AFI Top 100: No. 37 The Best Years of Our Lives


You should never judge a book by its cover and you should never judge a movie by its title. Prior to watching, “The Best Years of Our Lives” sounded like it was going to be an incredibly corny film, because, let’s face it, it sounds like a soap opera. To my delight, it was an incredible story of love, rebuilding and growth revolving around three men who return home from WWII.

A telling component of this movie was the fact it had me crying within the first 20 minutes. I can only think of one other movie, Up, where I teared up so soon after watching it the first time. They call the generation that survived WWII, the greatest, and I personally liked how this movie showed that life did not go back to normal upon return. It was interesting to see these three men, all from different classes and different branches of the military, interact and lean on each other. The GI Bill, post-traumatic stress disorder, physical impairment, alcoholism, all of these somewhat taboo subjects of our soldiers were explored or at least hinted at in this film.

The characters in this film were amazing. From the three veterans to the minor characters, each person had a true reason and influence in this story. While the family of Al was heavily incorporated in the film, the ones of Fred and Homer still made a dent even though they were extremely minor characters. You could feel the pain of Homer’s parents every time they look their son’s hooks. Similarly, the pride of Fred’s father oozes out him in every scene, even if Fred does not notice. The cockiness of Fred’s new boss/old assistant, the quiet dominance of Al’s boss, I could continue on about the importance of the minor characters that truly make this film great.

With that said, the three veterans were certainly the stars of the show. Fredric March was outstanding as Al, a successful banker who struggled between keeping the lifestyle he and his family enjoyed prior to the war and helping his veteran brothers. His love for his wife and family was apparent in every scene, and his growing alcoholism shadowed his personal and professional successes. While Fred’s leadership, confidence and natural abilities made him a captain in the Air Force, he struggled upon return due to his lack of everyday skills. Additionally he realized his brief love affair turned marriage may not have been the wisest decision. Finally Homer had to readjust to life without his hands. Harold Russell, who played Homer, was wonderful and so natural. He was a perfect fit in this film and I could not imagine it without his youthful enthusiasm.

I loved this movie and would recommend it to anyone. It is touching and hits on themes still relavent today. On a final note, I just want to say thank you to all of our soldiers, men and women, who have fought for our country and for the sacrifices they have made and the effects of that they and their families continue to feel from those sacrifices.

Next Up: The Bridge on the River Kwai.

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