Monday, November 11, 2013

Movie of the Week – The Best Years of Our Lives

This week’s movie: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

Three WWII veterans return home following the end of the war to their small Midwestern town to find that they just do not quite fit in anymore, even within their own families.

The drama is directed by one of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers William Wyler, who won one of his three best director Oscars for the film. Wyler worked with composer Hugo Friedhofer (who also won an Oscar for his work), production designers Perry Ferguson and George Jenkins, and cinematographer Gregg Toland. Toland’s contribution to the film is particularly notable. The film is shot using deep focus, a technique that Toland had developed through his collaborations with Wyler and Orson Welles (Citizen Kane). While Toland did not win an Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives, it is brilliant photography.

The film has a wonderful cast, all of whom give strong performances. Fredric March (who won an Oscar), Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell star as the returning veterans (Russell served in the war and received a special Oscar on top of his win for Best Supporting Actor for his heroism). Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O’Donnell, and Hoagy Carmichael feature in support.

All together The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Oscars including Best Picture. It is one of the greatest war dramas in film history (see my list of the Top 100 Films of the 20th Century); particularly because it focuses on the hardships that men returning from war face at home – the cost of heroism so to speak. Wyler made Mrs. Miniver at the start of the war – a film urging America’s entering the war to join England in their fight against Nazi Germany, as at the time they were alone – documentaries during the war, and this film at the end. All of his wartime work addressing the war is significant because it gets at the heart of why we should fight evil and the effects of fighting on the soldiers on a very human level. This is a must-see both as a war drama (as it gives a fuller picture of war) and as a character drama.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

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