The Best Years Of Our Lives
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Three enlisted men face an uncertain future at the end of World War II. Banker Al Stephenson comes home to a family that has grown up while he was away at war and a job where his bosses have little interest in supporting the men who risked their lives in the name of freedom. Fred Derry faces a dead end job and a war bride he barely knows. After losing his hands in battle, Homer Parrish has a harder time adjusting to others' attitudes and his own fear of pity than any physical challenges. Their challenges capture the spirit of a country recovering from a war that affected the lives of every American.
The Best Years of Our Lives was the first major Hollywood production to deal with the problems faced by veterans returning from World War II. At the time, most producers thought the war-weary public was more interested in escapist entertainment, but Goldwyn proved them wrong by turning this into the top-grossing picture of the decade.
Independent producer Sam Goldwyn got the idea for a film about veterans re-adjusting to home life after World War II when his wife, Francis, pointed out a photo in the August 7, 1944 issue of Time magazine. It depicted a group of homecoming Marines leaning out a railway car on which someone had written "Home Again!" in chalk. The story itself dealt with the mixed emotions the men would face on returning to their families and the jobs they held before the war.
Fredric March had worked with Goldwyn twice before, on The Dark Angel (1935) and the disastrous We Live Again (1934), and wasn't too keen on leaving Broadway to work with the producer again. When he lost the lead in Life With Father to William Powell, however, he decided to give the film a shot. Ironically, neither he nor co-star Dana Andrews had served in the war, and March had been a frequent target of conservative commentators for his liberal politics.
Myrna Loy was already considered the screen's perfect wife because of her Thin Man films at MGM, but had made few films recently because of her work for the war effort. Unsure about her willingness to take a secondary role in which she would have a grown daughter, Goldwyn invited her to his home for dinner, where he charmed her into taking the part. She had no problems with the role's size or the character's age, but was concerned about working with William Wyler. "I hear he's a sadist," she confided in Goldwyn. "That isn't true," he retorted. "He's just a very mean fellow." She signed for the role anyway, and her agent secured her top billing.
In the view of most critics, The Best Years of Our Lives is independent producer Samuel Goldwyn's best film. For all the jokes about Goldwyn's vulgarity and his mangling of the English language, the picture is both tasteful and perceptive, the perfect embodiment of what his PR department would call "The Goldwyn Touch." In truth, that touch was the product of some of the best filmmakers in Hollywood, including director William Wyler and cinematographer Gregg Toland, who worked under contract to Goldwyn. The film was really the last hurrah for The Goldwyn Touch, as it marked Wyler's last film before breaking out with a production company of his own.
At 172 minutes, The Best Years of Our Lives was almost twice the length of the average picture of its era. Goldwyn considered cutting it, but when he screened it with Wyler it was so tight that he couldn't find anything to cut. In addition, the time seemed to fly by. That judgment was reinforced by preview audiences in October 1946, who were so enthusiastic that he decided not to cut the picture.
The film won seven Oscars®: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Fredric March), Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Best Screenplay, Best Score and Best Editing. The only category in which it lost was Best Sound. In addition, Goldwyn received the Irving Thalberg Award, a special honor for outstanding work in production. Russell's win was a surprise. Earlier in the evening he was handed a Special Oscar® "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." This would make him the only performer to receive two Oscars® for the same performance.
Director: William Wyler
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay: Robert E. Sherwood
Based on the Verse Novel Glory for Me by MacKinlay Kantor
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: George Jenkins, Perry Ferguson
Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Myrna Loy (Milly Stephenson), Fredric March (Al Stephenson), Dana Andrews (Fred Derry), Teresa Wright (Peggy Stephenson), Virginia Mayo (Marie Derry), Cathy O'Donnell (Wilma Cameron), Harold Russell (Homer Parrish), Hoagy Carmichael (Butch Engle), Gladys George (Hortense Derry), Steve Cochran (Cliff Scully), Ray Collins (Mr. Milton), Roman Bohnen (Pat Derry)
BW-170m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon