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USA 1946
Directed by
William Wyler
172 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Best Years Of Our Lives

At nearly three hours, William Wyler’s sentimental film about the repatriation of three World War II veterans is rather long-winded and time-worn,but it is an interesting film sociologically as it confronts the issues facing returned soldiers in a mature and serious way long before we had labels like 'post-traumatic stress syndrome'.

The three men are a banker manager, Al Stephenson (Fredric March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), a former soda jerk, and  a young Navy guy,  Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) who has lost both hands and now wears specially designed metal hooks. The latter has paid the most obvious price but both the older men have their problems in readjusting to civilian life – Al has trouble slotting back into suburbia, Fred can’t keep up with the floozie (Virginia Mayo) that he married on impulse before shipping overseas and falls for Al’s sweet daughter (Teresa Wright).  

Wyler won his second of three Best Director Oscars for this film (the other two were for Mrs. Miniver in 1942 and Ben-Hur in 1959) no doubt because the film takes a very honest look at a subject which was of great relevance at the time (it was nominated for eight Oscars and won seven: Frederic March (Best Actor), Samuel Goldwyn (Best Picture), Hugo Friedhofer (Best Score), Robert E. Sherwood (Best Writing), Daniel Mandell (Best Film Editing), and Harold Russell (Best Supporting Actor) with Russell also earning a special award for "bringing hope and courage to fellow veterans," making him the only actor ever to win two Oscars for one role. The film was also a huge box office hit.

In some ways the film was the Born On The Fourth Of July of its day but as much at it is commendable for addressing the issues, less attractive is its affirmation of patriotic sacrifice (Fred’s role dropping bombs is never seen in a light less than heroic and Al is keen to forget his days amongst “savages”) and its rather over-rosy resolution to the three men’s difficulties (the picture, which gave Sam Goldwyn his only Oscar was a project that the producer felt every American should see). Frederic March gives a solid performance but his Best Actor Oscar should have gone to Henry Fonda for My Darling Clementine. Dana Andrews who was 37 at the time is as far as I could tell supposed to be playing a guy in his early 20s and Harold Russell, a real-life double amputee World War II veteran has only limited acting ability.

The result is a film which is primarily of interest as an account of its time than for its dramatic value but that is enough reason to watch it.




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