The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

William Wyler’s poignant account of three WWII veterans adjusting to the difficulties of life back home swept the Oscars in 1946.

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“The Best Years of Our Lives doesn’t use verbal or technical pyrotechnics. It trusts entirely in the strength of its story.”
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 2007

Hitching a ride back to their home in the Midwest, three veterans newly demobbed from World War II (Fredric March, Dana Andrews and Harold Russell) meet and strike up a bond. Telling of their struggles to adapt to civilian life, The Best Years of Our Lives sees its ordinary heroes face up to disability, drinking problems, marital strife and joblessness.

An unusually candid and sombre portrait for audiences accustomed to Hollywood’s rousing depiction of the war effort, the film struck a chord with critics and audiences, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, and six others. Director William Wyler places a great emphasis on realism, drawing an especially touching performance from former paratrooper Russell, who – like Homer, the character he plays – had lost his hands during the war.

Wyler’s experience on the wartime documentary Memphis Belle (1944) – which itself inspired a 1990 fiction feature of the same name – informed his depiction of conflict veterans.

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