The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Seventy-four years ago today, the film The Best Years of Our Lives premiered at the Astor Theater in New York City. After the premier 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.

Title: The Best Years of Our Lives
Directed by: William Wyler
Produced by: Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay by: Robert E. Sherwood
Based on: Glory for Me 1945 novella by MacKinlay Kantor
Starring : Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Harold Russell
Music by : Hugo Friedhofer, Emil Newman
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Edited by: Daniel Mandell
Production Company: Samuel Goldwyn Productions
Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures
Release date: November 21, 1946
Running time: 172 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $2.1 million
Box office: $23.7 million
Academy Award Best Motion Picture
Academy Award Best Director – William Wyler
Academy Award Best Actor – Fredric March
Academy Award Best Supporting Actor – Harold Russell
Academy Award Best Screenplay – Robert E. Sherwood
Academy Award Best Film Editing – Daniel Mandell
Academy Award Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture – Hugo Friedhofer
Academy Award Academy Honorary Award – Harold Russell
Academy Award Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award – Samuel Goldwyn
Golden Globe Awards Best Picture
Golden Globe Awards Special Achievement Award – Harold Russell
Bodil Awards Best American Film
British Academy Film Awards Best Film from any Source
Brussels World Film Festival Best Actress – Myrna Loy
Cinema Writers Circle Awards Best Foreign Film
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films
National Board of Review Awards Best Director – William Wyler
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Director – William Wyler
Online Film & Television Association Hall of Fame Motion Picture

On April 17, 1949, Screen Directors Playhouse presented The Best Years of Our Lives on NBC. Andrews and Janet Waldo starred in the half-hour adaptation.

In 1989, the National Film Registry selected it for preservation in the United States Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The plot follows the lives of three veterans returning from service at the end of World War II to the fictional mid-western town of Boone City: bombardier captain Fred Derry; naval petty officer Homer Parrish; and, infantry sergeant Al Stephenson. Before their respective military service, Fred was a soda jerk who married Marie shortly before shipping out. Al was a banker living with his wife Millie, adult daughter Peggy and teen-aged son Rob. Homer was a star high school athlete living with his parents and sister, next door to his girlfriend, Wilma. Homer lost both arms during the war and returns with mechanical hook prostheses.

Each man faces challenges integrating back into post-war society. Homer deals with the adjustments he and his family and Wilma face in light of his disability. Al’s penchant for alcohol and the adjustments of returning to the banking business cause tension with his family and business associates. Fred, who experiences flashbacks of his bombing raids, becomes frustrated with the wife he barely knows and an employer who fails to appreciate him, and who eventually fires him. Fred and Peggy become attracted to each other which puts the married Fred and Al at odds. Fred eventually leaves his cheating wife, and with no seeming future in Boone City, he decides to catch the next plane out. At the airport, Fred visits an aircraft boneyard and has another flashback. He is roused by a work crew boss who agrees to hire Fred to help disassemble the war planes for prefabricated housing material. Now divorced, Fred serves as best man at the wedding of Homer and Wilma, where he sees Peggy and they reunite.

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