The Best Years of Our Lives is as relevant today as it was in 1946. After Mrs. Miniver, director William Wyler focused on a different side of the war. When World War II ended, a big question was how its veterans would adjust to civilian life? The Best Years of Our Lives is a near masterpiece that just about swept the Academy Awards. Its 7 wins include Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Score. The source material Glory for Me is only a novella since the war ended a few short months ago. The movie on the other hand, is nearly 3 hours long, but I barely noticed since the story is so captivating.
The Best Years of Our Lives centers around three distinctly different WWII veterans of varying branches, ranks, and backgrounds all struggling to re-adjust. Dealing with PTSD in a frank and honest manner. Fredric March won his second Oscar as Army Sergeant Al Stephenson. Al has a traditional all-American family to go home to. Myrna Loy plays his loving wife Milly, Oscar winner Teresa Wright plays his responsible older daughter Peggy, and he also as a teenage son named Rob who’s barely around. Al gets blind drunk at first, but he soon finds comfort in helping fellow veterans at the bank. Dana Andrews wasn’t nominated for his portrayal of Air Force Captain Fred Derry. Even though Fred is in the sadly relatable situation of returning to a wife who no longer loves him and the same crappy drug store soda jerk job he had when he left. Virginia Mayo is the perfect wrench playing Fred’s wife Marie who uses him for his money and uniform.
Producers worked closely with real life veterans, but nothing could top casting real life WWII veteran Harold Russell as Navy Officer Homer Parrish. Russell actually lost his hands in the war, so Homer’s hook hands were very real. So is his raw performance that made him the first non-professional actor to win an Oscar. He also received an Honorary Oscar as a thank you for his service. Homer’s greatest struggle is trying to feel normal upon returning to his parents, sister, and the girl next door. Homer’s girlfriend is played by the equally inexperienced Cathy O’Donnell. Al, Fred, and Homer become fast friends, but their stories only converge when they reunite at Homer’s Uncle Butch’s bar. Homer makes an impression, but he isn’t given the same amount of attention as Al or Fred. They’re together more often since Fred falls in love with Al’s daughter Peggy. It’s a sweet romance that brings hope to Fred’s difficult re-adjustment. The Best Years of Our Lives gives veterans the respect they deserve.