The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

A common theme I have been talking about in many of the Golden Age films is that the characters in some of these films are just not interesting. Whether they are in terrible stories or played by actors I didn’t find appealing, I’ve found myself wondering how so many of these films would go on and capture an Oscar based on terrible premises.

Then I watched The Best Years of Our Lives.

I shrugged my shoulders when I read the synopsis of this 1946 Best Picture and wondered if this would be another film with an ensemble cast telling a war story. I was quite mistaken and thought that this particular film was one of my favourites.

I loved the performances from everyone because they felt natural. I’ve never been to war or served in the military, so I don’t have a personal connection to these stories about soldiers coming home to struggle to be normal again. As film lovers, we’ve been fortunate enough to see hundreds of these stories played out on screens across the globe. The Best Years of Our Lives has to be one of the originals and one of the best.

I can’t explain how much I enjoyed the performances of Fredric March as Sergeant Al Stephenson, Dana Andrews as Captain Fred Derry, and Harold Russel as Home Parrish, a man who returns with no hands.

All three have issues regarding their personal lives and when it comes to love. Whether drunk or sober, each one of them finally finds the courage to be a better version of themselves and to stop letting the past get in the way. I liked how the writers didn’t shy away from the pitfalls of PTSD, a problem that was highly disregarded these days. Even Fred’s wife throws the subject in his face and says he needs to be a bigger man, leave all his war problems back in Europe and be a better man. 

Fred was my favourite character because he didn’t take any flack, eventually quitting his job by sticking up for Harold and then dumping his wife. I thought out of all the characters, he had the best overall story, eventually falling in love with Al’s daughter Peggy, played by Teresa Wright. Harold had a great story and a happy ending, but he found his courage after Fred beat someone up for verbally assaulting him. 

Al had a boatload of problems at home and used drinking as his outlet. He is put on the spot by his employer, the local bank, for approving loans to former servicemen who have no collateral. It was great to see Al turn this problem into a solution and was somewhat inspirational, even though he was drunk during his speech to his co-workers. 

Personally, one of the most underrated aspects of the entire story is Wright’s performance as Peggy, a young girl who falls madly in love with Fred. She goes to great lengths to force herself out of love, only breaking her own heart in the process. It was sad to see her bare her soul to her parents, who don’t really agree with her intentions. Call it sappy or call me a sucker for these moments in the film, but her crying scene was gut-wrenching to see. I really wanted her to be happy. 

I know many folks don’t like to watch the classics, and then there’s a huge part of the population who can’t get enough of them. If you haven’t seen The Best Years of Our Lives, I would highly recommend it. This film would definitely be one of my Top 15 best Oscar winners. 9/10

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