HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Best Years of Our Lives
HTS Overall Score:82
I rarely give 5 star ratings on the movie section of a review, that’s usually because very few pictures actually deserve a perfect rating. There’s a ton of perfect films by technical standards in regards to the discs themselves, but I’m pretty picky about giving out a 5 star rating for the film itself. Most films are flawed by nature and it’s hard to give any story a free pass. However, there are some films that are just THAT good, and “The Best Years of Our Lives” falls into that category. Director William Wyler directed and won an Oscar for the famed “Mrs. Miniver” and after that decided to follow his own lead and enlist in the fight against the Germans and the Japanese. After spending 3 years in the forces he came back and saw the plight first hand that military men were suffering from. The loneliness, the feelings of displacement, the despair and the frustration of fitting back into a world of chaos after being inside of a unit that thrived on order and rigidity. Most film makers were following up the war with documentaries and the like, but William decided to make a grand epic, not about the war itself, but rather what happens after the war, the trials and tribulations that our forces were dealing with on the home front after the fact. Cast brilliantly, he created a film that transcends the war and the era that it was shot in, to ring true to this day and age, for every man and woman in the military who has dealt with, or is dealing with the pain and heartbreak of sacrifices, both physical and mental.
“Best Years of Our Lives” is the story of 3 returning soldiers and their rehabilitation into civilian life. Sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredrich March) of the U.S. Army, Air Force Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), a former bombardier, and Homer Parrish, a naval repairman who lost both of his hands in an incident of a sinking cruiser (played by Harold Russell, a man who actually DID have his hands blown off while training paratroopers with some TNT) are all hitching a ride back to Boone Town, a fictional Midwestern town that they call home. Fred tries his best to catch a commercial flight back home, but all of the flights are booked for days. Desperate to get home to his family he catches a flight on the Army Transport planes along with Al and Homer. There the three pass the time, nervously awaiting the welcome home they are going to get. Once in town the three part ways, take a shaky breath and step forward towards what awaits them.
Homer is the most distraught of the three of them. He has a fiancée named Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell) waiting for him, but he’s not sure just how she’s going to take to a man with no hands. Welcomed with open arms, Homer still has to get used to being a different man than he once was. Wilma is the stuff that dreams are made of, a devoted girl who sees the real man, not what he’s lost, but who he is on the inside. The only problem is that Homer truly hasn’t come to grips with his situation. Constantly afraid that no one will want to be with a man who can’t take care of himself he pushes Wilma and his family away, constantly looking for people who are staring at his lack of hands. Self-pitying and downward spiraling he’s on the verge of losing Wilma due to his inability to cope.
Al goes home to a family that is completely devoted and excited to see him, only he’s not the man they once remembered. Still dealing with the aftereffects of the war he’s no longer the smooth, greasy bank man that wife Milly (Myrna Loy) was married to for 20 years. To make matters worse, his old job has hired him back as vice president of G.I. loans in the hopes that his career in the war will make him popular with clients and that his razor sharp banking skills will continue to deny those G.I. loans as usual for the company. The problem is that Al is at a crossroads, his time in the war has given him a torn set of loyalty and a different set of ethics than when he went in. He sees the humanity and courage of these men that he fought beside and for, giving him more of a propensity to give the loans rather than deny them. Struggling with his marriage, and struggling with his work both Milly and Al have to find that sense of serenity that allowed them to survive the last 20 years and continue to survive for the next 20 years.
Lastly poor Fred Derry gets the worst of the lot. Coming home he finds that the wife he married is not the faithful homebody he wanted, but a gold digger who was more enamored with his uniform and money rather than a working stiff with a low paying job. Struggling to find a job in this pre depression economy Fred gains his old job as a soda jerk back at the conglomerate drug store in town, which breeds even more discontent in the Derry household. Fred is humiliated, having served and worked in the military for years only to come back and be told he’s worthless on the job front. On top of that Fred and Al’s daughter, Peggy (Teresa Wright) start to fall for each other, and fall hard. Fred realizes that he can’t go any farther due to his marriage, but Peggy is the impetuous one and vows to her parents that she is going to break up Fred’s marriage in order to “save” him. Here we have one of the highlights of the film with Al and Milly Stephenson giving one of the best mini speeches on the hardships and trials of marriage that I have ever heard.
Each of these men is dealing with a situation that they weren’t prepared for. You can be prepared for battle, you can be prepared for loss, but it’s very hard to be prepared for what comes afterwards. You’re in a fighting force like no other. You have order, rigidity, rules, regulations, men watching your back, you watching theirs and then the war is over, you’re done. You go home and are thrust into the dog eat dog world of civilian life and told to “deal with it”. The problem is you’re different than when you went in, you’ve seen things that very few people can relate to, you’ve been through so much that most counselors have a hard time getting through, and to make matters worse, the people that you know and love aren’t sure how to act around you. As a result the turmoil and chaos is both understandable and tragic at the same time, watching men and women who have been through hell and back adapt to a life they once knew, but don’t relate to any longer. Al and Milly are both in pain, dealing with the life they now live in, but are able to find serenity. It takes the majority of the film, but Wilma’s sweet and devoted love finally break down Homer’s self-built walls, and even Fred finds some manner of peace at the end.
Coming from a family with multiple generations in the U.S. military I’ve seen the effects both long term and short term that these men are dealing with. A grandfather who survived the war and still affected him to the day he dies, refusing to speak of some of the things he’s seen. A younger brother who’s come home only to be disenfranchised with life, turned to bitterness and finally another brother, come home from Afghanistan several years ago after having an IED detonate 10 feet from him with his body in disarray. Dealing with the after effects, the anger, the pain, the frustration at not being able to be exactly how he was physically a few short years earlier. It’s not easy and it’s understandable, but with the grace of God all wounds can be healed and as in real life, serenity and peace can be attained with some elbow grease, and those of us in civilian life who take the effort to understand and respect those men and women who sacrificed not only their physical lives, but their lives at home for each and every one of us. A masterpiece that won awards left and right I have to say that this is one film that I can watch every Veterans Day and never get tired of. A film TRULY worthy of a 5 star rating and one that has been given a magnificent restoration onto the Blu-ray format. You can see Wyler’s personal experiences during the war and after seeping into every pore of the film and that gives the film a poignancy and heartfelt resonance that is unparalleled.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=13416[/img]“The Best Years of Our Lives” had an extremely high end restoration done to the original film elements. After seeing the Blu-ray I almost wasn’t sure if I was seeing the same film compared to the DVD. There’s some shaky softness to a few shots and some inconsistent grain patters, but that’s hard to tell whether it’s a part of the restoration process of the condition of the original negatives. Other than that small blemish the film looks absolutely pristine. Deep rich blacks, tons of rich detail to the film. I ended up seeing sooooooooo much more than I ever had before. And thankfully due to the black and white nature of the film digital artifacting is non-existent along with any other anomalies. This is all astonishing work consider that the restoration process had to be dug up from less than pristine sources and the amount of digital manipulation used to get these old prints up to snuff is mind boggling to say the least. No one really knows just to what extent WB went to acquiring those sources, or what went into the process, even the extras are a bit vague on that particular issue, with the latest interview being 15 years ago. However the results speak for themselves and I couldn’t ask for a finer representation of this classic film.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=13417[/img]The audio is one of those that I would describe as being “solid”, a track that has its limitations due to the nature of being a 1.0 mono dramatic audio track. The front sound stage is very solid, with clean dialogue and a beautiful musical score overlaying most of the film. Sound effects are mixed in well and there really is no issues with one drowning the other out. The musical score won an Oscar that year and it’s an easy thing to see why. The haunting melodies waft throughout the film, giving an emotional feel to the film that supplements the tragedy and hardship being shown on screen. Since the front soundstage is all that’s used one can’t expect copious use of surrounds or LFE channels, but it does an excellent job with the two speakers that it was originally produced for and I have no complaints.
• Theatrical Trailer
• Introduction by Virginia Mayo
• Interview with Virginia Mayo and Teresa Wright
“Best Years of Our Lives” was a runaway hit when it was released in 1946, and the events portrayed in the film were still happening across the country. Usually war films of this age are not nearly as relevant to modern day life, but this one has stayed surprisingly relevant to this day. It’s a tale of pain and sadness, of loss and gain that can be felt across any time period and during any conflict revolving around men and women of the military life. People in that day and age felt that with the invention of Nuclear arsenals wars would become obsolete or we would destroy ourselves by not, however with multiple wars under the belt we’ve come to realize that wars will come and go, men will live and die, but how we treat those men and how those men view themselves will always be a constant struggle and a contestant issue as long as there are conflicts. A beautiful film and a beautiful restoration gives this movie a MUST BUY rating by myself.
Starring: Myrna Loy, Fredrick March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright
Directed by: William Wyler
Written by: Robert E. Sherwood
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 1.0
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: Not Rated
Blu-Ray Release Date: Nov 5th, 2013
Buy The Best Years of Our Lives Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Buy It
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