Written by Robert E. Sherwood from MacKinlay Kantor’s blank-verse novella, Glory for Me, The Best Years of Our Lives is William Wyler’s finest, most moving film, the one most infused with his humane sensibility and least compromised by melodrama. It essays the civilian readjustment of three soldiers upon their return home to Boone City somewhere in the corn belt. Their paths never crossed before the war, but they become friends on their flight back in a military transport.
One of these is Fred Derry, an Air Force captain and bombardier who returns to his pre-war job as a soda jerk, which he summarily loses. Derry has returned also to the wife he hardly knew, who likes better her husband’s impressive uniform than she does her husband, who for the moment seems without prospects. Homer Parrish (Harold Russell, best supporting actor Oscar), a sailor who lost both hands in the war, is terrified of reuniting with fiancée Wilma. Al Stephenson (Fredric March, best actor Oscar), an infantry sergeant, has returned home to Milly (Myrna Loy, best actress, Brussels) and two grown children. (Al, nervous, hopes to postpone having homecoming sex with Milly.) A banker, he is promoted to vice president in charge of loans; but, familiar with the courage and determination of the men he fought with, and wishing to bet on the future of America, he locks horns with bank management over his tendency to approve loans for returning G.I.s with little or no collateral.
The supernally clear deep focus that cinematographer Gregg Toland helped Wyler achieve suggests that the present contains a vision of the future. However, the most brilliant passage, in an airfield of retired B-52 bombers, finds Fred wandering into his recent past.
Oscars for best picture, direction, screenplay.
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