The Best Years of Our Lives
|The Best Years of Our Lives|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William Wyler|
|Produced by||Samuel Goldwyn|
|Screenplay by||Robert E. Sherwood|
|Based on||the novella Glory for Me
by MacKinlay Kantor
|Music by||Hugo Friedhofer|
|Editing by||Daniel Mandell|
|Studio||Samuel Goldwyn Productions|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures
|Running time||172 minutes|
The Best Years of Our Lives is a 1946 American drama film directed by William Wyler and starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell. The film is about three United States servicemen readjusting to civilian life after coming home from World War II. Samuel Goldwyn was inspired to produce a film about veterans after reading an August 7, 1944 article in Time about the difficulties experienced by men returning to civilian life. Goldwyn hired former war correspondent MacKinlay Kantor to write a screenplay. His work was first published as a novella, Glory for Me, which Kantor wrote in blank verse.34 Robert Sherwood then adapted the novella as a screenplay.4
The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Academy Awards in 1946, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Fredric March), Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Best Film Editing (Daniel Mandell), Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Sherwood), and Best Original Score (Hugo Friedhofer).5 In addition to its critical success, the film quickly became a great commercial success upon release. It became the highest-grossing film and most attended film in both the United States and UK since the release of Gone with the Wind, selling approximately 55 million tickets in the United States 6 which equaled a gross of $23,650,000.7 It remains the sixth most-attended film of all time in the UK, with over 20 million tickets sold.8 The film had one of the highest viewing figures of all time, with ticket sales exceeding $20.4 million.9
After World War II, Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), and Al Stephenson (Fredric March) meet while flying home to Boone City (a fictional city patterned after Cincinnati, Ohio3). Fred was a decorated Army Air Forces captain and bombardier in Europe. Homer lost both hands from burns suffered when his aircraft carrier was sunk, and now uses mechanical hook prostheses. Al served as an infantry platoon sergeant in the Pacific. All three have trouble adjusting to civilian life.
Al has a comfortable home and a loving family: wife Milly (Myrna Loy), adult daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright), and college freshman son Rob. He returns to his old job as a bank loan officer. The bank president views his military experience as valuable in dealing with other returning servicemen. When Al approves a loan (without collateral) to a young Navy veteran, however, the president advises him against making a habit of it. Later, at a banquet held in his honor, a slightly inebriated Al expounds his belief that the bank (and America) must stand with the vets who risked everything to defend the country and give them every chance to rebuild their lives.
Before the war, Fred had been an unskilled drugstore soda jerk. He wants something better, but the tight postwar job market forces him to return to his old job. Fred had met Marie (Virginia Mayo) while in flight training and married her shortly afterward, before shipping out less than a month later. She became a nightclub waitress while Fred was overseas. Marie makes it clear she does not enjoy being married to a lowly soda jerk.
Homer was a football quarterback and became engaged to Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell) before joining the Navy. Both Homer and his parents now have trouble dealing with his disability. He does not want to burden Wilma with his handicap and so pushes her away, although she still wants to marry him.
Peggy meets Fred while bringing her father home from a bar where the three men meet once again. They are attracted to each other. Peggy dislikes Marie, and informs her parents she intends to end Fred and Marie's marriage, but they tell her that their own marriage overcame similar problems. Concerned, Al demands that Fred stop seeing his daughter. Fred agrees, but the friendship between the two men is strained.
At the drugstore, an obnoxious customer, who claims that the war was fought against the wrong enemies, gets into a fight with Homer. Fred intervenes and knocks the man into a glass counter, costing him his job. Later, Fred encourages Homer to put his misgivings behind him and marry Wilma, offering to be his best man.
One evening, Wilma visits Homer and tells him that her parents want her to leave Boone City for an extended period to try to forget him. Homer bluntly demonstrates to her how hard life with him would be. When Wilma is undaunted, Homer reconsiders.
On arriving home, Fred discovers his wife with another veteran (Steve Cochran). Marie tells him that she is getting a divorce. Fred decides to leave town, and gives his father his medals and citations. His father is unable to persuade Fred to stay. After Fred leaves, his father reads the citation for his Distinguished Flying Cross. At the airport, Fred books space on the first outbound aircraft, without regard for the destination. While waiting, he wanders into a vast aircraft boneyard. Inside the nose of a B-17, he relives the intense memories of combat. The boss of a work crew rouses him from his flashback. When the man says the aluminum from the aircraft is being salvaged to build housing, Fred persuades the boss to hire him.
Homer and Wilma's wedding takes place in the Parrish home, with the now-divorced Fred as Homer's best man. Fred and Peggy watch each other from across the room. After the ceremony, he approaches and holds her, telling her that it will be a struggle before they become comfortable. She smiles, and they kiss and embrace.
Casting brought together established stars as well as character actors and relative unknowns. Famed drummer Gene Krupa was seen in archival footage, while Tennessee Ernie Ford, later a famous television star, appeared 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. He worked in San Bernardino as a radio announcer-disc jockey. Blake Edwards, later notable as a film producer and director, appeared fleetingly as an uncredited "Corporal". Actress Judy Wyler was cast in her first role in her father's production.
Director William Wyler had flown combat missions over Europe in filming Memphis Belle (1944) and worked hard to get accurate depictions of the combat veterans he had encountered. Wheeler changed the original casting that had featured a veteran suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and sought out Harold Russell, a non-actor to take on the exacting role of Homer Parrish.10
For The Best Years of Our Lives, he asked the principal actors to purchase their own clothes, in order to connect with daily life and produce an authentic feeling. Other Wyler touches included constructing life-size sets, which went against the standard larger sets that were more suited to camera positions. The impact for the audience was immediate, as each scene played out in a realistic, natural way.10
The movie began filming on April 15, 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.10 Many scenes were also filmed in Phoenixville, PA, most notably the banking scenes using the Farmers and Mechanics Bank located on Main Street and various other scenes showing Bridge Street and Main Street in Phoenixville, PA. 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.11 For the passage of Fred Derry's reliving a combat mission while sitting in the remains of a former bomber, Wyler used "zoom" effects to simulate Derry's subjective state.12
After the war, the combat aircraft featured in the film were being destroyed and disassembled for reuse as scrap material. The scene of Derry's walking among aircraft ruins was filmed at the Ontario Army Air Field in Ontario, California. The former training facility had been converted into a scrap yard, housing nearly 2,000 former combat aircraft in various states of disassembly and reclamation.10
Upon its release, The Best Years of Our Lives received extremely positive reviews from critics. 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. He 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." He also said the ensemble casting gave the "'best' performance in this best film this year from Hollywood."13
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."14
The film has a 97% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 37 reviews.15 Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert put the film on his "Great Movies" list in 2007, calling it "...modern, lean, and honest."16
The Best Years of Our Lives was a massive popular success, earning an estimated $11.5 million at the North American box office during its initial theatrical run.17 When box office prices are adjusted for inflation, it remains one of the top 100 grossing films in U.S. history. Among films released before 1950, only Gone With the Wind, The Bells of St. Mary's, and four Disney titles have done more total business, in part due to later re-releases. (Reliable box office figures for certain early films such as Birth of a Nation and Charlie Chaplin's comedies are unavailable.)18
Despite his Oscar-nominated performance, Harold Russell was not a professional actor. As the Academy Board of Governors considered him a long shot to win, they gave him an honorary award "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance". When Russell won Best Supporting Actor, there was an enthusiastic response. He is the only actor to have received two Academy Awards for the same performance. He later sold his Best Supporting Actor award at auction for $60,500, to pay his wife's medical bills.19
|Best Motion Picture||Won||Samuel Goldwyn Productions (Samuel Goldwyn, Producer)|
|Best Director||Won||William Wyler|
|Best Actor||Won||Fredric March|
|Best Writing (Screenplay)||Won||Robert E. Sherwood|
|Best Supporting Actor||Won||Harold Russell|
|Best Film Editing||Won||Daniel Mandell|
|Best Music (Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture)||Won||Hugo Friedhofer|
|Best Sound Recording||Nominated||Gordon E. Sawyer
Winner was John P. Livadary - The Jolson Story
|Honorary Award||Won||To Harold Russell|
|Memorial Award||Won||Samuel Goldwyn|
Some posters say the film won nine Academy Awards, this is due to the honorary award won by Harold Russell, and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award won by Samuel Goldwyn, in addition to the seven awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing, and Best Music Score.
1947 Golden Globe Awards
- Won: Best Dramatic Motion Picture
- Won: Special Award for Best Non-Professional Acting - Harold Russell
1947 Brussels World Film Festival
- Won: Best Actress Of The Years - Myrna Loy20
1948 BAFTA Awards
- 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.
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
- David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 490-491
- " 'Best Years of Our Lives' (1946)." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: February 4, 2010.
- Orriss 1984, p. 119.
- Levy, Emmanuel. "Review: "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946)." emanuellevy.com, 4 May 2010. Retrieved: November 20, 2011.
- "The 19th Academy Awards (1947) Nominees and Winners." oscars.org. Retrieved: November 20, 2011.
- "BFI'S Ultimate Film Chart." BFi.org.uk. Retrieved: July 27, 2010.
- "Top 100 films." Channel 4. Retrieved: October 25, 2010.
- Orriss 1984, p. 121.
- Kehr, Dave. The Best Years of Our Lives. The Chicago Reader. Retrieved: April 26, 2007.
- Orriss 1984, pp. 121–122
- Crowther, Bosley. The Best Years of our Lives. The New York Times, November 22, 1946. Retrieved: April 26, 2007.
- Thomson, 2002, p. 949.
- " 'The Best Years of Our Lives'." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: July 30, 2010.
- Ebert, Roger. "The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)." Chicago Sun Times, December 29, 2007. Retrieved: November 20, 2011.
- "All Time Domestic Champs". Variety, January 6, 1960, p. 34
- "All-time Films (adjusted)." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: September 19, 2010.
- Bergan, Ronald. "Obituary: Harold Russell; Brave actor whose artificial hands helped him win two Oscars." The Guardian, February 6, 2002. Retrieved: June 12, 2012.
- 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", in The Making of the Great Aviation Films. General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
- Kinn, Gail and Jim Piazza. The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial History. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2008. ISBN 978-1-57912-772-5.
- 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.
- Thomson, David. "Wyler, William". A Biographical Dictionary of Film. London: Little, Brown, 2002. ISBN 0-316-85905-2.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: The Best Years of Our Lives|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Best Years of Our Lives.|
- The Best Years of Our Lives at the Internet Movie Database
- The Best Years of Our Lives at allmovie
- The Best Years of Our Lives at the TCM Movie Database
- The Best Years of Our Lives at Rotten Tomatoes
- 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
- The Best Years of Our Lives on Screen Guild Theater: November 24, 1947
- The Best Years of Our Lives on Screen Directors Playhouse: April 17, 1949
Going My Way
|Academy Award winner for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor||Succeeded by