uniform. (The uniform was one of the reasons she had wanted to marry him!!) Add to that, she wants to party and be out all the time, including hanging out with other men. When the only job Fred is able to obtain is as a soda jerk at the drugstore where he formerly worked, Marie belittles him.
Al, who is a bank executive, begins to be unsettled with the bank's treatment of war veterans who are applying for loans. When these men, who have faithfully served their country, are denied loans because of insufficient collateral, Al is angered and often attempts to extend loans anyway.
And Homer, feeling like a freak show with his two hooks, is angry all the time. He no longer wants to marry Wilma and completely withdraws from her...and everyone, except for Al and Fred.
To reveal anything more about this movie would spoil your viewing pleasure, so I'll stop here. I hope that I've whet your appetite, that I've made you interested in the characters so that you want to discover how things turn out. I totally love this movie....it's on my top 10 list, and although I am an It's a Wonderful Life fan, I am SO in agreement with all the awards The Best Years of Our Lives racked up.
Not only is this film out on DVD, but TCM airs it frequently, so you shouldn't have a problem tracking it down. I think it's a definite must-see!! Happy viewing!!