Best Picture Review: “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Over the course of two nights, Monday and Tuesday, Lauren and I spent 2 hours, 52 minutes watching 1946’s Best Picture winner, The Best Years of Our Lives.

I was pretty much blown away.  Blown!  When I heard this was another war movie, I was disappointed.  But it was a movie about three men returning from World War II and how they had to try readjusting to their old lives.  And I thought it was quite an amazing movie.

This was definitely a character development movie.  Not a lot of big blockbuster storylines, just the tales of a sailor named Homer who lost both hands; a Sargent named Al who returned to his family and missed the growing up of his children; and a pilot named Fred who was returning to a wife who no longer likes him.

The biggest story in this movie involved Fred putting the moves on Al’s daughter Peggy, played by the talented legend of screen Teresa Wright.  Fred was married, and if affairs are frowned upon these days, imagine what people thought in 1946!  Al was none too pleased that his war buddy was putting the moves on his daughter.

Meanwhile, Homer with his hooks for hands, was being pitied by his family and longtime love Wilma.  He has doubts that anyone will ever take him seriously again, but Wilma couldn’t care less about the hooks and wants him for the rest of his body.  A wedding ensues.

In the end, Fred’s wife divorces him, opening the door for him to make out with Peggy at Homer’s wedding.  Happy endings all around!

I thought it was a great movie.  Outstanding acting all around.  It had the most modern feel of any of the movies so far, perhaps because it is in fact the most recent, but seems to be timeless in many regards.  The hook-hand actor, Harold Russell, really was handless in real life because of the war.  And he was the first non-professional actor ever to win Best Actor at the Academy Awards.  Not only that, but he is the only person to win two Oscars for the portrayal of the same character, as he was also awarded an honorary award for bringing hope to his fellow veterans of war.

Much like previous winner “It Happened One Night,” I’m not sure the title was very fitting.  I don’t quite know what the best years of their lives were.  Are they talking about the years they spent overseas at World War II?  Maybe their lives were so upside down after returning from the war that the time that their years at war seemed more natural?

I feel like I should take a moment to say the young Teresa Wright (28 at the time) was quite the actress.  She was nominated for Oscars in the first three films she starred in, including our recently viewed Mrs. Miniver, along with Damn Yankees, where she starred alongside Babe Ruth.  I’d have to say she and Clark Gable are my favorite actors of this time period.

The only thing I’m torn about is whether to rank this movie first or second on the list.  I’ll have to give it some time before I decide.

Next up, 1947’s Gentleman’s Agreement.


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