The Best Years of Our Lives
1946, Drama, 2h 52m88 Reviews 10,000+ Ratings
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An engrossing look at the triumphs and travails of war veterans, The Best Years of Our Lives is concerned specifically with the aftermath of World War II, but its messages speak to the overall American experience. Read critic reviews
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Critic Reviews for The Best Years of Our Lives
The Best Years Of Our Lives is an eloquent tribute to returned veterans [and] a magnificent, brilliant contribution to motion pictures as an art.
Every member of the cast Is so much like some one you know, every one so natural and likable, as real and pathetic as any human being close to your heart, but Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell give faultless performances.
The playing is magnificent -- especially that of Fredric March.
It has everything it should have -- a literate and often sharp and honest script by Robert E. Sherwood, supple direction by William Wyler, and is ingratiatingly played by at least one actor -- Frederic March.
This long American film is a gallant and sincere attempt to examine the difficulties of ex-service men in returning to civil life.
The film, throughout, presents the American scene with homely, familiar touches.April 13, 2021 | Full Review…
Audience Reviews for The Best Years of Our Lives
Jul 20, 2014"You'll think it's tragic when that moment arrives, - ah - but it's magic, it's the best years of our lives!" I figured I'd go with the much less popular Steve Harley & Cockney Rebels song, because I'm tired of Modern Love's "Best Years of Our Lives", and because the Cockney Rebels song's release is a little closer to this film's. Well, maybe I could have gone with the Modern Romance song when you look at that way, for although this film was released back in 1946, I think that it bled over into 1982. I see that they abridged this film's title from "The Best Years of Our Lives... in Real Time". Well, clearly, back in the '40s, people didn't have much to do, because this three-hour-long opus was the most-watched film since "Gone with the Wind", although, in all fairness, it's not like anyone who went to see "Gone with the Wind" had much time to see anything else afterwards. I'd say that MGM sure knew how to get people interested in punishingly long dramas which were partly about war, during a time of war, and I think I know what their secret was: ...making the film good. So yeah, this film is far from a waste of three hours (Now, after 36 years, it might get on your nerves worse than Modern Romance's "Best Years of Our Lives"), but it's still no "Gone with the Wind", for a number of reasons. Well, actually, this film may be less histrionic than "Gone with the Wind", and it is certainly less histrionic than many other films of its type, although it remains more melodramatic than it probably should be as a generally genuine portrait on the struggles of war veterans, hitting certain touches in dialogue, characterization and dramatics which suffer from classic, dated sensibilities. Robert E. Sherwood's written dramatics are not the only ones to have fallen short with the test of time, for William Wyler, even with all of his subtle touches, gets a little carried away with his handling of the unsubtle writing and Hugo Friedhofer's emotive scoring, until sentimentality sets in, betraying the unique grace of this drama by falling back into the conventions of the time. Really, formulaic storytelling holds this film back in a number of ways, because whether it's melodramatic or not, the familiarity of this film sort of blands up a primarily engrossing affair, whose conventions can at least be appreciated for standing among the handful of consistent aspects in the plot. Perhaps I exaggerate the unevenness of the focus to this narrative, but storytelling ambitiously tackles three separate portraits on the struggles of a man returning from war, and does so with a certain inconsistency that convolutes the sense of importance of each story, and derives from the film's lack of tightness. Falling just short of three hours, this film's runtime is questionable, and seeing as how as big a problem as anything in the final product is bloating, Sherwood's script is packed with fat around the edges that drags filler to the point of meandering, and taints material with excess that it typically of a melodramatic, or formulaic, or focally uneven nature. Pacing proves to be the root of all issues in this film, and on top of that, it keeps you around longer than it probably should, and no matter how compelling the final product always is, this drama falls short of what it could have been under the weight of an ambition too great to transcend limitations of the time. Still, like I said, the film compel thoroughly throughout its questionable course, even though its story concept promises to really enthrall. Alcoholism, financial struggles, finding new love amidst the collapse of the old, and coming to terms with limitations one brings home are all conflicts found by veterans returning from war to a world which was not what they dreamed of, and that makes for an overblown and melodramatic, but powerful story concept that helps a great deal in making the final product so rewarding. Of course, it does ultimately come down to the interpretation of intriguing subject matter, and when it comes to that, Robert E. Sherwood drops the ball in a lot of places as screenwriter, getting melodramatic and excessive, but tight where it counts, making sure that there's enough going on to prevent dull spells, and putting a then-daring and still-powerful deal of attention into the heavy depths of this dramatic subject matter. Although genuineness lapses at times, where this script could have really succumb to dramatic superficialities of the time, it's not afraid to get relatively edgy, and even on paper, it engrosses in its capturing the hope, anguish and other layers of memorable, humanized characters which are further sold by a strong cast. The material may be a touch too dated for the performances to really prove outstanding through the years, but everyone delivers, and that especially goes for the leads, whether it be Dana Andrews as a traumatized man who struggles both to satisfy his wife and with feelings for another woman, or Fredric March as a now-alcoholic family man, or the particularly unevenly used and, in my opinion, show-stealing Harold Russell as a good-spirited, but ultimately handicapped veteran who must learn to live with his limitations and how his peers interpret them. There's a lot of emotional commitment put in each one of these performances, and although they were more remarkable at the time, they remain piercing to this day, much like an offscreen performance by William Wyler that can make or break the engagement value of this drama. Sure, this film flirts with flat spots, thanks to Wyler's sentimentality and failure to completely compensate for pacing issues through tight scene structuring, but Wyler never allows entertainment value to abate, holding your attention until moments of dramatic realization which range from compelling to penetrating in a fashion which was ahead of the time. This film could have gone far if it was even more realized, but as things stand, the final product is never less than engrossing as a conceptually important and ultimately rewarding drama. In conclusion, some histrionic and formulaic writing and sentimental direction shake the genuineness of this drama, while uneven focus and an excessive structure which stands at the root of most all of the issues shake the momentum of the final product, until it falls short of what it could have been, yet by no means so short that worthy subject matter, audacious scripting, compelling performances and inspired direction fail to make "The Best Years of Our Lives" a rewarding classic of a portrait on the painful struggles war veterans found in themselves and the world around them upon returning home. 3/5 - GoodCameron J Super Reviewer
May 18, 2014A deeply touching and significant post-WWII classic that depicts the psychological trauma and several obstacles encountered by veteran soldiers of different backgrounds returning from war, and it does so with an expert use of deep focus and a wonderful mise-en-scène to create many meaningful visual compositions.Carlos M Super Reviewer
May 25, 2012It definitely gets a little too syrupy at times, but William Wyler's ode to returning veterans is a remarkably bold and frank look at post-WWII America (especially brave, considering these were topics Hollywood avoided for years before its release). Fredric March is brilliant as always, and underrated Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright are terrific as well. It features Wyler's traditionally tight direction, and the legendary Gregg Toland shines by composing some truly stunning deep focus photography as well. In the end, The Best Years of Our Lives may be a little too conventional, but it's done well enough to draw you in and root for its characters.Jonathan H Super Reviewer
May 14, 2012I'll grant that a lot of the elements put it ahead of its time, the filmmakers seem very sincere in attempting to present an honest post WWII veteran story and I like the scenes that place the three men at odds with a home and family they don't fully understand. The problem is that it was made so close to the ending of the war that its just not able to really examine the serious impact of all that occurred. And for a nearly three hour movie it gets pretty muddled in melodrama and uninteresting details, rather than the serious issues. There is also an unpleasant smugness in many scenes that suggests that Wyler and everyone else involved with the production were a little too proud with themselves for making this movie. I can't bring myself to totally dislike it, mostly because it does manage to occasionally deconstruct the myth surrounding WWII (which is pretty impressive for a film of 1946), I just wish the rest of the film could be as good as those moments.Alec B Super Reviewer
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