Oscars Challenge #56: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) Movie Review
1946 was a pivotal moment in the world as it recovered from the destruction and stress of World War II. As countries heal and people find a way to enjoy themselves from all the sadness, they turn to movies and their visual imagery for them to forget what happened.
The Best Years of Our Lives came out a year after World War 2. It depicts how soldiers who survived the war adjust to their daily lives.
The story is told from three different perspectives, but they all coincide with one central plot. We follow three World War II veterans: USAAF bombardier captain Fred Derry, U.S. Navy petty officer Homer Parish, and U.S. Army sergeant Homer Parish as they go home to Boone City. Fred is a former soda jerk who lives at his parent's house in the poorest parts of town but moved after marrying. Al worked as a banker and lived in a lovely apartment with his wife and two children. Homer lost his hands in the war and replaced them with mechanical hooks. He lives with his parents and younger sister. He also dates his next-door neighbor, Wilma, and promises to marry her after the war.
The three men struggle to return to their civilian lives. Homer thinks he does not deserve to be married to Wilma because he believes he is useless after losing his hands. He also feels that Wilma only wants to marry him out of pity. Al struggled with alcohol and returned to his banking job. Fred has PTSD, struggles to find a new job, and his wife is losing interest because he cannot provide the things she wants.
Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell play the three soldiers, Al, Fred, and Homer. One thing to note here is Harold Russell because his mechanical hooks are real, and he lost his hands in World War II. He also won the Best Supporting Actor award and was the first to be awarded for a non-actor. It's pretty astounding because the actor embodies the character very well.
This film is directed by William Wyler, who has already established his legacy in The Academy by having his three movies win Best Picture. Other than this, he won with Mrs. Miniver and Ben-Hur.
The Best Years Of Our Lives start very slowly. I didn't entirely pay attention to the characters and story until they got intertwined. Also, I wouldn't say I liked the ending. It's predictable and dull because they inserted a love story between Fred and Al's daughter, Peggy. I think the story would progress nicely, even if their love story is not part of the plot.
Since this film tackles very serious topics, especially about a soldier's experience after World War II, to be more dramatic. Some moments are heartbreaking, but they never got there. What I do love is Homer's character plot throughout the movie. Out of all the three soldiers, he is the one that suffered the most, so his experiences after the war are different and heartbreaking. His presence in the film makes you feel more for those veterans that experienced the same.
Nevertheless, I believe The Best Years Of Our Lives is still an essential watch. It contains lessons and experiences we should know about, especially about soldiers' lives after the war. The movie may prove daunting, considering its runtime is just below three hours, but it's still something you should not pass on. I also like that the movie kept itself honest by keeping it real, even though much of the story is entirely fictional.
The Best Years Of Our Lives may not be in my top 10 list of favorite movies, but I still find it incredible that this film won the prestigious Best Picture award.
This film deserves a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars.