|The Best Years of Our Lives|
|Directed by||William Wyler|
|Produced by||Samuel Goldwyn|
|Screenplay by||Robert E. Sherwood|
|Based on||Glory for Me|
by MacKinlay Kantor
|Edited by||Daniel Mandell|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Budget||$2.1 million or $3 million|
|Box office||$23.7 million|
The Best Years of Our Lives (aka Glory for Me and Home Again) is a 1946 American epic 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 re-adjusting to civilian life after coming home from World War II.
The film was a critical and commercial success. It won seven Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Fredric March), Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Best Film Editing (Daniel Mandell), Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert E. Sherwood), and Best Original Score (Hugo Friedhofer). It was the highest-grossing film in both the United States and UK since the release of Gone with the Wind, and is the sixth most-attended film of all time in the UK, with over 20 million tickets sold.
In 1989, The Best Years of Our Lives was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The plot follows the lives of three veterans returning from service at the end of World War II to the fictional midwestern town of Boone City: USAAF bombardier Fred Derry, naval petty officer Homer Parrish, and platoon sergeant Al Stephenson. Before their respective military service, Fred was a soda jerk who married Marie shortly before shipping out. Al was a banker living with his wife Millie, adult daughter Peggy and teen-aged son Rob. Homer was a star high school athlete living with his parents and sister, next door to his girlfriend, Wilma. Homer lost both arms during the war and returns with mechanical hook prostheses.
Each man faces challenges integrating back into post-war society. Homer deals with the adjustments he and his family and Wilma face in light of his disability. Al's penchant for alcohol and the adjustments of returning to the banking business cause tension with his family and business associates. Fred, who experiences flashbacks of his bombing raids, becomes frustrated with the wife he barely knows and an employer who fails to appreciate him, and who eventually fires him when Fred punches a man in defense of Homer. Fred and Peggy become attracted to each other which puts the married Fred and Al at odds. Fred eventually leaves his cheating wife, and with no seeming future in Boone City, he decides to catch the next plane out. At the airport, Fred visits an aircraft boneyard and has another flashback. He is roused by a work crew boss who agrees to hire Fred to help disassemble the war planes for prefabricated housing material. Now divorced, Fred serves as best man at the wedding of Homer and Wilma, where he sees Peggy and they reunite.
- Myrna Loy as Milly Stephenson
- Fredric March as Technical Sergeant Al Stephenson
- Dana Andrews as Captain Fred Derry
- Teresa Wright as Peggy Stephenson
- Virginia Mayo as Marie Derry
- Cathy O'Donnell as Wilma Cameron
- Hoagy Carmichael as Butch Engle, Homer's uncle
- Harold Russell as Petty Officer 2nd Class Homer Parrish
- Gladys George as Hortense Derry
- Roman Bohnen as Pat Derry
- Ray Collins as Mr. Milton
- Minna Gombell as Mrs. Parrish
- Walter Baldwin as Mr. Parrish
- Steve Cochran as Cliff
- Dorothy Adams as Mrs. Cameron
- Don Beddoe as Mr. Cameron
- Marlene Aames as Luella Parrish
- Charles Halton as Prew
- Ray Teal as Mr. Mollett
- Howland Chamberlain as Thorpe
- Dean White as Novak
- Erskine Sanford as Bullard
- Michael Hall as Rob Stephenson
Casting brought together established stars as well as character actors and relative unknowns. The jazz drummer Gene Krupa was seen in archival footage, while Tennessee Ernie Ford, later a television star, appeared as an uncredited "hillbilly singer" (in the first of his only three film appearances).[Note 1] Blake Edwards, later a film producer and director, appeared fleetingly as an uncredited "Corporal". Wyler's daughters, Catherine and Judy, were cast as uncredited customers seen in the drug store where Fred Derry works. Sean Penn's father, Leo, played the uncredited part of the soldier working as the scheduling clerk in the A.T.C. Office at the beginning of the film.
Teresa Wright was only thirteen years younger than her on-screen mother, played by Myrna Loy. Michael Hall (1927-2020), with his role as Fredric March's on-screen son, is absent after the first one-third of the film.
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. Robert E. Sherwood then adapted the novella as a screenplay.
Director 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. Wyler changed the original casting that had featured a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and sought out Harold Russell, a non-actor, to take on the exacting role of Homer Parrish.
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.
Recounting the interrelated story of three veterans right after the end of World War II, The Best Years of Our Lives began filming just over seven months after the war's end, starting on April 15, 1946 at a variety of locations, including the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Ontario International Airport in Ontario, California, Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, and the Samuel Goldwyn/Warner Hollywood Studios.
In The Best Years of Our Lives cinematographer Gregg Toland used deep focus photography, in which objects both close to and distant from the camera are in sharp focus. 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.
The fictional Boone City was patterned after Cincinnati, Ohio. The "Jackson High" football stadium seen early in aerial footage of the bomber flying over the Boone City, is Corcoran Stadium located at Xavier University in Cincinnati. A few seconds later Walnut Hills High School with its dome and football field can be seen along with the downtown Cincinnati skyline (Carew Tower and Fourth and Vine Tower) in the background.
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.
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".
French film critic André Bazin used examples of Toland's and Wyler's deep-focus visual style to illuminate his theory of realism in film—going into detail about the scene in which Fred uses the phone booth in the far background while Homer and Butch play piano in the foreground. Bazin explains how deep focus functions in this scene:
The action in the foreground is secondary, although interesting and peculiar enough to require our keen attention since it occupies a privileged place and surface on the screen. Paradoxically, the true action, the one that constitutes at this precise moment a turning point in the story, develops almost clandestinely in a tiny rectangle at the back of the room—in the left corner of the screen.... Thus the viewer is induced actively to participate in the drama planned by the director.
Several decades later, film critic David Thomson offered 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."
The Best Years of Our Lives has a 98% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 56 reviews. Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert put the film on his "Great Movies" list in 2007, calling it "... modern, lean, and honest".
The Best Years of Our Lives was a massive commercial success, earning an estimated $10.2 million at the US and Canadian box office during its initial theatrical run, not only making it the highest-grossing film of 1946, but also the highest-grossing film of the 1940s decade. It benefited from much larger admission prices than the majority of films released that year which accounted for almost 70% of its earnings. When box office figures 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, The Big Parade 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 The Birth of a Nation and Charlie Chaplin's comedies are unavailable.)
However, because of the distribution arrangement RKO had with Goldwyn, RKO recorded a loss of $660,000 on the film.
Russell Academy Award
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 Academy Honorary Award "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance". When Russell in fact won Best Supporting Actor, there was an enthusiastic response. He is the only actor to have received two Academy Awards for the same performance. In 1992, Russell sold his Best Supporting Actor statuette at auction for $60,500 ($111,600 today), to pay his wife's medical bills.
American Film Institute included the film as #37 in its 1998 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies, as #11 in its 2006 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers, and as #37 in its 2007 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition).
- Thomson 1993, pp. 490–491.
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- Easton, Carol (2014). "The Best Years". The Search for Sam Goldwyn. Carl Rollyson (contributor). Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-62674-132-4.
Andrews looked at the onionskin pages and asked, 'Mac, why did you write this in blank verse?' 'Dana', said Kantor with a wry smile, 'I can't afford to write in blank verse, because nobody buys anything written in blank verse. But when Sam asked me to write this story, he didn't tell me not to write it in blank verse!'
- Orriss 1984, p. 119.
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- Tibbetts, John C., and James M. Welsh, eds. The Encyclopedia of Novels Into Film (2nd ed. 2005) pp 152–153.
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- The Best Years of Our Lives essay by Gabriel Miller at National Film Registry
- The Best Years of Our Lives essay by Daniel Eagan in America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry, A&C Black, 2010 ISBN 0826429777, pages 399-401 
- The Best Years of Our Lives at IMDb
- The Best Years of Our Lives at the TCM Movie Database
- The Best Years of Our Lives at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Best Years of Our Lives at AllMovie
- 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
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