Best Picture: The Best Years of Our Lives

The_Best_Years_of_Our_Lives_film_posterAl Stephenson: You see, Mr. Milton, in the Army I’ve had to be with men when they were stripped of everything in the way of property except what they carried around with them and inside them. I saw them being tested. Now some of them stood up to it and some didn’t. But you got so you could tell which ones you could count on. I tell you this man Novak is okay. His ‘collateral’ is in his hands, in his heart and his guts. It’s in his right as a citizen.

The 1946 Best Picture winner deals with the lives of three veterans returning home from World War II and the difficulties they have adjusting to life. There’s Al Stephenson, a banker turned Pacific island hopping infantry sergeant, who returns to banking to find little joy in the ‘bottom line’ bankers he works for; Fred Derry, a soda-jerk who became an Air Force Captain and decorated hero who can’t find a good job because he lacks what civilians consider necessary skills; and Homer Parrish, a Petty Officer off an aircraft carrier who participated in a dozen battles but never saw anything interesting until his carrier sank, taking his hands with them (and played by an actual Veteran with prostheses).  The three stories intertwine, with the character help each other through some difficult times, meeting families, and learning to adjust to the post-war boom.

I like this movie.  Not only are the characters interesting to watch, but the three veterans all have remarkably different yet complimentary backgrounds and problems.  The movie is long, but it needed to be to tell the story without being rushed, and it would have been very sad to see this movie rushed.

The sets for the movie also grabbed my attention.  Instead of large, expansive rooms where cameras and actors could move about, the rooms were small, often cluttered.  The shops were full of goods and customers, the homes full of people and furniture.  Even the grand apartment of the rich banker was only big enough for the actors to move about, and not much more.

I definitely recommend seeing this one.  Again, it is long, but it’s worth the time.

Interesting fact: Harold Russell, the non-actor Army sergeant who lost his hands in a training accident, became the only person in history to win two Academy Awards for the same role.  He was given an Honorary Award by the Academy Board of Governors (who did not expect him to win the award for Best Supporting Actor) ‘for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance.’  Then he won the Best Supporting Actor award.

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