Monday, September 6, 2010

1946: The Best Years of Our Lives

Three veterans are returning home to Boone City, USA at the end of World War II.  Sergeant Al Stephenson is a banker with two children who have grown up without him.  Captian Fred Derry is a soda jerk with a new wife he barely knows.  Sailor Homer Parrish has a fiancee whom he's afraid won't want him anymore since he lost his hands in action.  The three men barely know each other, but their similar circumstances and occasional meetings at Butch's bar tie their stories together.  Then Fred falls in love with Al's daughter, and the story gets even more complicated.

While this film is a little on the long side (it lasts about 2 hours and 45 minutes), it kind of needs to be, as it's telling three different stories.  The stories, and the way they are portrayed, are engaging and powerful.  The performances are all superb, with a magnificent cast including Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Teresa Wright.  But by far the most moving performance is that of Harold Russell, who plays Homer Parrish.  It's too bad there weren't more roles for young men with no hands, because that guy could act!  At least the Academy recognized his performance with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

This film was made when a lot of people could relate to its story, as the war had just ended.  However, even though modern audiences cannot identify with the film as much as the audiences of 1946 could, it remains a magnificently compelling movie to this day.  In many ways, it's a sad film, but it's mostly uplifting and encouraging rather than depressing.  It's definitely one of my favorite Best Picture Winners so far.

Coming up next: Gentleman's Agreement

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