Saturday, 13 July 2013
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) - ★★★★★
Writers: MacKinlay Kantor (Novel), Robert E. Sherwood (Screenplay)
Stars: Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Fredric March, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O'Donnel, Ray Collins
The Best Years of Our Lives really is a masterpiece. I fell in love with every one of these characters, whose lives were each touched by war. Every single performance is entirely memorable, because the characters each had time to develop and earn a place in your heart. Wyler would extend every scene of reflection just a little bit, to show us that little bit extra emotion from each person. I found it all to be so beautiful really. Slow, but beautiful.
Three men return home from war to find their lives entirely different from what they used to be. Dana Andrews plays Fred Derry, a former captain in the airforce. Fredric March plays Al Stephenson, a father of two who can barely recognise his children or cope with work when he returns. Last, but not least, Harold Russell plays Homer Parish, a sailor from the navy that lost both of his hands in the war. They have to deal with their now complicated relationships, all the while learning to cope with how the world has changed. It's a masterpiece... a true masterpiece.
When Fred comes home, he's no longer a high-ranking man of respect. He can't even find a decent job. In order to make ends meat, he works at the old pharmacy for minimum wage, selling perfume. All of the love has left his marriage with Marie (Virginia Mayo), so he really is stuck in a depressing situation. Al uses alcohol to cope with his various situations, mainly to do with work and a lack of communication with his wife and kids. Homer finds it very hard to be around people, because he's paranoid that they're either looking at his hooks for hands, or trying not to look at them. Their struggle's were each very touching in their own right, covering a different traumatic aspect of a soldier's return home. Andrews, March and Russell each gave exemplary performances, with Russell being the standout of the male leads.
Meanwhile, we see the struggle of the women in these men's lives. Myrna Loy plays Milly, the wife of Al. She has to try her best to help him cope, whether it be watching his alcohol intake or just being there for casual conversation. She's probably the strongest character of the lot. Teresa Wright plays the daughter of Al, and the love interest of Fred. While her relationship with her father could be better, we mainly focus on her relationship with Fred. Their chemistry, their dialogue, every scene involving Wright and Andrews was phenomenal. Virginia Mayo played the floosy, selfish, uncaring wife of Fred who uses all his war money for leisure. She doesn't concern herself with his feelings, which only adds to the pain of the already tortured man. Cathy O'Donnel played Wilma, the girlfriend of Homer. He finds it hard to be around her, avoiding contact most of the time. All she can do is try to be there for him, for she loves him too much to leave.
What I love about this movie most is that all of the characters are human. They're just normal people, like you or me. The performances were so spectacular that it felt like a privilege to get a glimpse of the lives of these human beings. It was made one year after the war, and I imagine it made a lot of people realize how hard things are for war veterans. Although these people suffered quite a lot when they came home, they all had the strength to push on and try to overcome their difficulties. With the support of the women in their life, they make it out OK. The Best Years of Our Lives is an eye-opening masterpiece of cinema.