The Best Years of Our Lives Screen 13 articles

The Best Years of Our Lives

1946

The Best Years of Our Lives Poster
  • [It's more than possible] to observe that a good deal which might have been very fine, even great and which is handled mainly by people who could have done, and done perfectly, all the best that could have been developed out of the idea, is here either murdered in its cradle or reduced to manageable good citizenship in the early stages of grade school. Yet I feel a hundred times more liking and admiration for the film than distaste or disappointment.

  • The film is very proud of itself, exuding a stifling piety at times, but it works as well as this sort of thing can, thanks to accomplished performances by Fredric March, Myrna Loy, and Dana Andrews, who keep the human element afloat. Gregg Toland's deep-focus photography, though, remains the primary source of interest for today's audiences.

  • ...The film feels fussed-over in a way that other Wyler productions such as the devastating drama The Heiress do not. That isn’t to say Best Years lacks for powerful moments, like Derry’s purgative tour of a plane-scrap graveyard or the smitten Peggy’s steely declaration that she’ll “break that marriage up.” But the movie does have an air of cautiousness about it, trying so hard to be a respectful, definitive statement on WWII (and often succeeding) that it sometimes feels cadaverous.

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    The New Republic: Manny Farber
    December 02, 1946 | Farber on Film (pp. 298-300)

    While the movie bites off more than it can chew (it never has sufficient nerve to hit hardheaded business or toadying clerks as well as it would like to), it is far and away the least sentimental, most human, of current films... This is one of those rare films in which a pose or a gesture stands out so significantly that you feel the cameraman (Gregg Toland) has as much to do with the story as the director and writer.

  • I’d call this the best American movie about returning soldiers I’ve ever seen — the most moving and the most deeply felt. It bears witness to its times and contemporaries like few other Hollywood features, and Gregg Toland’s deep-focus cinematography is one of the best things he ever did.

  • Whenever I watch the film I have the sense that Frederic March’s character will continue to fall apart, leave his wife and family and run off with the Beats; and that the future is extremely uncertain for the Harold Russell/Cathy O’Donnell and Dana Andrews/Teresa Wright marriages. The film does not spell “Success” to me, and I think it’s notable that the title is echoed in the most resoundingly bitter speech in the movie, delivered by Virginia Mayo to Andrews.

  • ...If The Best Years of Our Lives emerges as a more contemporary-seeing film than almost anything else to which its ingredients could compare, it's because of how it wrestles with the burden of patriotism. The nation's problems are right there in plain sight, just as clear as cinematographer Gregg Toland's typically precise deep-focus shots.

  • It isn’t fully a great film, and it isn’t iconic in the same bluntly hysterical manner of Dean’s movies with Nicholas Ray and Elia Kazan, but what makes it mesmerizing is how Wyler and his team were able to incorporate naturalistic tendencies and strikingly modern visuals within the framework of what could easily have been a sentimental three-hour Public Service Announcement about the difficulties of soldiers returning to civilian life.

  • Released late last year in a richly detailed Blu-Ray transfer from Warner Brothers, it is a patient, empathetic examination of soldiers re-entering American society following WWII. In its even lighting, off-the-rack costuming and deep focus long takes, Andre Bazin found “the perfect neutrality and transparency of style”.

  • From lending practices to postwar Red-baiting, liberalized education to the fear of nuclear war, Wyler, working with a script by Robert E. Sherwood, captures the sense of history being written on the fly, of momentous shifts in mind-sets and expectations. In the movie’s nearly three-hour span, the chrysalis of an old world seems to crack open and a fragile new one begins to emerge; a deep and tender romanticism arises from the exposed vulnerabilities.

  • This definitive life-after-wartime masterpiece is filthy with resonant quantities Hollywood wasn't supposed to know from: real-life ambivalence, disappointment, social humiliation, threadbare hopes, very American dreams crushed by time, adulthood, and happenstance... This wasn't the movie 1946 we thought we knew all about, but it hews closely enough to reality, in a pre-Method way, to punch a hole in your heart.

  • [The cast] play a kind of bittersweet symphony, built from the jarring emotions involved in yearning to be home, only to find that things there are hardly the way you left them. The Best Years of Our Lives is the kind of movie you make when your eyes have been fully opened to the worst. Only then can you know what the “best” really means, and appreciate it in all its tattered, careworn glory.

  • Homer is big-hearted and lovable and brave, but at times he feels freakish, haunted. And he’s concerned that he’ll be placing her within his struggle. Her light shadowed by his darkness. You see that on his face too. Homer receives her embrace without a smile, standing stiff, arms down. It’s a remarkable, beautifully acted scene. This is the first homecoming we witness in William Wyler’s masterpiece, The Best Years of Our Lives, homecomings that were powerfully personal to the director himself.

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