Classic Review – The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Title – The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Director – William Wyler (Ben-Hur) 

Cast – Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo

Plot – Three American World War 2 veterans, Fred Derry (Andrews), Al Stephenson (March) and the permanently disabled Homer Parish (Russell) return to their small American township where they begin to realise that for them, the war is far from over. 

“All I know is, I was in love with you when you left and I’m in love with you now”

Review by Eddie on 16/11/2022

One of the biggest all round Hollywood hits of the pre-1950’s era, William Wyler’s multi-Oscar winning critical darling and box office sensation The Best Years of Our Lives is one of those rare black and white vintage dramas that has managed to stand up to the test and scrutiny of time to remain an effective and compassionate examination of the after effects that war has on those that partake in it as they try and adjust back to a normal life. 

Dealing with issues of both the physical and mental effects serviceman and those close to them suffered in the aftermath of World War 2, Wyler was inspired to make his epic drama after reading about and hearing about what was happening to soldiers across the world outside of the battlefields and striking while the iron was hot Wyler managed to get his grand opus out into the public while the embers of the war still burned around the globe. 

Utilising a talented if not exactly name brand cast, a cast that included the Oscar winning turns of Fredric March as returned family man Al Stephenson and real life war veteran Harold Russell as the permanently maimed Homer Parish, Wyler explores a multi-pronged narrative in Best as the lives of three returning American serviceman to their fictional Mid-western American town of Boone City come together with all men facing various difficulties in their return to their families, their loved ones, work and everyday society. 

Dealing with themes and issues that are still prevalent throughout modern day society, Best has that rare timeless feel too much of proceedings and while there are some romantic sub-plots and story arcs that veer towards melodrama at times (a regular occurrence for films of this time and place), there’s not many moments that don’t hit home here emotionally with Wyler, his cast and behind the scenes crew all working together to ensure that Best is an all round package that provides entertainment, food for thought and artistry that is rarely seen combining in such a notable fashion.  

Going on to direct such classics as Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday and The Big Country, it’s arguable that Best could be considered Wyler’s crowning achievement, a rare type of war drama that steers clear of the front line but brings home the horrors of the war all the same, Best is one of the most fully formed examples of classic Hollywood film-making that has lost little power over the years that have followed in its wake. 

Final Say – 

A touching, engaging and most importantly human war drama, The Best Years of Our Lives is a genuine Hollywood masterpiece that powerfully examines the effects of war that linger long after the laying down of arms. 

5 aeroplane graveyards out of 5 

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