The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives

I’m actually a bit surprised that I really liked this melodramatic movie, despite the fact that the gender roles and the messages about family and marriage are cringe-worthy. While I felt it’s dated, I could still understand why this won 7 Oscars when it came out.

The Best Years of Our Lives shows three WWII veterans returning home to small-town America. The three men meet on the plane home. Homer is a young marine, Fred is an equally young airforce captain and war hero, while Al is a fortysomething Infantry Sgt. The three men go back to very different lives. Homer who has lost both arms is scared that people will react badly, especially his childhood love Wilma. Fred returns to his wife to whom he’d been married for only 20 days before going abroad. He used to work in a drugstore before the war and hopes that becuase he is a highly decorated officer now, he will find a better job. Al, the oldest of the trio, has been married for twenty years and has two grown-up children. He used to work in a prominent position in a bank and is pretty sure to return to an equally good position.

On the rather lengthy trip they share some of their fears and hopes, and before parting they decide they will meet some day at a bar that belongs to Homer’s uncle.

The three men soon find out that returning is very difficult. They have changed, society has changed and people don’t react with a lot of empathy. By the time they meet at the bar for the first time, all three of them are disillusioned about their home and, even more about themselves.

The first part of the film is really good, but then it turns too melodramatic for my taste, although I liked the love story between Fred and Al’s daughter. The movie is worthwhile for many reasons. Some of the scenes are really gopd, the acting is great and the cinematography was convincing too. Some critics found the end too corny. While I wouldn’t exactly deny that, I liked the scene set at the aircraft graveyard, which takes place towards the end. I think it is one of my favourite war movie scenes (see below).

What is worth mentioning is that Howard Russell who plays Homer had lost both of his hands in 1944. I think you can easily imagine how authentic that makes Homer.

A trailer

And here’s the aircraft graveyard scene


4 thoughts on “The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

  1. the war movie buff says:

    I think you got it right. It is unsurprisingly beloved and deserves to be. The acting is outstanding and the directing by Wyler is great. His use of deep focus makes some scenes mesmerizing. I see it as the companion to most of the Old School American WWII movies. Here we see what might have been the post script to the warriors’ lives. My only problem is the overly optimistic ending which sugar coats reality. A good way to see how Hollywood changed its view toward returning veterans is to compare this film to “The Deer Hunter”. Both are of their time.

    Trivia: The actor who played Homer (Harold Russell) lost his arms in an accidental training explosion. He is the only actor to win two Oscars at an Academy Awards. They planned ahead to give him a special award because it was assumed he would not win the Best Supporting Actor. Wyler insisted Russell not take acting lessons.

    It is #40 on the Military History Greatest 100 list. That seems appropriate.

    • #40 seems fair. I was surprised that I liked it so much despite some really date elements and the over optimistic ending. It so well done and gastin Russell as Homer was an extremly good choice.
      I see it as a companion piece to Sine You Went Away which I liked much better than you as far as I remember.

  2. the war movie buff says:

    Good catch on “Since You Went Away” as a companion. You’re right, I thought it sucked.

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