Billy Wilder said it best...
David Kusumoto | San Diego, CA United States | 07/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just before legendary director William Wyler died, equally legendary director Billy Wilder was interviewed about his feelings about Wyler's films, from "Best Years of Our Lives" to "Roman Holiday" to "Ben Hur" to "Funny Girl."
Wilder, a tough cookie who hates schmaltz and sentiment, the director of such classics as "Some Like it Hot," "The Apartment," "The Seven Year Itch" and "Sunset Boulevard," suddenly got emotional, expressing great affection for "The Best Years of Our Lives," noting that it was one of the best films he had ever seen.
He reacted the way I reacted. He said that it was the only film that he could remember (of course, this was well before "Saving Private Ryan" was released in 1998), where he and the entire audience were drenched in tears within the first 10 minutes. It was an unforgettable experience for him, and he recognized immediately that "The Best Years of Our Lives" was obviously a deeply personal work for Wyler, where every scene, every frame, every note of music and word of dialogue, rang true with authenticity and emotion. This was Wyler's territory. He knew the material. And many of the scenes that were shot mirrored his own experiences when he returned home from war.
This is why, after so many viewings, I still can't get over the fact that no matter how many times I say to myself, "I'm not going to be moved by this or that scene," I fail miserably. I just can't help it. To say that this is a great film is an understatement of the highest order. And yet I can only count on one hand the number of friends I know who have seen this film from start to finish. I think the running length has something to do with it. You never see it on commercial television at all and unless you're lucky enough to have cable, you'll miss it entirely. And it's not a film that people are banging down the doors to rent.
The wonderful thing about "The Best Years of Our Lives" is that it still holds up beautifully, unlike a lot of films that seem awkward or stilted. Fredric March, as the patriarch of the family (in an Oscar winning role), is stupendous. His acting and delivery of lines seems effortless and spontaneous, not the product of a script recited from memory. And to have Myrna Loy as his partner and the wonderful Teresa Wright playing his daughter (the latter an Oscar winner a few years earlier in "Mrs. Miniver"), how can you lose?
Like all great films, time has no meaning. The story sweeps you along like a great wave -- a ride -- that you never want to end. The famous "long hallway homecoming shot" that appears in the first 10 minutes of the film -- I don't care that it's the scene that most people remember and is usually the ONLY scene that turns up in any highlight reel of greatest films ever made -- it gets me every time.
And the ending, the last line from the movie, the one uttered by Dana Andrews -- despite the sentimental setting -- is so fabulously understated and cynical and yet filled with such hope, that you can't help but be -- what I describe as being -- "happily devastated." It's a wonderful ending that purposely leaves you guessing about what will become of the characters played by Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews, but you can't help but feel that their future looks bright in spite of their apparent state of destitution.
I just wish more people would see this film. There's a treasure chest of great movies from the past that people overlook every day. This is one of them. I pity people who still buy or rent movies based on slick packaging alone.
I would rather pay $10 to see this film on the big screen or less than $20 to own this film so I can see it on a little screen -- than pay about $4 to rent junk that has a good looking box -- and a few great critical reviews from people you've never heard of.
Some films are good enough to rent, but only a few films are good enough to buy. "The Best Years of Our Lives" is a film to BUY."
A poignant drama that provides insight into post-WW2 America
Captain Hornblower | Orlando, Florida USA | 01/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Best Years of Our Lives" is a compelling dramatic masterpiece, and certainly one of the best films ever made. It's not as well known today as other pieces from the period, such as "Casablanca" or "Citizen Kane", but it is nevertheless a classic that deserves ranking with those same films. This film paints a picture of the struggles of World War II servicemen that they faced AFTER the war was over. It was a more personal struggle of men returning home after being away for many years, and after experiencing horrors that their loved ones could never fully understand. They return home as changed people, and come home to changed lives.The story of such a homecoming experienced by thousands of men after World War II is told from the perspective of three fictional characters: Captain Fred Derry, a bombadier in the Army Air Corps (Dana Andrews), Sergeant Al Stevenson, an Army infantryman (Frederich March), and Seamen Homer Parrish(Harold Russell). They happen to meet on the plane to their hometown, having never met before, and immediately form a bond built upon mutual understanding of the experiences of war and the anxieties of returning home again.Captain Derry came from a poor background before the war, and married a blond bombshell (Virgnia Mayo) while in the Air Corps. He hopes to return home to a better life, a nice home with his wife, and a better job. This was not to be, as Derry struggles to try and deal with bad job prospects (no one in the civilian world needs a bombadier) and a cheating wife. In a poignant moment in the film, Derry (at his lowest) tells his Father to throw away the citations for his medals, because "they don't mean anything". His Father reads the one for the Distinguished Flying Cross, signed by General Jimmy Doolittle, and a look of pride comes over the old man's face for his son's heroism that makes you want to cry and cheer all at the same time. It also makes the viewer see how criminal it was for such a man to be made to feel worthless.Sergeant Stevenson comes home to better circumstances, being a banker in the civilian world with a wife, two grown children, and a nice apartment. But he too must confront troubles, as Stevenson must get to know a family that progressed without him, and balance his job with his desire to aid servicemen seeking G.I. Bill loans. He battles with his bank's bosses over the loan issue, and also struggles with alcoholism.Seamen Parrish's problems are the most obvious. He lost his hands during the war, and now must come home to his family and fiancee with hooks for hands. The actor who potrayed Parrish, Harold Russell, was a real disable veteran, and lends credibility to the role that no one else could have due to real life experience. This may seem like a depressing film, but it is actually uplifting in its entirety because it does show that hope doesn't die, and that you really can come home again after all. It is also a film of historical importance due to the insights it provides into post-World War II America, and the struggles of veterans in the post-war years. Captain Derry, Sergeant Stevenson, and Seamen Parrish, and their individual struggles to reclaim their lives can provide the student of history an important perspective on the many real life veterans who returned home, and the country of the time they returned home to.The film has certainly earned accolades over the years. It won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1946. It was named by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Best Movies ever made, and was also named as one of the most important films of all time by the National Archives for the National Film Registry. "The Best Years of Our Lives" is not to be missed for both its dramatic poignancy and its insight into an important period of American History. And its a beautiful sight to behold in DVD quality."
Comparisons of the two DVDs
Nix Pix | 09/09/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The 4-star rating reflects the quality of the DVD only, not the movie itself (which is a 5-star). The picture quality of this DVD (the 2000 MGM-released version) is poor, much below the average expected from a DVD. The picture quality of the 1997 HBO-released DVD is slightly better. However, the 1997 version sometimes has annoying black lines running vertically in the middle of the screen. This 1997 release is the one that people complain about having to turn the disc over around the middle of the movie. Both the 1997 and 2000 releases are Full Screen format (contrary to what Amazon.com says about the 1997 release). Considering that the 1997 release costs about twice the price of the 2000 release, you would be better off spending your money on the 2000 release."
A moving character study of the aftermath of war
flickjunkie | 12/11/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This outstanding 1946 film looks at WWII from a different perspective. It examines the plight of soldiers returning after the war. It follows three servicemen who meet on a flight back to their hometown. The story is well crafted, depicting men from very different backgrounds, each from a different branch of the service and each with a different challenge to face.Fred (Dana Andrews) was a bombardier, a dashing captain in the Air Corp. He is coming home to a beautiful wife (Virginia Mayo) and no job prospects. His wife loves to party, but his job as a soda jerk can't keep pace with her penchant for spending. Al (Frederic March), a former banker, was a sergeant in the infantry with a wife of 20 years (Myrna Loy) and two grown children. He comes home to a distant wife and a troubled marriage. He is a banker with a heart, which evokes derisive scrutiny from his boss and the other bankers. Homer (Harold Russell) was a sailor who lost his hands in a fire onboard ship. He is returning to his parents and his long time girlfriend Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell) feeling certain that she will never be able to love him with his disability.William Wyler (Wuthering Heights, Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur) is one of the most renowned directors in filmmaking history, having won four Oscars in twelve nominations. His direction here is superb. This is a compelling character study with nuance, sensitivity and insight. The scenes of the uneasy moments of reunion were stirring, especially in the case of Homer, who was tormented and insecure about how he would be accepted without his hands. Wyler takes us right into the most intimate thoughts and feelings of these families as they attempt to deal with challenges for which they are not totally prepared. The scene where Wilma sees Homer without his prosthetics for the first time is one of the most touching and poignant ever filmed.This is a candid look at the issues of the day. The film addresses the burgeoning Communist threat and the sense of betrayal at the actions of our former Soviet allies after the war. It refers frequently to the nuclear threat and the fear of mass destruction. Most importantly, it shows how difficult it was for servicemen to adapt to a world that had become accustomed to getting along without them.The acting was outstanding across the board. Frederic March was excellent as the banker trying to hold together a troubled marriage. He gave a towering performance and won an Oscar for best actor. Andrews, who wasn't nominated (and should have been), also gave a fabulous performance as the glamorous flyboy who comes home to discover he has no skills and can't get a job. Harold Russell won a best supporting Oscar for his portrayal of the sailor trying to regain his self-respect after the loss of his hands. Russell actually lost his hands in the service in an explosives accident during a training exercise. He is amazingly dexterous using his prosthetics. His portrayal of Homer had such affability, depth and sensitivity that it is difficult to believe this was his acting debut.This film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won seven including Best Picture, Best Actor for March, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Russell. It is ranked number 37 on AFI's top 100 of the century. I rated it a 10/10. For anyone who enjoys a powerful and emotional character study, this classic is a must-see."