Clip: The Best Years of Our Lives

Clip: The Best Years of Our Lives

Posted on November 11, 2015 at 11:11 am

“The Best Years of Our Lives” is about returning WWII veterans, very appropriate for Veteran’s Day. It is one of my favorite films, and this scene is one of my 101 Must-See Movie Moments.

Here is what I wrote about it:

The movie: A Best Picture Oscar winner, “The Best Years of Our Lives” captures its moment beautifully but still feels vitally engaging. It is not just the story of three men returning from military service in World War II. It is the story of three characters struggling to adjust to transitions that are far more complex than they had imagined. For so long, they dreamed of coming home. Now they must learn that home is not what they remembered and they are not the same, either. Dreams that come true can still require complicated, even terrifying, adjustments.

This is a beautiful and touching film with a great feeling for its characters. Al (Fredric March) is a middle-aged banker turned infantryman. While he was away, his children grew up. Fred (Dana Andrews) is a soda jerk from a poor family turned decorated bombardier with a pretty wife he barely knows. And Homer (Oscar-winner Harold Russell) is returning home with hooks to replace the hands he lost in combat.

It is filled with wonderfully constructed and performed scenes, including Al’s unexpected arrival home, joy followed by awkwardness followed by taking everyone out for drinks. The morning after, when he wakes up with a hangover and his wife Milly (Myrna Loy) brings him breakfast in bed, there is a moment of piercing sweetness when they begin to reconnect. Homer is afraid his disability will shock or disgust his longtime sweetheart, the girl next door (Cathy O’Donnell). He finally admits that to himself and gives her a chance to see how his prostheses work in a touching scene where he allows her to button his pajama top.

Fred has the most difficult struggle. He does not fit in at home, with his father and stepmother, or at his old job. His wife is a frivolous party girl who likes him less now that he is out of uniform and expecting her not to go out every night. The drug store has been sold to a chain. He suffers from nightmares due to what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. And he finds himself falling for Al’s daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright).

The moment: In this scene, everything seems to be falling apart for him and he goes back to the last place he thought would feel like home. At a nearby airport, bomber planes like the one he flew in are lined up, waiting to be junked. He crawls inside one, remembering his time in combat and wondering if he will ever have a sense of mastery and purpose again.

A man comes over to the plane and yells at him because no one is supposed to be there. The planes are not going to be discarded; they are going to be broken down and turned into materials for housing, an updated version of beating swords into plowshares. Fred realizes that he, too, can be retrofitted for peacetime work. Just as he learned to be a bombardier, he can learn whatever he needs to be a part of the post-war world. He gets a job with the builder who is taking the planes. It is a turning point for Fred with a meaningful metaphor about the opportunities and challenges of the post-war era or indeed any time of turmoil.

More movies about the readjustment of returning military:

“Coming Home”
“The Welcome”
“The Men”
“Til the End of Time”
“The Messenger”

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For Your Netflix Queue Great Movie Moments

New on Blu-Ray: Laura

Posted on March 2, 2013 at 8:00 am

The classic noir mystery/romance Laura is just out on Blu-Ray, and it is magnificent.  It has one of the all-time great movie twists, so I won’t give much away except to say that it stars the exquisitely beautiful Gene Tierney, along with Dana Andrews as a cop investigating a murder and Clifton Webb as the acerbic writer who was a friend of the victim.  It also has one of the most famous scores of all time.  Highly recommended!

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Classic Crime Drama Mystery Romance
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