I was inclined to like The Best Years of Our Lives from the start, what with it being directed by Willam Wyler, who gave us such gems as Jezebel, Mrs. Miniver, Roman Holiday, and Ben Hur, and also starring Myrna Loy, who I loved since I saw Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and the various Thin Man movies. The movie swept the 1947 Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor (Fredric March), and more. Harold Russell (Homer), a real veteran with no acting experience who lost his hands in a training accident, won Best Supporting Actor.
I felt that the movie correctly addressed many of problems that WWII veterans faced, as we covered in class. There were quite a few scenes that stuck with me. For instance, despite knowing that Homer would be handless, I was still unprepared when he pulled his hooks (or whatever you’d call them) out of his pockets. As Homer said about his family, they knew about what had happened, but they didn’t quite know what it would look like. I’d say the same went for me.
Then there was the moment when Butch was talking to Homer and said, “Give ’em time, kid; they’ll catch on. You know your folks’ll get used to you, and you’ll get used to them. Then everything’ll settle down nicely. Unless we have another war. Then none of us have to worry because we’ll all be blown to bits the first day. So cheer up, huh?” I think this quote really expresses the uncertainty of the time: the fear that there would be another war, and with the use of atomic weapons it probably would be the War To End All Wars.
I also enjoyed Al’s drunken speech at the Bank dinner and Fred’s walk through the field of discontinued planes. I thought the flashback scene was handled well. Because of the music and the visual cues we knew what was happening to him without it needing to be shown.
The movie has its problems, of course. I mean, what was the point of Al’s son? He hardly showed up or interacted with his father at all, and he wasn’t even at the wedding. Did they forget about him? Then there was the fact that everyone seemed to have a hunky-dory, “all is well” ending, which didn’t happen for a lot of veterans. Really though, that’s what I’ve come to expect (and enjoy) out of most classic Hollywood movies, so it didn’t really bother me. Perhaps one could say that it was a message to veterans that though things may be bad at first, they’ll get better, so hang on. That may be reaching though…