"Give 'em time, kid; they'll catch on. You know your folks'll get used to you, and you'll get used to them. Then everything'll settle down nicely. Unless we have another war. Then none of us have to worry because we'll all be blown to bits the first day. So cheer up, huh?"---Butch Engle to his nephew, Homer (The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946)
I don't know now whether I am searching for meaning and emotion in these remaining films of the 1940s to suit my own thesis or whether I'm actually catching on to something. I feel like this film is what would happen if Father O'Malley left the church and went to war for a few years, came back, and started hanging out with Don Birnam after he tried to sober up. I loved it--even with the corny and predictable ending. Because I felt that maybe, just for a moment, it might not end so happily. For making me question the sunshine ending, and for making me yell at my television screen, this movie makes it near the top of my list.
It's the end of World War II, and soliders are trying to get home. Three different men are all trying to get to their hometown of Boone City in the mid-west. The men, Air Force Captain Fred Derry, sailor Homer Parrish, and Army Sergeant Al Stephenson, all come from different backgrounds, but bond quickly in their shared insecurity about finally coming home as civilians. Al, played by Fredric March, is a former banker, an older man with a wife and two nearly grown children. Fred, played by Dana Andrews, is a former soda-jerk with a new bride and big dreams, though he comes from a lackluster upbringing. Homer, played by Harold Russell, the youngest, has lost both hands in the war and must return to his close-knit middle class family and girl-next-door fiancée. As the three nervously take a taxi home, they pass a tavern run by Homer's black sheet uncle, Butch, and are happy that there is at least one place they know they'll be welcomed.
|Three Veterans on their way home.|
|Al has come home.|
|Peggy comforts Fred during his nightmare.|
|Al and Mr. Milton|
|Fred finds his wife, Marie.|
|Al at the banquet in his honor.|
|Peggy's double date.|
|Butch teaches Homer to play the piano while Fred breaks Peggy's heart.|
|Homer is vulnerable to Wilma.|
|Fred in the plane's cockpit.|
|Peggy and Fred|
The Hollywood moguls got down to Oscar campaigning in earnest in 1946, releasing all their big films in the fall, right before the selections. They had some major competition from foreign films this year, from Roberto Rossellini's Open City to the French film Children of Paradise. The Brits had three big contenders: melodrama The Seventh Veil, Noel Coward's Brief Encounter (James McAvoy's favorite film, FYI), and Laurence Olivier's reenactment of Shakespeare's Henry V. Henry V ran for forty-six weeks straight in New York City.
|Laurence Olivier in Henry V|
|Filming of The Best Years of Our Lives|
|Hoagy Carmichael teaches Harold Russell to play the piano|
|William Wyler on set of The Best Years of Our Lives|
|Olivia de Havilland receives her Academy Award|
|Frederic March in The Best Years of Our Lives...in his pajamas...|
|Harold Russell with his two Academy Awards|
|Harold Russel with his two Oscars.|
This year is the year of my favorite film of all time, It's a Wonderful Life. So I was always rather surprised that it had never won the Award, and even more surprised that it wasn't exactly popular. What movie could possibly have bested it? I was ready to do battle on behalf of Frank Capra.
|Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life|
|Night out on the town at Butch's bar|
I can agree with the people of 1946, there is something compelling in cinema that attempts to follow the lives of real people. All film is a fantasy world, but the best film finds a way to connect with the lives of real people. Now, it is still the 1940s, so of course there is the perfect ending we've been waiting for. There are moments of melodrama that would not be allowed in a film today. But I loved this movie all the more for it, because again--it is a movie. What fun would it be if Fred just left Peggy, never to be seen again? You have to have some hope!
|Homer has hooks for hands.|
|Wilma and Homer marry as Fred watches Peggy|