The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Our Lives

name = The Best Years of Our Lives

caption = Theatrical poster
director = William Wyler
writer = Screenplay:
Robert E. Sherwood
MacKinlay Kantor
starring = Fredric March
Myrna Loy
Dana Andrews
Teresa Wright
Virginia Mayo
producer = Samuel Goldwyn
music = Hugo Friedhofer
cinematography = Gregg Toland
editing = Daniel Mandell
distributor = RKO Radio Pictures
released = 21 November 1946
runtime = 172 minutes
country = United States
language = English
budget = $2,100,000 USD (estimated)
amg_id = 1:4943
imdb_id = 0036868|

"The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) is an American drama film about three servicemen trying to piece their lives back together after coming home from World War II.

Samuel Goldwyn was motivated to produce the film after his wife Frances read an 7 August 1944 article in "Time" magazine about the difficulties experienced by war veterans returning to civilian life. Goldwyn hired former war correspondent MacKinlay Kantor to write the story, which was first published as a novella, "Glory for Me", which was written in blank verse. [Orriss 1984, p. 119.] Robert Sherwood then wrote the screenplay. [Levy, Emanuelle. [ Film review] ] It was directed by William Wyler, with cinematography by Gregg Toland. The film won seven Academy Awards.

The ensemble cast includes Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo and Hoagy Carmichael. It also features Harold Russell, a U.S. Army instructor who had lost both his hands in a training accident.


After World War II, demobilized servicemen Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) and Al Stephenson (Frederic March) meet while hitching a ride home in a bomber to Boone City, a fictional Midwestern city, patterned after Cincinnati, Ohio. [Orriss 1984, p. 119.] Fred was an Army Air Forces captain and bombardier with the Eighth Air Force in Europe, who still suffers from nightmares of combat. Homer had been in the Navy, losing both of his hands from burns suffered when his aircraft carrier was sunk. For replacements, he has mechanical hook prostheses. Al served as an infantry sergeant in the 25th Infantry Division, fighting in the Pacific.

Prior to the war, Al had worked as a loan officer for the Corn Belt Savings and Loan bank in Boone City. Though a mature man with a loving family, his patient wife Milly (Myrna Loy), adult daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) and son Rob, he has trouble readjusting to civilian life, as do his two chance acquaintances.

The bank, anticipating an increase in loans to returning war veterans, promotes Al to Vice President in charge of the small loan department because of his war experience. However, after he approves a chancy loan to a veteran, Al's boss Mr. Milton (Ray Collins) advises him not to gamble on further loans without collateral. At his welcome-home dinner, a slightly-drunk Al gives a stirring speech, acknowledging that people will think that the bank is gambling with the shareholders' money if he has his way, "And they'll be right; we'll be gambling on the future of this country!" Mr. Milton applauds his sentiments, but Al remarks later, "He'll back me up wholeheartedly until the next time I help some little guy, then I'll have to fight it out again."

Before the war, Fred had been an unskilled drugstore soda jerk, having been raised in a poor neighborhood. He does not want to return to his old job, but has no choice, given the stiff competition from other returning veterans and his lack of civilian skills. He had met Marie (Virginia Mayo) while in training and married her shortly afterward, before shipping out less than a month later. She took a job as a night club waitress and set up her own apartment while Fred was overseas. She does not relish being married to a soda jerk instead of an officer.

Peggy meets and falls in love with Fred, and holds Marie in contempt after discovering how shallow and selfish she is. Peggy tells her parents she intends to break up Fred and Marie's marriage, only to be told that their own marriage overcame similar problems. To protect Peggy, Al pressures Fred to break off all contact with his daughter. Fred does so, but the friendship between the two men ends.

Homer was a football quarterback before the war. Before leaving to fight, he had become engaged to Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell). When he returns, both Homer and his parents have trouble dealing with his disability. He does not want to burden Wilma with a handicapped man, so he pushes her away, although she is the one person who has adjusted best to the situation. His uncle Butch (Hoagy Carmichael) owns a bar where the three men meet from time to time. Butch counsels Homer, but is careful not to tell his nephew what to do.

When an obnoxious soda fountain customer, who says that the war was fought against the wrong enemies, gets into an altercation with Homer, Fred punches the troublemaker and loses his job. More woes follow. After Fred discovers his wife with another man, she demands a divorce. Fred decides to leave town. He says goodbye to his father (Roman Bohnen), and leaves behind his medals and citations, saying dismissively that they were "passed out with the rations." After he leaves, his father reads from one citation. He learns, apparently for the first time, that Fred is a war hero, having been awarded the second-highest medal for heroism, the Distinguished Flying Cross, for gallant conduct during a bombing mission.

While waiting for an aircraft, Fred walks around the airport to kill time and wanders into a vast wartime aircraft "boneyard". Climbing into the nose of a B-17 Flying Fortress, he begins to relive intense memories of combat. He is brought out of his reverie by the boss of a work crew salvaging the aluminum from the aircraft to build pre-fabricated housing. Fred talks the man into giving him a job.

Wilma tells Homer that her family wants her to go away, since it seems that he won't marry her. He bluntly demonstrates how hard life with him would be, but she is unfazed. When she makes it clear that she loves him regardless, he gives in.

A now-divorced Fred meets Peggy at Homer and Wilma's wedding. After the ceremony, Fred approaches Peggy and holds her, telling her that their life together will be a hard struggle, that they'd be "kicked around." She is unfazed; they smile and kiss.


Principal credited cast members (in order of on-screen credits) and roles: [ The Best Years of Our Lives Full credits] ] Casting brought together established stars as well as character actors and relative unknowns. Famed drummer Gene Krupa is seen in archival footage, while Tennessee Ernie Ford, later a famous television star, appears as an uncredited "hillbilly singer" (in the first of his only three film appearances). At the time the film was shot, Ford was unknown as a singer, and working in San Bernardino as a radio announcer-disc jockey, his singing skills not yet known. They would not emerge until he began making records in 1949. Notable film producer and director Blake Edwards appears fleetingly as an uncredited "Corporal". Actress Judy Wyler was also cast in her first role in her father's production.


Director William Wyler had actually flown combat missions over Europe in filming "" (1944) and worked hard to get realistic depictions of the combat veterans he had encountered. One of the innovative elements he introduced was in asking all the principal actors to purchase their own clothes to maintain an affinity for the period and provide a more genuine "feel." Other Wyler touches included constructing life-size sets which went against the standard larger sets that were more suited to camera positions. The impact to the audience was immediate as each scene played out in a realistic, natural way. Orriss 1984, p. 121.]

The movie began filming on 15 April 1946 at a variety of locations including the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Ontario International Airport, Ontario, California, Raleigh Studios, Hollywood and the Samuel Goldwyn/Warner Hollywood Studios. [ [ Filming locations for "The Best Years of Our Lives".] Internet Movie Database. Retrieved: 26 April 2007.]

"The Best Years of Our Lives" is notable for cinematographer Gregg Toland's use of deep focus photography, in which objects both close to and distant from the camera are in sharp focus.Kehr, Dave. [ "The Best Years of Our Lives".] "The Chicago Reader". Retrieved: 26 April 2007.] His evocative sequence of Fred Derry reliving a combat mission while sitting in the remains of a former bomber, utilized imaginative "zoom" effects to simulate an aircraft taking off. [ Orriss 1984, pp. 121–122.]

The wartime combat aircraft that feature prominently in the film were being destroyed in large numbers at the end of hostilities. When former air force bombardier Derry walks among the aircraft ruins, the sequence was filmed at the Ontario Army Air Field in Chino, California where the former training facility had been converted into a scrap yard housing nearly 2,000 former combat aircraft in various states of disassembly.


Shortly after its premiere at the Astor Theater, New York, Bosley Crowther, film critic for "The New York Times," hailed the film as a masterpiece, and wrote, "It is seldom that there comes a motion picture which can be wholly and enthusiastically endorsed not only as superlative entertainment but as food for quiet and humanizing thought... In working out their solutions Mr. Sherwood and Mr. Wyler have achieved some of the most beautiful and inspiring demonstrations of human fortitude that we have had in films." [Crowther, Bosley. [ "The Best Years of our Lives".] "The New York Times", 22 November 1946. Retrieved: 26 April 2007.] He also said the ensemble casting gave the "'best' performance in this best film this year from Hollywood."

A more recent critic, Dave Kehr, is more reluctant to praise the film, but he makes the case for why the film is important today. He wrote, "The film is very proud of itself, exuding a stifling piety at times, but it works as well as this sort of thing can, thanks to accomplished performances by Fredric March, Myrna Loy, and Dana Andrews, who keep the human element afloat. Gregg Toland's deep-focus photography, though, remains the primary source of interest for today's audiences." David Thomson offers tempered praise: "I would concede that "Best Years" is decent and humane... acutely observed, despite being so meticulous a package. It would have taken uncommon genius and daring at that time to sneak a view of an untidy or unresolved America past Goldwyn or the public." [Thomson, David. "A Biographical Dictionary of Film"]

Not everyone was as complimentary. Iconoclastic critic Manny Farber called it "a horse-drawn truckload of liberal schmaltz." [Flood 1998, p. 15.] [ oclc|90715570 [ Manny Farber] Retrieved: 26 April 2007.]

Currently, the film has a 96% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 26 reviews. [ [ "The Best Years of Our Lives".] Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: 18 March 2007.]

Popular culture

In 1949, characters in the "Steve Canyon" comic strip by Milton Caniff had to decide on one movie to show Snow Flower, the daughter of an Indian potentate, that would show her how life was in the United States. Notices in the strip asked readers to send suggestions to Caniff. The film chosen by characters in the strip was "The Best Years of Our Lives". (However, due to the aircraft carrying the film being shot down, Snow Flower ends up seeing a home movies of the USA, while incredulous Communist rebels watch "Best Years".Fact|date=April 2008

Awards and honors

1947 Academy Awards
The film received seven Academy Awards. Despite his touching Oscar-nominated performance, Harold Russell was not a professional actor and the Board of Governors considered him a long shot to win, so he was given an honorary award "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance". However, he was named Best Supporting Actor to a tumultuous reception, making him the only actor to receive two Academy Awards for the same performance.

* Won: Best Picture - Samuel Goldwyn Productions (Samuel Goldwyn, producer)
* Won: Best Leading Actor - Fredric March
* Won: Best Supporting Actor - Harold Russell
* Won: Best Director - William Wyler
* Won: Best Editing - Daniel Mandell
* Won: Best Original Music Score - Hugo Friedhofer
* Won: Best Adapted Screenplay - Robert E. Sherwood
* Won: Academy Honorary Award - Harold Russell
* Nomination: Best Sound Mixing - Gordon Sawyer

1947 Golden Globe Awards
* Won: Best Dramatic Motion Picture
* Won: Special Award for Best Non-Professional Acting - Harold Russell

1948 BAFTA Awards
* Won: BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source

Other wins
* National Board of Review: NBR Award Best Director, William Wyler; 1946.
* New York Film Critics Circle Awards: NYFCC Award Best Director, William Wyler; Best Film; 1946.
* Bodil Awards: Bodil; Best American Film, William Wyler; 1948.
* Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain: CEC Award; Best Foreign Film, USA; 1948.

In 1989, the National Film Registry selected it for preservation in the United States Library of Congress as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

American Film Institute recognition

*1998 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies #37
*2006 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers #11
*2007 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) #37




* Dolan, Edward F. Jr. "Hollywood Goes to War". London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
* Flood, Richard. "Reel crank - critic Manny Farber." "Artforum", Volume 37, Issue 1, September 1998. ISSN 0004-3532.
* Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies." "The Making of the Great Aviation Films". General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
* Orriss, Bruce. "When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II". Hawthorn, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.

External links

* [ "The Best Years of Our Lives"] detailed synopsis/analysis at Film Site by Tim Dirks.
* [ "The Best Years of Our Lives"] film article at Reel Classics. Includes MP3s.
* [ "The Best Years of Our Lives"] at the Golden Years web site.

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