The Best Years of Our Lives
Directed by William Wyler with Frederic March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell,
Theresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Hoagy Carmichael, black and white, 172 minutes,1946
Harold Russell, Dana Andrews and Frederic March flying home at the end of World War II in a B-17 bomber
By Carter B. Horsley
"The Best Years of Our Lives" is an American masterpiece in which love overcomes post-traumatic stress.
The movie was developed from a pictorial article in the August 7, 1944 edition of Time magazine
that became "Glory for Me," a novel by MacKinlay Kantor. Kantor's
novel was adapted for the screen by Robert E. Sherwood.
Harold Russell arrives home and reveals his "hooks" to his family and his sweetheart at left, played by Cathy O'Donnell
Director William Wyler, who had four years before directed Mrs. Miniver,
which is often considered the British "book-end" to this film, decided
against the casting of Farley Granger as a shell-shocked veteran in
favor of Harold Russell, a sailor who lost both his hands when his ship
was sunk. Wyler had seen Russell in Diary of a Sargeant,
an Army film about the rehabilitation of injured veterans and cast him
in his film despite the fact that he had had no acting experience.
He not only won an Academy Award as best supporting actor but
also received an honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his
movie would have been great without his performance, but his fantastic
performance makes it indelible. He is extraordinary and wonderful
and you will cry several times while watching and rewatching the film.
Harold Russell plays duet with Hoagy Carmichael as Frederic March watches
film would have been wonderful without Russell's role because of its
great acting, slow tempo and marvelous cinematography by Greg Noland,
who shot "Citizen Kane." Also very notable is its low key.
Its three returning soldiers are not superheros in the mold later
established by Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzennegger
but merely good men of relatively humble backgrounds and ambitions.
Although the story line pretty much treats each of the
soldiers equally, it is Russell who raises the film to legendary
If he can make it, as they say and sing, then there is hope for everyone.
Soda-jerk Dana Andrews leaps over counter to defend Harold Russell
one of many memorable scenes, Russell berates a shopper in the
drug-store where Andrews has become a soda-jerk for his very
un-American remarks about the war and when the well-dressed shopper
takes umbrage Andrews leaps over the soda fountain counter and knocks
the shopper crashing into a display vitrine and is fired.
and March had met Russell when they all hitched a plane ride home in a
bomber and listened intently as Russell praised the Navy for his
prosthetic hands and teaching him how to use them with remarkable
agility. When they arrive in their Midwestern town they all have
trepidations about returning to their homes as the world and they have
changed a lot.
March is welcomed home by his two children and his very patient and understanding wife, Myra Loy.
Andrews can't find his wife who he had married just before he went to war.
Russell is welcomed home by his family and his former girl friend, Wilma, played by Cathy O'Donnell, who lives next door.
all have trouble adjusting and each decides to go out for a drink at
the bar run by Russell's uncle, played by Hoagy Carmichael, that they
had passed on their ride in from the airport. They all get drunk
and March's daughter, played by Theresa Wright, is attracted to Andrews
who finally discovers his wife, played by Virginia Mayo, who loves his
Russell is uncomfortable because he feels that his
family pities him for his handicap and that his former girl friend
cannot possibly really love him and known how helpless he can be once
he takes off his "hooks."
March had worked for a bank and he
discovers that the bank not only wants him bank but gives him a
promotion because it thinks he can do a lot of business with other
returning veterans. When he decides to grant a farm loan to one
individual based not on collateral but his character he is reprimanded,
but not fired. He turns, however, to drink.
Theresa Wright talks to Virginia Mayo in ladies' room at nightclub
who has never looked more voluptuous, likes the good life and is not
happy with Andrews's financial condition that forces him to take his
old job as a soda jerk for $32.50 a week.
She wants more and a divorce.
likes March's daughter very much and she tells her father that she
wants to break up Andrew's marriage because she loves him. Her
father, however, is vehemently against it and implores Andrews to stop
seeing her. Andrews decides
to leave town and goes to the airport where while waiting for a
transport plane goes to the field that is littered with the carcasses
of fighter planes and bombers. He climbs into one of the
eviscerated B-17s, like the one in which he had been a bombardier and
they had flown back to town in. Dusty and striped of its engines,
the plane is even more disabled than Russell.
Dana Andrews sits in the transparent nose of dismantled B-17 at bomber graveyard
he gazes out of the dirty and scratched nose of the bomber, he relives
a frightening moment when the plan was hit on a mission, a memory that
has been giving him nightmares. The scene is one of the most
memorable in cinema and only ends when someone yells for Andrews to get
out of the plane. That person is working to "junk" and dismember
the planes and Andrews asks him for a job. He gets the job, which
allows him to stay and not leave.
Teresa Wright, Myrna Loy and Frederic March watch Harold Russell putting wedding ring on Cathy O'Donnell
meanwhile, decides to show his girl-friend while they can't get marry
and takes off his hooks to show her how helpless he is. To his
surprise, she still loves him, and they soon get married.
the wedding where the gathered are worried whether Russell can put the
ring on her finger he does and Wright, who has never looked sweeter,
and Andrews decide they are hopelessly in love.
women are secondary in the film but Loy and Wright and O'Connell are
very human and deserving of great respect. They are very special.
Mayo, on the other hand, is selfish. Her lot is not what
she bargained for, which is somewhat understandable.
is a happy ending, but it has been a tortuous time getting to it,
and there is no guarantee that happy times are here again. Life
does go on and that is marvelous.
Wyler lingers on his scenes, not to squeeze sentimentality, but to
focus on the fragility and frighening and wrenching fraility of life.
acting is magnificent by the entire cast and the firm deservedly won
numerous Oscars including best picture and best director
This film is ranked 95th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films and was ranked 195th in the imdb.com list of the 250 most popular films as of February 14, 2015.
Order the Blue-Ray edition of the movie from amazon.com
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