The Best Years of Our Lives

1946

The Best Years of Our Lives

Critics Consensus

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.

96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 51

92%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 10,770
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Movie Info

A memorable film about the aftermath of World War II in the United States., this film opens with the homecoming of three veterans to the same small town. The movie exposes the reality of altered lives and the inability to communicate the experience of war on the front lines or the home front.

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Cast

Fredric March
as Al Stephenson
Dana Andrews
as Fred Derry
Harold Russell
as Homer Parrish
Myrna Loy
as Milly Stephenson
Virginia Mayo
as Marie Derry
Teresa Wright
as Peggy Stephenson
Cathy O'Donnell
as Wilma Cameron
Hoagy Carmichael
as Butch Engle
Gladys George
as Hortense Derry
Roman Bohnen
as Pat Derry
Ray Collins
as Mr. Milton
Minna Gombell
as Mrs. Parrish
Walter S. Baldwin
as Mr. Parrish
Dorothy Adams
as Mrs. Cameron
Don Beddoe
as Mr. Cameron
Marlene Aames
as Luella Parrish
Michael Hall
as Rob Stephenson
Ray Teal
as Mr. Mollett
Victor Cutler
as Woody Merrill
Pat Flaherty
as Construction Foreman
Clancy Cooper
as Taxi Driver
Blake Edwards
as Corporal
Robert Karnes
as Tech. Sergeant
Ralph Sanford
as Mr. Gibbons
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News & Interviews for The Best Years of Our Lives

Critic Reviews for The Best Years of Our Lives

All Critics (51) | Top Critics (12)

  • William Wyler's heartbreaking postwar ballad seems even more radical today than it did in its Oscar-thick heyday. It's as non-propagandistic as an unemployment line.

    Feb 22, 2015 | Full Review…
  • As far as this review is concerned, it is the best picture to come out of Hollywood since the end of the war.

    Feb 17, 2015 | Full Review…
  • [A] powerful, if cumbersome prestige picture.

    Jun 3, 2014 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Keith Uhlich

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Profoundly and sensitively balances the private demons of scarred veterans and the press of public policies that leave their mark on daily life.

    Jun 2, 2014 | Full Review…
  • Like most good mass entertainments, this picture has occasional moments of knowing hokum; but unlike most sure-fire movies, it was put together with good taste, honesty, wit -- and even a strong suggestion of guts.

    Feb 17, 2009 | Full Review…
  • One of the best pictures of our lives.

    Feb 19, 2008 | Full Review…

    Abel Green

    Variety
    Top Critic

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 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • May 18, 2014
    A 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, 2012
    It 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, 2012
    I'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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