The Best Years of our Lives is a 1946 drama film directed by William Wyler and stars Dana Andrews, Frederic March, Teresa Wright, Myrna Loy, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell. The film won 7 Oscars which included Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay along with Best Picture.
Three men return home after serving in World War II. They are Fred Derry (Andrews), Homer Parrish (Russell), and Al Stephenson (March). Fred Derry is an Air Force Captain and bombardier who returns to his old job at a drugstore. Homer lost both of his hands aboard a sinking aircraft carrier. Al served as a platoon sergeant and returns to his old job as a bank loan officer. The three men struggle with readjusting to civilian life; Fred is married to a woman (Mayo) that he is not in love with, Homer struggles with now using hooks for his hands, and Al tries to re-engage with a family that grew up without him.
Anyone would probably tell you that the best years of their life was when they felt their life had reached a joyous climax that could never possibly be reached again. So how does that correspond to three men returning home from a lingering experience full of violence, bloodshed, and death (a.k.a war)? Initially, Fred, Homer, and Al believe they're living anything but the best years of their lives. They might be back within the warm comforts of their families and former domestic lifestyles, but trying to readjust is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.
Fred, Homer, and Al each come to have a sort of reawakening, finding ways to thrive and make the most out of what they do possess. Fred is dismayed by his wife and his job, but when he begins to fall for another woman, his happiness and passion for love is rekindled, as he now has something to strive for. Homer suffers greatly from having to use hooks for hands, but despite all his frustration, his fiancee Wilma never leaves his side. Al contemplates giving out a loan to a young Navy veteran, and later gives a speech to express his passion for the war veterans and all those who risked their lives.
These three men aren't morally scarred in the way the boys in All Quiet on the Western Front are, and their gratitude for returning safely home slowly transforms into happy and memorable experiences upon their civilian readjustment.
- The scene(s) where each men return home to their loved ones. If you've ever seen a video of someone who serves in the military returning home and surprising their family, it's a heartwarming scene that is bound to move even the most hardened of hearts. It's no exception in 1946 cinema, with hugs and embraces that give the film that feel-good mojo to energize it throughout.
- The balance between the three men. Fred, Homer, and Al are all given reasonable and equal screen time, with one not overshadowing any other. William Wyler carefully handles each of the trio, and the script provides deep and meaningful examinations into the new lives of each man, as well as how daunting the struggle is for all three. Each man has a different story and a different perspective, yet we sympathize with all three.
- The run-time. The Best Years of our Lives runs for 172 minutes (2 hours and 52 minutes), which is quite the bear for a casual viewer. While it's plenty of time to really explore all of the characters, the film gradually slows down about 2 hours in, and at this point, things might begin to feel monotonous. We can only watch our select group of characters interact for so long until we begin to realize that the plot is starting to lose steam. I feel a run-time around 135-140 minutes would've been very suitable.
Though the film is quite lengthy, The Best Years of our Lives is still a feel-good and heartwarming delight. It holds up quite well today, and most likely will hold up for years to come.
Recommend? Yes. Schedule time out of a day if you plan on seeing it.
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