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||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 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. 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.
The Best Years of Our Lives 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). In addition to its critical success, the film quickly became a great commercial success upon release. It became the highest-grossing film in both the United States and UK since the release of Gone with the Wind. It remains the sixth most-attended film of all time in the UK, with over 20 million tickets sold.
After World War II, returning veterans Fred Derry, Homer Parrish, and Al Stephenson meet while flying home to Boone City. Fred is returning from Europe as a decorated captain and bombardier from the Eighth Air Force. Homer was a petty officer in the Seventh Fleet when he lost both hands from burns suffered when his ship was sunk, and now uses mechanical hook prostheses. Al served with the 25th Infantry Division as a platoon sergeant in the Pacific. All three have trouble adjusting to civilian life.
Al is a banker with a comfortable apartment home and a loving family: wife Milly, adult daughter Peggy, and high-school student son Rob. He is promoted to vice president in charge of small loans, as the president views his military experience as valuable in dealing with other returning servicemen. When Al approves an unsecured loan to a young Navy veteran, based primarily on his own personal intuition about the reliability of the applicant and his background, rather than the presence (or absence) of any solid financial "collateral," the president advises him against making a habit of it. Later, at a banquet in his honor, a slightly inebriated Al expounds that the bank—and America—must stand with the vets and give them every chance to rebuild their lives.
Fred, once an unskilled drugstore soda jerk, wants something better, but the tight post-war job market forces him to return to his old job. Fred had met Marie while in flight training in Texas, and married her shortly afterward, before shipping out less than a month later. She became a nightclub waitress in Boone City, while Fred was overseas. Marie makes it clear she does not enjoy being married to a lowly soda jerk.
Homer was a high school football quarterback and became engaged to his next door neighbor, Wilma, before joining the Navy. Homer and his parents now have trouble dealing with his disability. He does not want to burden Wilma with his handicap so he eventually pushes her away, although she still wants to marry him.
Peggy, who spent the previous two years during the War working in a hospital at an unspecified job, meets Fred when driving her parents around to several night clubs the night her father returns, as he wants to celebrate, and remind himself that he is "back in civilization again!" The last place they stop, after several other noisy, overly crowded establishments, is the small neighborhood bar owned and operated by Homer's uncle, played by Hoagie Carmichael. It is much quieter and more sedate than their previous stops, and as they enter, discover that Homer and Fred are already in attendance. The reunion between the three men provides the opportunity to introduce Fred to Al's daughter, Peggy. They are attracted to each other.
When they all leave at closing time, Al is thoroughly soused, with Fred not far behind him, and with a sober Peggy driving, they give Fred a ride to the apartment building where he had located his wife's address. She had not been home the first time he tried to find her, as she had apparently already left for work at the nightclub where she worked. The second time, she had not yet returned, but Fred wasn't in any condition to find a place to spend the night on his own, sliding down the wall of the building next to the row of doorbells which ring to each apartment, and ending up sitting on the sidewalk, practically unconscious. Peggy and Milly retrieve him from the ground, and manage to get him back into the car, in the back seat with an equally unresponsive Al. They take him home with them, where he spends the night sleeping on Peggy's frilly canopy bed, while Peggy takes up residence for the night on the family sofa. Later on, in the middle of the night, Fred has another of the many nightmares that his war experiences have continued to inflict on him -- in the 1940s version of PTSD, which would take years to identify in that particular form -- waking Peggy with his shouting. She goes in to find him in great distress, and manages to wake him just enough to stop the dream, and then gets him back to sleep again. Fred is nursing a slight hangover the next morning, but gets himself showered, shaved and dressed, and eats some of the breakfast that Peggy has prepared for him. On her way in to her hospital job after breakfast, she gives him another ride back to the apartment where his wife lives. They part company, assuming it will likely be permanent.
After some time, Peggy hears from her father that Fred has found a job working in his prior job in the drug store. But, the ownership had been assumed by a large, impersonal corporation which bought out the original owner, while maintaining many of its old employees, including the pharmacist who had originally employed Fred at the soda fountain of his neighborhood drug store. Fred finds himself working under the supervision of a snarky (obviously 4-F during the war) young man who had been Fred's assistant at the soda fountain before the war.
Peggy had stopped in to say "Hello" to Fred one afternoon, finding him demonstrating various perfumes to a woman, who had brought her overly-curious and somewhat rude little boy with her. He was busying himself wrecking toy displays and "shooting" a glider version of a toy airplane over the heads of the various busy patrons and employees. Peggy caught the missile as it landed, and returned it to a surprised Fred, who had completed his sale, and came over to greet her. Discovering she wasn't just another customer, they had a brief, low voiced conversation in the middle of him making a louder, but false attempt at demonstrating various cosmetics and facial creams to her at the same time. He invites her to join him for lunch in 20 minutes, as that was when his own lunch break started. She agrees, and they have lunch together in a small neighborhood Italian restaurant, while chatting about various goals Fred had while he was in the Air Force.
As they leave, Fred escorts her to her car, parked in a large public parking lot, and just before she gets in her car to leave, he suddenly grabs her by the shoulders and kisses her quickly but passionately. He immediately apologizes, yet also expresses his feeling that it would have happened regardless. Confused and somewhat upset, Peggy gets in her car and drives away.
After confronting her own feelings, she decides to find out more about Marie in person as well, hoping that a face-to-face encounter under social circumstances will "knock some sense into her." She calls Marie and invites her and Fred on a double-date with herself and a boyfriend to a local nightclub for dinner and dancing, as their guests, and "chaperones." Fred is very reticent about going, initially insisting that Marie call Peggy back and make any plausable excuse not to go. This arouses Marie's suspicions about how well and how long he's known Peggy. Fred explains, rather unconvincingly, that he doesn't want to accept "handouts" or invitations he can't afford to reciprocate in kind. But they go anyway. Peggy dislikes Marie, and informs her parents after she returns home later that night, that she intends to end Fred's marriage, because she can see so clearly that they surely do not love each other, which is making Fred miserable. But her parents explain briefly to 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 counter in the drug store where Fred works, an obnoxious customer, while making casual conversation with Homer one afternoon, claims the war was fought against the wrong enemies. This enrages Homer, and he starts to get into a fight with the man. Fred sees this and intervenes, knocking the man down into a large glass display case – costing him his job. As they walk down the sidewalk a little later to where Fred catches his bus to go home, Fred encourages Homer to put his misgivings behind him and marry Wilma, offering to be his best man.
Wilma visits Homer at home later that same evening, 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, by taking her with him upstairs to his room, and leaving the door ajar, showing her what handling his prostheses would involve as he gets ready for bed, and how helpless he feels he is without them. When Wilma is undaunted, Homer reconsiders.
Fred discovers his wife with another veteran, when returning home earlier than he is expected one afternoon after a day of job hunting. After sending the other man out of the apartment to wait for her downstairs, as Marie had been preparing to go out with him for the evening, she and Fred argue about their mutual activities during the War, and she ends up complaining to Fred that she has "given up the best years of my life!" -- obviously unconcerned and oblivious about what he had given up during the same period of time. Marie then tells him that she is getting a divorce. As she leaves, she removes her wedding ring and drops it casually into her purse, announcing to Fred that he should have no trouble finding another job, as "there are drugstores everywhere."
Fred decides to leave town, and gives his father his medals and citations, including his Distinguished Flying Cross, with a citation signed by General Doolittle. Fred's father attempts to dissuade him from leaving, telling him there is a need for men like himself right there, and asking him to consider that things may be no different elsewhere, but Fred is not moved. His stepmother has helped him by taking care of some of his laundry, but also expresses her misgivings as well. Fred is still convinced he should go elsewhere to try and find a fresh start, and get away from his many unhappy memories.
At the A.T.C. Office at the airport, Fred books space on the first outbound aircraft, without regard for the direction of travel or the destination - only which one is leaving first. 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, in charge of disassembling the surplus war planes in order to recycle some of the materials for "prefabricated houses," rouses him from his flashback. Fred persuades the man to hire him.
People have gathered for the wedding of Homer and Wilma, at Wilma's and her parents' home. Fred, now divorced, is Homer's best man. While the vows are exchanged, Fred and Peggy glance across the room at one another.
The ring presentation portion of the ceremony (there is only a bride's wedding band, for obvious reasons) seems to cause some extra concern amongst the guests, as their facial expressions indicate they are somewhat concerned that Homer may not be able to manage to get the wedding band on Wilma's finger without dropping it, having only his mechanical hook prostheses to use, instead of hands.
(For those believing in old superstitions of the time, or even just being aware of them, dropping the wedding ring while attempting to put it on the bride's finger would indicate significant bad luck to come in their marriage.)
But, Homer comes through with flying colors, as they all watch him handle the little ring with great dexterity, and slip it on his bride's finger with skill and precision. At the conclusion of the brief, informal ceremony, everyone happily gathers around the newlyweds, kissing and congratulating the newly married couple.
Still gazing over at Peggy, Fred walks across the room, takes her in his arms, and kisses her. He asks if she understands how things will be for them, that it could take years before they can get a life established. All the while, Peggy smiles fondly at Fred, and then kisses him again.
- Myrna Loy as Milly Stephenson
- Fredric March as Platoon 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 Uncle Butch Engle
- 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, with his role as Fredric March's on-screen son, is absent after the first one-third of the film.
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 PNC 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".
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 37 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 $11.5 million at the US and Canadian box office during its initial theatrical run however, 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.
Awards and honors
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 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 award at auction for $60,500 ($108,000 today), to pay his wife's medical bills.
|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 due to the honorary award won by Harold Russell, and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award won by Samuel Goldwyn, in addition to its 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 Year – Myrna Loy
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 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.
- " 'Best Years of Our Lives' (1946)." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: February 4, 2010.
- Kantor, MacKinlay (1945). Glory for Me. Coward-McCann. OCLC 773996.
- 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.
- Levy, Emanuel (April 4, 2015). "Oscar History: Best Picture–Best Years of Our Lives (1946)". Emanuel Levy: Cinema 24/7. Archived from the original (review) on January 18, 2017. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
- "The 19th Academy Awards (1947) Nominees and Winners." oscars.org. Retrieved: November 20, 2011.
- "The Ultimate Chart: 1–100". British Film Institute. November 28, 2004. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
- Orriss 1984, p. 121.
- Kehr, Dave. "'The Best Years of Our Lives'." The Chicago Reader. Retrieved: April 26, 2007.
- Orriss 1984, pp. 121–122.
- "Trivia: 'The Best Years of Our Lives'." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: February 10, 2015.
- Crowther, Bosley. The Best Years of our Lives. The New York Times, November 22, 1946. Retrieved: April 26, 2007.
- Thomson, 2002, p. 949. 4th Edition; the first edition was published in 1975. See Thomson, David (1975). A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema. London: Secker & Warburg. OCLC 1959828.
- " '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.
- "Top Grossers of 1947". Variety. January 7, 1948. p. 63. Retrieved June 11, 2019 – via Archive.org.
- "Upped Scale Films Cop 'Win, Place, Show' Spots in Gross Sweepstakes". Variety. January 7, 1948. p. 63. Retrieved June 11, 2019 – via Archive.org.
- "All-time Films (adjusted)." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: September 19, 2010.
- Richard B. Jewell, Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, Uni of California, 2016
- Bergan, Ronald. "Obituary: Harold Russell; Brave actor whose artificial hands helped him win two Oscars." The Guardian, February 6, 2002. Retrieved: June 12, 2012.
- "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 38 (4): 35. Autumn 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; OCLC 11709474
- Thomson, David. Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick. London: Abacus, 1993. ISBN 978-0-2339-8791-0.
- Thomson, David. "Wyler, William". The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. 4th Edition. London: Little, Brown, 2002. ISBN 0-316-85905-2.
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