The Best Years of our Lives tells a story that so often seems to be forgotten – what happens to soldiers when they return home from war? How does it affect their lives when they suddenly have to be back in ‘a normal society’? How did their families cope with the loneliness and how will they deal with the fact that some men have changed during the battles? The Best Years of our Lives uses three different characters to answer these questions.
These three different storylines are combined masterfully by William Wyler and this quiet character study is actually a gripping and touching story of three men struggling to return to their old lives while trying to find new ones at the same time. And this story is brought to life by a wonderful cast. Dana Andrews stands out as Fred Derry and it’s a shame that his performance was overlooked by the Oscars since he provides the major storylines and gives, by far, the most interesting performance. Harold Russell had never acted before and may have been used for this movie mainly because he was a real-life war veteran who actually lost his hands but his performance is absolutely wonderful and his portrayal of a man who doesn’t want to be pitied his entire life is very touching. Frederic March received the Oscar that Dana Andrews should have gotten and, even with my love for the movie itself, it remains a mystery how this happened – while he gives a very competent performance his character is constantly overshadowed by the others and his performance also never becomes truly outstanding. Myrna Loy and Teresa Wright as Al’s wife and daughter shine in their parts.
The three-hour long movie can be separated in three different sections that, unfortunately, vary in their degrees of excellence. The first hour that focuses on the return of the three men and their first days in their new/old life is movie magic and among the best that can ever be seen in this category. The second hour which begins to explore the life of the men in more detail is also still fascinating but the story loses a bit of its strength in the third hour when it puts the love story between Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright in the centre.
Overall, The Best Years of our Lives is a wonderful and extremely moving story that puts a new light on the life directly after World War II.