The Best Years of Our Lives [DVD] 
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William Wyler directs this classic wartime drama. Three soldiers return home from World War 2 to find life in America has moved on without them. Fred (Dana Andrews) has to re-acquaint himself with a wife he barely knows, Al (Frederic March) with his suddenly grown-up children, whilst Homer (Harold Russell) must get used to living without the use of his hands, blown off in battle. Praised for its gritty realism on its release, enhanced by Gregg Toland's trademark deep focus photography.
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Loy,Teresa Wright,Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo and also Harold Russell a( non actor trained handless veteran)and directed by William Wyler.Its high quality film making in the 40s and the characters a little obvious at times but are superbly well cast and they work well enough to make them seem real.
This film was a massive success on its release, grossing more than any film (in both the U.S. and U.K.) since "Gone With the Wind", and collecting a sheaf-load of academy awards. It's easy to see why. Quite apart from the sheer accuracy of how it dealt with the problems of adjustment for returning servicemen, it used the inversion of the three protagonists' lives to great dramatic effect.
Fred, a highly decorated USAAF Captain, suffers from PTSD, feels humiliated by his comedown (he finds that his wartime exploits count for nothing and he is forced to return to his old job as a soda-jerk at the local drugstore, like he'd never been away) and by the behaviour of his slatternly wife (played with brio by Virginia Mayo). Al has the opposite problem - a high social echelon figure (he was a banker before the war) with a close and loving family, he spent the War as an N.C.O. and now gets into trouble with his banking superiors by identifying with the ordinary Joes he once would have frozen out of his bank. Homer has to contend with the reality of his armless existence, is unable to believe that his childhood sweetheart can still love him, while all the time tormented by the reminders of his pre-War glory days as a sports jock and local hero.
Clearly the film had massive resonance with countless thousands of returnees, much as "Brief Encounter" did for wives and husbands separated by the same events. It's interesting to contrast both those films with the novel "Three men in New Suits", by J.B. Priestley,a pompous piece of political rhetoric which addressed the same issues at the same time, but which has since sunk out of sight (read it and you'll see why).
There is much else to commend the film - the photography (by Greg Tolland, of "Citizen Kane" fame) is lustrously beautiful, all three lead actors give great performances (especially the often-wooden Andrews, in a career-best effort), and the atmosphere is sometimes profoundly haunting. Near the end of the film there is a wide-pan view of Fred walking through a graveyard of the bombers he once flew, awaiting reduction to scrap; nothing happens, but you feel as if you're looking at a lost soul wandering through the circles of Hell, a scene that makes me go cold every time I see it. The three corresponding female leads (Myrna Loy as Al's wife, Theresa Wright as his daughter and Cathy O'Donnell as Homer's sweetheart) all give moving, deeply-textured and convincing portraits. And, for anoraks such as myself, there are some nice aeroplane shots - a DC-4 at the beginning, the very rarely-seen Vultee BT-13 and, of course, the majestic B-17 (seen both in its element as one flies the three men home and, later, in a probably conscious irony, lined up en masse awaiting disposal, their glory days past, like "The Fighting Temeraire" (and Fred himself). In this scene, too there are rows of P-39 Airacobras, a plane you don't see every day, awaiting the same fate).
In an era when we have many servicemen returning to this country (and to the U.S.) ending up on the street or in prison, this film (like
Clint Eastwood's magnificent "Flags of our Fathers", which deals with a very similar theme) should be required viewing for everybody. It
is a timeless treasure. Don't miss it.
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