Best Years of Our Lives

Toby Baldwin's Film Review Home



This powerful postwar drama won Best Picture in 1947, and deservedly so.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

After reading about this movie on the "Greatest Films" website (great site - check it out here), I had to see it. I did so fairly confidently, given its slew of Oscars and other awards, and because I've enjoyed several of William Wyler's other films (Ben-Hur, Friendly Persuasion, Roman Holiday, etc.). This is one movie you don't hear about much any more, but after seeing it, I give it my highest recommendation.

Particularly for anyone who has served in the military or is related to someone who has, this story still has plenty of relevance today. The write-up in "Greatest Films" talks about how it was basically one of the first confessions in a public forum that the WWII vets were having a hard time adjusting to the new world they found back in the States. The story of this movie portrays that effectively through the three protagonists. In Fred Derry, Dana Andrews' character, we see a highly decorated Air Corps officer who has nothing awaiting him upon his return but a lousy marriage and a job as a soda jerk. William Wyler shows admirable restraint in making the shadow of the war loom very large in this character (the nightmares, etc.) without overdoing it (a la many Vietnam films - which may be more appropriate to that messed-up war, I guess). The emotional highlight of the film for me was when Fred's dad read aloud the citation of his medal. Given my background, I've heard dozens of these and have been the one to read them aloud at ceremonies, but hearing of Fred's heroism AFTER seeing what awaited him stateside was a masterful directorial touch, and left me in tears.

Okay, I blew my cover - my sentimentality was definitely engaged here! But there was just enough of the dark reality of war in the film to keep the sentiment genuine. The brilliant casting of Harold Russell (who actually lost both hands in 1944 while training to be a paratrooper) as Homer added more punch (and yielded Russell two Oscars). Another highlight was the scene where he has Wilma, his longtime sweetheart and literally the girl next door, help him out of his prosthetics so she can see the helplessness of his condition firsthand.

The only significant criticism I could see being made (other than the length, which would have seemed fine if we hadn't started the thing after 10 p.m. when the kids went to sleep!) is that the acting comes off a little dated at times - the Hollywood accent (the same kind as 'dahling you look mahvellous" and all that dreck) of the younger actresses in particular. Another surprise to me after seeing the film was that Frederic March got Best Actor. Sure, he was top-notch in his role, but I thought the Andrews and Russell had meatier parts. March was a bigger star, though.

Nice ending...I hope I'm not giving too much of a spoiler by saying that it ends hopefully, but not so picture-perfectly as to be cheesy. That, for me, makes the emotional lift more powerful.

Another great moment: when Peggy (Teresa Wright) admits her feelings to her parents, she makes a statement about what she intends to do (I won't spoil it for you) that must have been quite shocking in its day.

Silliest moment - the kiss between Homer and Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell, who is okay, but probably the weakest link in terms of acting) near the end. The ultimate sideways screen kiss!

All told, this is a great movie that shows emotional depth well beyond most movies of the era, and even most pop-culture content of the 1950s (that I have seen, anyway). I first saw it on a ratty old VCR tape rented from Hastings, but now have the DVD. Highly recommended!

Worth renting? Yes.
Worth buying? Yes.
Suitable for kids? Probably.
Year: 1946
Director: William Wyler
Running Time: 172 minutes
Black and white

Click here for complete details at

Review Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin

Originally written July 13, 2001.

Comments? E-mail Toby!