THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, 1946
Three WWII veterans return home to small-town America to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed.
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OSCAR winners for Best Picture, Best Actor (Fredric March), Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Best Director, Best Editing, Best Musical Score, Best Screenplay
War has been a popular topic for filmmakers to tackle throughout the history of the medium. There tends to be either a romanticism of war or an anti-war streak in the vast majority of movies made on the subject. One movie that cannot be easily classifiable as either is the 1946 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, The Best Years of Our Lives.
The Best Years of Our Lives was directed by William Wyler, a director known for big-budget spectacles, but this is different. This a humane look at the effects World War II had on returning soldiers. It is filled with a bit of sentimentality, but considering the movies that Hollywood had produced during the war, filled with propaganda, this movie is a breath of fresh air.
Fred was an Army Air Forces captain, the most decorated of the three, but before the war he served as a soda fountain worker. As happened often during World War II, just before Fred went off to fight he got married to a woman he barely even knew. This woman, Marie (Virginia Mayo), turns out to be highly materialistic and was only interested in Fred because he wore a uniform. Unfortunately, this was the case with several marriages that happened during World War II. So Fred has marriage problems on top of trying to adjust back to civilian life. He has trouble finding a job and ends up back at the soda fountain, much to Marieís dismay. Their relationship soon collapses and it looks like Fredís Army medals were just an aberration of the true ability he has.
Naturally Homer has a tough time adjusting to civilian life. Before the war he had a girlfriend at home, but she and his family have a difficult time at first getting used to his lack of hands. Although Homer has gotten over this problem, and is even able to do tasks with the hooks he has for hands, his family just canít accept him as normal. Eventually Wilma, Homerís girlfriend, understands and the two agree to get married.
There are some instances of propaganda present in the movie, such as when Homer is at Fredís counter and a man walks up and notices Homerís hooks. The man expresses his disgust at the government for forcing the young man to lose his hands for ďno reason.Ē This leads Fred to punch the customer in Homerís defense, also leading to Fredís dismissal from his job. Also at the bank a returning soldier wants to start a farm, but doesnít have the money. Al agrees to the manís loan despite the fact that he has no collateral. This leads to some disagreement between Al and the bankís president, but Al gives a rousing speech about trusting the returning servicemen because of the sacrifices they made.
The movie ends happily for all. Homer and Wilma get married. Peggy and Fred fall in love and decide to make it on their own. Fred has also found a job working on old planes. Al and Milly have fallen back in love and their marriage looks like it will last for some time.
The Best Years Of Our Lives is well acted, well shot and well written. It is a solid movie, but does not get as much attention as it probably should. Perhaps it has to do with the small injections of propaganda and sentimentality. These effects do not diminish the fact that nothing has been made this well on this forgotten topic. Today it is almost as if there was no readjustment period for returning veterans after World War II, everyone just enjoyed 1950s suburban life. This movie shows that was not the case.