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The Best Years of Our Lives

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Best Years of Our Lives
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Wyler
Screenplay byRobert E. Sherwood
Based onGlory for Me
1945 novella
by MacKinlay Kantor
Produced bySamuel Goldwyn
Starring
CinematographyGregg Toland
Edited byDaniel Mandell
Music by
Production
company
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
Running time
172 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2.1 million[1] or $3 million[2]
Box office$23.7 million[3]
Standing (left to right): Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright; seated at piano: Hoagy Carmichael

The Best Years of Our Lives (also known as Glory for Me and Home Again) is a 1946 American drama film directed by William Wyler and starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo and Harold Russell. The film is about three United States servicemen re-adjusting to societal changes and civilian life after coming home from World War II. The three men come from different services with different ranks that do not correspond with their civilian social class backgrounds. It is one of the earliest films to address issues encountered by returning veterans in the post World War II era.

The film was a critical and commercial success. It won seven Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Fredric March), Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Best Film Editing (Daniel Mandell), Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert E. Sherwood), and Best Original Score (Hugo Friedhofer).[4]

In addition, Russell was also awarded an honorary Academy Award, the only time in history that two such awards were given for a single performance.

It was the highest-grossing film in both the United States and United Kingdom since the release of Gone with the Wind, and is the sixth most-attended film of all time in the United Kingdom, with over 20 million tickets sold.[5]

In 1989, The Best Years of Our Lives was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[6][7]

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  • The Best Years Of Our Lives | Homer And Wilma | Warner Bros. Entertainment
  • The Best Years Of Our Lives | Homer's Homecoming | Warner Bros. Entertainment
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) Official Trailer - Myrna Loy, Fredric March Movie HD
  • The Best Years of Our Lives
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) - Trailer

Transcription

Plot

Three returning World War II veterans meet on a flight to their midwestern hometown of Boone City: USAAF bombardier captain Fred Derry, U.S. Navy petty officer Homer Parrish, and U.S. Army sergeant Al Stephenson. Each had a left a very different life behind:

Fred Derry was a drug store soda jerk who lived with his parents on the wrong side of the tracks. Before shipping out, Fred married a gold-digger named Marie after a whirlwind romance. Marie has since been working in a nightclub to fill her time (and her nightlife) in spite of Fred’s generous combat pay as an Air Force officer.

Al Stephenson was an executive at a bank and lived in an luxury apartment with his wife, Millie, and their teenage children, Peggy and Rob.

Homer Parrish was a star high school athlete living with his middle-class parents and younger sister. Homer had also been dating his next-door neighbor Wilma, whom he intended to marry upon his return from the war.

Each man faces challenges integrating back into civilian life. Homer lost both hands in the war and though he has become functional in the use of his mechanical hooks, he cannot believe that Wilma will still want to marry him. Al, tired and jaded from the war, returns to the bank and is given a promotion, but wrestles with alcohol. Though highly decorated, Fred suffers from PTSD flashbacks by night.

Fred arrives home and cannot locate his party girl wife, who does not expect him. The Stephensons and their daughter Peggy invite Fred along with them for the evening, bar hopping in celebration of Al’s return. An inebriated Fred keeps asking Peggy who she is, and she keeps reminding him that she is “Al’s daughter.”

Although proficient in managing the challenges of his disability, Homer is frustrated by his loss of independence and adjusting to his relationship with Wilma. Concerned that Wilma does not fully understand the difficulties of being married to him with his disabilities, Homer demonstrates to her how she will need to assist him at bedtime when he removes his harness with his prosthetic hands, leaving him helpless. Wilma believes she can commit herself to him for life.

Al continues to struggle with re-entry into normal life. Widely respected by the bank's senior management for his past business acumen, Al is criticized after approving an unsecured loan to a farmer and fellow veteran who wants it to buy forty acres, but has no collateral for the purchase. With inhibitions lowered by excessive drinking, Al gives a speech at a banquet that satirizes requiring a veteran to provide collateral before risking his life to take a hill in battle.

Unable to find a better job than soda jerk, Fred returns to the same drug store. Fred and Peggy develop an attraction for each other, which puts the married Fred at odds with Al. When Homer visits Fred at the drug store, another customer criticizes US involvement in the war, telling Homer his injuries were unnecessary. Homer responds angrily, and Fred intervenes on his behalf, punching the customer and consequently being fired. Meanwhile, Marie, frustrated with his lack of financial success and missing her past nightlife, decides to get a divorce. Bitter, and seeing no future in Boone City, particularly with Al telling Fred to stay away from Peggy, Fred decides to catch the next plane out. While waiting at the airport, Fred walks into an aircraft boneyard, climbing into a decommissioned B-17 bomber. Sitting in the bombardier's seat, Fred has another flashback. He is roused out of his stressful memories by a work crew foreman, who reveals that the planes are being demolished for use in the growing prefab housing industry. Fred asks if they need any help in the budding business and is hired.

Al, Millie, and Peggy attend Homer and Wilma's wedding, where Fred is best man. Now divorced, Fred reunites with Peggy after the ceremony. Fred expresses his love but says things may be financially difficult if she stays with him. Peggy's smile expresses her joy.

Cast

Casting brought together established stars as well as character actors and relative unknowns. The jazz drummer Gene Krupa was seen in archival footage, while Tennessee Ernie Ford, later a television star, appeared as an uncredited "hillbilly singer" (in the first of his only three film appearances).[Note 1] Blake Edwards, later a film producer and director, appeared fleetingly as an uncredited "Corporal". Wyler's daughters, Catherine and Judy, were cast as uncredited customers seen in the drug store where Fred Derry works. Sean Penn's father, Leo, played the uncredited part of the soldier working as the scheduling clerk in the Air Transport Command Office at the beginning of the film.

Teresa Wright was only thirteen years younger than her on-screen mother, played by Myrna Loy. Michael Hall (1926-2020), at the time of his death the last surviving credited cast member, with his role as Fredric March's on-screen son, is absent after the first third of the film. The reason was that Hall's contract with Goldwyn ended during filming, but the producer was reluctant to pay extra money to rehire him.[8]

Production

Samuel Goldwyn was inspired to produce a film about veterans after reading an August 7, 1944, article in Time about the difficulties experienced by men returning to civilian life. Goldwyn hired former war correspondent MacKinlay Kantor to write a screenplay. His work was first published as a novella, Glory for Me, which Kantor wrote in blank verse.[9][10][11][12] Robert E. Sherwood then adapted the novella as a screenplay.[12]

Director Wyler had flown combat missions over Europe in filming Memphis Belle (1944), and worked hard to get accurate depictions of the combat veterans he had encountered. Wyler changed the original casting, which had featured a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and sought out Harold Russell, a non-actor, to take on the exacting role of Homer Parrish.[13]

For The Best Years of Our Lives, he asked the principal actors to purchase their own clothes, in order to connect with daily life and produce an authentic feeling. Other Wyler touches included constructing life-size sets, which went against the standard larger sets that were more suited to camera positions. The impact for the audience was immediate, as each scene played out in a realistic, natural way.[13]

Recounting the interrelated story of three veterans right after the end of World War II, The Best Years of Our Lives began filming just over seven months after the war's end, starting on April 15, 1946, at a variety of locations, including the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Ontario International Airport in Ontario, California, Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, and the Samuel Goldwyn/Warner Hollywood Studios.[13]

In The Best Years of Our Lives cinematographer Gregg Toland used deep focus photography, in which objects both close to and distant from the camera are in sharp focus.[14] For the passage of Fred Derry's reliving a combat mission while sitting in the remains of a former bomber, Wyler used "zoom" effects to simulate Derry's subjective state.[15]

The fictional Boone City was patterned after Cincinnati, Ohio.[11] The "Jackson High" football stadium seen early in aerial footage of the bomber flying over the Boone City, is Corcoran Stadium located at Xavier University in Cincinnati. A few seconds later Walnut Hills High School with its dome and football field can be seen along with the downtown Cincinnati skyline (Carew Tower and Fourth and Vine Tower) in the background.[16]

After the war, the combat aircraft featured in the film were being destroyed and disassembled for reuse as scrap material. The scene of Derry's walking among aircraft ruins was filmed at the Ontario Army Air Field in Ontario, California. The former training facility had been converted into a scrap yard, housing nearly 2,000 former combat aircraft in various states of disassembly and reclamation.[13]

Reception

Critical response

Upon its release, The Best Years of Our Lives received extremely positive reviews from critics. Shortly after its premiere at the Astor Theater, New York, 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." He also said the ensemble casting gave the "'best' performance in this best film this year from Hollywood".[17]

Deep focus framing.
Director Wyler and cinematographer Toland used deep focus to keep Fred visible in the phone booth in the far background of the frame.

French film critic André Bazin used examples of Toland's and Wyler's deep-focus visual style to illuminate his theory of realism in film—going into detail about the scene in which Fred uses the phone booth in the far background while Homer and Butch play piano in the foreground. Bazin explains how deep focus functions in this scene:

The action in the foreground is secondary, although interesting and peculiar enough to require our keen attention since it occupies a privileged place and surface on the screen. Paradoxically, the true action, the one that constitutes at this precise moment a turning point in the story, develops almost clandestinely in a tiny rectangle at the back of the room—in the left corner of the screen.... Thus the viewer is induced actively to participate in the drama planned by the director.[18]

Professor and author Gabriel Miller discusses briefly the use of deep-focus in both the bar scene and the wedding scene at the end of the picture in an article written for the National Film Preservation Board.[19]

Several decades later, film critic David Thomson offered tempered praise: "I would concede that Best Years is decent and humane... acutely observed, despite being so meticulous a package. It would have taken uncommon genius and daring at that time to sneak a view of an untidy or unresolved America past Goldwyn or the public."[20]

The Best Years of Our Lives has a 97% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 8.9/10, based on 97 reviews. The critical consensus states: "An engrossing look at the triumphs and travails of war veterans, The Best Years of Our Lives is concerned specifically with the aftermath of World War II, but its messages speak to the overall American experience."[21] On Metacritic, the film holds a weighted average score of 93 out of 100 based on 17 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[22]

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert put the film on his "Great Movies" list in 2007, calling it "... modern, lean, and honest".[23]

Popular response

The Best Years of Our Lives was a massive commercial success, not only becoming the highest-grossing film of 1946 but the entire 1940s decade.

It opened to the public at the Astor Theatre in New York City on November 22, 1947, and grossed $52,236 in its first week. Its length restricted the film to six shows a day, cutting down on total ticket sales, and initially suffered by having a top midweek ticket price of $2.40, reducing gross revenue. It opened at the Woods Theatre in Chicago on December 18 before a roadshow theatrical release in Boston and Los Angeles, starting on the evening of Christmas Day.[24] After 12 weeks at the Astor, the film had grossed $584,000 and at that point had grossed $1.37 million from 6 theatres in five cities from 45 play weeks.[25]

the picture earned an estimated $10 million in theatrical rentals at the U.S. and Canadian box office during its initial theatrical run,[26] ultimately benefiting from much larger admission prices (reflecting its exceptional length) than the majority of films released that year, which accounted for almost 70% of its earnings.[27] When box office figures are adjusted for inflation, it remains one of the top 100 grossing films in U.S. history.

Among films released before 1950, only Gone With the Wind, The Bells of St. Mary's, The Big Parade and four Disney titles have done more total business, in part due to later re-releases. (Reliable box office figures for certain early films such as The Birth of a Nation and Charlie Chaplin's comedies are unavailable.)[28]

However, because of the distribution arrangement RKO had with Goldwyn, RKO recorded a loss of $660,000 on the film.[29]

Russell Academy Award

I’m spite of his moving performance, Harold Russell was not a professional actor. As the Academy Board of Governors considered him a long shot to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar he had been nominated for, they gave him an Academy Honorary Award "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance". When Russell in fact won as supporting actor there was an enthusiastic response. He is the only actor to have received two Academy Awards for the same performance. In 1992, Russell sold his Best Supporting Actor statuette at auction for $60,500 ($131,400 today), to pay his wife's medical bills.[30]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Motion Picture Samuel Goldwyn (for Samuel Goldwyn Productions) Won
Best Director William Wyler Won
Best Actor Fredric March Won
Best Supporting Actor Harold Russell Won
Best Screenplay Robert E. Sherwood Won
Best Film Editing Daniel Mandell Won
Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Hugo Friedhofer Won
Best Sound Recording Gordon E. Sawyer Nominated
Academy Honorary Award Harold Russell Won
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award Samuel Goldwyn Won
Bodil Awards Best American Film William Wyler Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film from any Source Won
Brussels World Film Festival Best Actress Myrna Loy Won
Cinema Writers Circle Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Picture Won
Special Achievement Award Harold Russell Won
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Crystal Globe William Wyler Nominated
Best Director Won
Best Screenplay Robert E. Sherwood Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films Won
Best Director William Wyler Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won
Best Director William Wyler Won
Best Actor Fredric March Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Awards Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won

In 1989, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[7]

American Film Institute included the film as number 37 in its 1998 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, as number 11 in its 2006 AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers, and as number 37 in its 2007 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition).

Radio adaptations

The picture received four half-hour radio adaptations during 1947 and 1949: on Hedda Hopper's This Is Hollywood, The Screen Guild Theater (two) and Screen Directors Playhouse. In each case various actors reprised their film roles.[31][32]

References

Notes

  1. ^ At the time the film was shot, Ford was unknown as a singer. He worked in San Bernardino as a radio announcer-disc jockey.

Citations

  1. ^ Thomson 1993, pp. 490–491.
  2. ^ "Variety (January 1947)". 1947.
  3. ^ " 'Best Years of Our Lives' (1946)." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: February 4, 2010.
  4. ^ "The 19th Academy Awards (1947) Nominees and Winners." oscars.org. Retrieved: November 20, 2011.
  5. ^ "The Ultimate Chart: 1–100". British Film Institute. November 28, 2004. Archived from the original on August 3, 2012. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  6. ^ "ENTERTAINMENT: Film Registry Picks First 25 Movies". Los Angeles Times. Washington, D.C. September 19, 1989. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  8. ^ "In memory of Michael Hall, a committed connoisseur and an unforgettable character". June 16, 2020. Retrieved November 6, 2022.
  9. ^ Kantor, MacKinlay (1945). Glory for Me. Coward-McCann. OCLC 773996.
  10. ^ Easton, Carol (2014). "The Best Years". The Search for Sam Goldwyn. Carl Rollyson (contributor). Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-62674-132-4. Andrews looked at the onionskin pages and asked, 'Mac, why did you write this in blank verse?' 'Dana', said Kantor with a wry smile, 'I can't afford to write in blank verse, because nobody buys anything written in blank verse. But when Sam asked me to write this story, he didn't tell me not to write it in blank verse!'
  11. ^ a b Orriss 1984, p. 119.
  12. ^ a b Levy, Emanuel (April 4, 2015). "Oscar History: Best Picture–Best Years of Our Lives (1946)". Emanuel Levy: Cinema 24/7. Archived from the original (review) on January 18, 2017. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c d Orriss 1984, p. 121.
  14. ^ Kehr, Dave. "'The Best Years of Our Lives'." The Chicago Reader. Retrieved: November 6, 2022.
  15. ^ Orriss 1984, pp. 121–122.
  16. ^ "Trivia: 'The Best Years of Our Lives'." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: November 6, 2022.
  17. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The Best Years of our Lives. The New York Times, November 22, 1946. Retrieved: April 26, 2007.
  18. ^ Bazin, André (1997). "William Wyler, or the Jansenist of Directing". In Cardullo, Bert (ed.). Bazin at Work: Major Essays & Reviews from the Forties & Fifties. New York: Routledge. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-0-415-90018-8.
  19. ^ Gabriel Miller, The Best Years of Our Lives, https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/best_years.pdf Accessed 11/14/2022
  20. ^ Thomson, 2002, p. 949. 4th Edition; the first edition was published in 1975. See Thomson, David (1975). A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema. London: Secker & Warburg. OCLC 1959828.
  21. ^ "The Best Years of Our Lives". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved August 13, 2023.
  22. ^ "The Best Years of Our Lives Reviews". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved August 13, 2023.
  23. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)." Chicago Sun Times, December 29, 2007. Retrieved: May 1, 2021.
  24. ^ "Goldwyn Points to Wow 'Best Years' Biz To Refute Selznick Nix of 'Problem' Pix". Variety. January 15, 1947. p. 9. Retrieved January 12, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  25. ^ "'Best Years' 750G Take In 5 Cities". Variety. January 15, 1947. p. 9. Retrieved January 13, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  26. ^ "All-Time Top-Grossers". Variety. Variety Publishing Company. January 18, 1950. p. 18. Retrieved January 13, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  27. ^ "Upped Scale Films Cop 'Win, Place, Show' Spots in Gross Sweepstakes". Variety. January 7, 1948. p. 63. Retrieved June 11, 2019 – via Archive.org.
  28. ^ "All-time Films (adjusted)." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: September 19, 2010.
  29. ^ Richard B. Jewell, Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, Uni of California, 2016
  30. ^ Bergan, Ronald. "Obituary: Harold Russell; Brave actor whose artificial hands helped him win two Oscars." The Guardian, February 6, 2002. Retrieved: June 12, 2012.
  31. ^ "The Best Years of Our Lives". Classic Movie Hub.
  32. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 38, no. 4. Autumn 2012. p. 35.

Sources

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