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The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Our Lives(1946)


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teaser The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Novelist MacKinlay Kantor modeled Boone City, the setting for TheBest Years of Our Lives on Cincinnati.

Although they were cast as mother and daughter, Myrna Loy was only 12years older than Teresa Wright.

While rehearsing the hangover scene, actor Fredric March mixed a bromowith two glasses, then accidentally lifted the empty glass to his lips. Hestopped the scene to get it right, but Loy suggested that they leave themistake in because it seemed "real", so they did.

Future director Blake Edwards had an unbilled bit as acorporal.

Wyler's daughters, seven-year-old Cathy and four-year-old Judy, madetheir screen debuts in a scene with Dana Andrews in the drugstore.

Because of Wyler's use of deep focus photography, The BestYears of Our Lives contains less than 200 separate shots. The averageHollywood film of the period had 300 to 400 shots -- per hour.

Goldwyn was so impressed with the picture that when he saw fellowindependent producer David O. Selznick leaving the preview, he asked him,"How much did you love my picture?"

Sam Goldwyn was famous for his mangling of the English language, thoughhis PR department probably wrote some of his most famous gaffes on purpose.In talking to the press about the importance of making significant filmslike The Best Years of Our Lives, he said "I don't care if itdoesn't make a nickel as long as every man, woman and child in America seesit."

To publicize the picture, Goldwyn arranged to appear on Bob Hope'sradio show, then asked one of his contract writers for a snappy way topitch the film. Since Hope had just made a Goldwyn film of his own, ThePrincess and the Pirate (1944), the writer suggested a simple exchange. Hopewould ask, "Well, Mr. Goldwyn, how have things been going since I left yourstudio?" And Goldwyn would reply, "I'll tell you, Bob -- since you left,we've had the Best Years of Our Lives." Goldwyn liked the exchange and sentit to Hope's writers, who inserted it in the script. When they reachedthat point in the show, Hope said, "Well, Mr. Goldwyn, how have things beengoing since I left the studio?" Without looking at his script, Goldwynreplied, "I'll tell you, Bob, since you left, things are better thanever."

President and Mrs. Truman attended the film's Washington, D.C.,premiere on March 11, 1947. Also in attendance was Wyler's wartimecommander, Major General Carl Spaatz.

When the film was released, cinematographer Gregg Toland took it uponhimself to check 41 of the prints distributed. He also visited theatres inLos Angeles to make sure they had the best possible projection equipment.At some of these he ordered new lenses for the projectors and reduced thesize of the screens to guarantee the film would be seen under optimalconditions.

Following his performance in The Best Years of Our Lives, HaroldRussell returned to college, then headed up AMVETS, a support group forU.S. veterans. In 1992, he made headlines when he defied the MotionPicture Academy® by selling his Best Supporting Actor Oscar® to aprivate buyer for $60,500 to help pay for an operation his wifeneeded.

When William Wyler won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the AmericanFilm Institute, Myrna Loy was one of the featured speakers. After hearingother actors kid Wyler about his penchant for numerous re-takes, she spokein his defense, saying that he only did the re-takes because "he suspectssome wonderful new thing is going to happen -- and it usually does." Thenext morning, Wyler called to thank her.


"I look terrible...It isn't fair of you to bust in on us like this." -Myrna Loy as Milly Stephenson.

"What do you think of the children?"
"Children? I don't recognize 'em. They've grown so old."
"I tried to stop them, to keep them just as they were when you left, butthey got away from me." - Myrna Loy, as Milly Stephenson, and FredricMarch, as Al Stephenson, catching up.

"Give 'em time, kid. They'll catch on. You know, your folks will get usedto you, and you'll get used to them. Then everything will settle downnicely, unless we have another war. Then none of us have to worry becausewe'll all be blown to bits the first day. So cheer up, huh?" - HoagyCarmichael as Butch.

"Last year, it was Kill Japs. This year, it's Make Money." - Fredric Marchas Al Stephenson.

"When we were married, Babe, the Justice of the Peace said something about'for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse.' Remember? Well, this isthe worse." - Dana Andrews as Fred Derry.

"I'm sure you'll all agree with me if I said that now is the time for allof us to stop all this nonsense, face facts, get down to brass tacks,forget about the war and go fishing. But I'm not gonna say it. I'm justgoing to sum the whole thing up in one word. (Milly coughs loudly tocaution him -- worrying that he will tell off the boss.) My wifedoesn't think I'd better sum it up in that one word. I want to tell you allthat the reason for my success as a Sergeant is due primarily to myprevious training in the Cornbelt Loan and Trust Company. The knowledge Iacquired in the good ol' bank I applied to my problems in the infantry. Forinstance, one day in Okinawa, a Major comes up to me and he says,'Stephenson, you see that hill?' 'Yes sir, I see it.' 'All right,' he said.'You and your platoon will attack said hill and take it.' So I said to theMajor, 'But that operation involves considerable risk. We haven'tsufficient collateral.' 'I'm aware of that,' said the Major, 'but the factremains that there's the hill, and you are the guys that are going to takeit.' So I said to him, 'I'm sorry Major, no collateral, no hill.' So wedidn't take the hill, and we lost the war.' I think that little story hasconsiderable significance, but I've forgotten what it is. And now inconclusion, I'd like to tell you a humorous anecdote. I know severalhumorous anecdotes, but I can't think of any way to clean them up, so I'llonly say this much. I love the Cornbelt Loan and Trust Company. There aresome who say that the old bank is suffering from hardening of the arteriesand of the heart. I refuse to listen to such radical talk. I say that ourbank is alive, it's generous, it's human, and we're going to have such aline of customers seeking and getting small loans that people will thinkwe're gambling with the depositors' money. And we will be. We will begambling on the future of this country. I thank you." - Fredric March as AlStephenson

"I've made up my mind...I'm going to break that marriage up." - TeresaWright as Peggy Stephenson.

"How many times have I told you I hated you and believed it in my heart?How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me and that we wereall washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?"- Myrna Loy as Milly Stephenson.

"I don't like the idea of you sneaking around corners to see Peggy, takingher love on a bootleg basis. I give you fair warning, I'm going to doeverything I can to keep her away from you, to help her forget about youand get married to some decent guy who can make her happy." - Fredric Marchas Al Stephenson.

"I've given you every chance to make something of yourself. I gave up myown job when you asked me. I gave up the best years of my life, and whathave you done? You flopped! Couldn't even hold that job at the drugstore.So I'm going back to work for myself and that means I'm gonna live formyself, too. And in case you don't understand English, I'm gonna get adivorce. What have you got to say to that?" - Virginia Mayo as MarieDerry.

"Headquarters, Eighth Air Force. Award of the Distinguished FlyingCross...Despite intense pain, shock, and loss of blood, with completedisregard of his personal safety, Captain Derry crawled back to hisbombsight, guided his formation on a perfect run over the objective andreleased his bombs with great accuracy. The heroism, devotion to duty,professional skill and coolness under fire displayed by Captain Derry underthe most difficult conditions reflect highest credit upon himself and theArmed Forces of the United States of America. By command of LieutenantGeneral Doolittle." - Roman Bohnen as Pat Derry, reading his son'sdistinguished service citation.

"This is when I know I'm helpless. My hands are down there on the bed. Ican't put them on again without calling to somebody for help. Can't smokea cigarette or read a book. If that door should blow shut, I can't open itto get out of this room. I'm as dependent as a baby that doesn't know howto get anything except to cry for it." - Harold Russell as HomerParrish.

by Frank Miller

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teaser The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Three enlisted men face an uncertain future at the end of World War II.Banker Al Stephenson comes home to a family that has grown up while he wasaway at war and a job where his bosses have little interest in supportingthe men who risked their lives in the name of freedom. Fred Derry faces adead end job and a war bride he barely knows. After losing his hands inbattle, Homer Parrish has a harder time adjusting to others' attitudes andhis own fear of pity than any physical challenges. Their challengescapture the spirit of a country recovering from a war that affected the lives of every American.

The Best Years of Our Lives was the first major Hollywoodproduction to deal with the problems faced by veterans returning from WorldWar II. At the time, most producers thought the war-weary public was moreinterested in escapist entertainment, but Goldwyn proved them wrong byturning this into the top-grossing picture of the decade.

Independent producer Sam Goldwyn got the idea for a film about veteransre-adjusting to home life after World War II when his wife, Francis,pointed out a photo in the August 7, 1944 issue of Time magazine.It depicted a group of homecoming Marines leaning out a railway car onwhich someone had written "Home Again!" in chalk. The story itself dealtwith the mixed emotions the men would face on returning to their familiesand the jobs they held before the war.

Fredric March had worked with Goldwyn twice before, on The DarkAngel (1935) and the disastrous We Live Again (1934), and wasn'ttoo keen on leaving Broadway to work with the producer again. When he lost the leadin Life With Father to William Powell, however, he decided to givethe film a shot. Ironically, neither he nor co-star Dana Andrews hadserved in the war, and March had been a frequent target of conservativecommentators for his liberal politics.

Myrna Loy was already considered the screen's perfect wife because ofher Thin Man films at MGM, but had made few films recently becauseof her work for the war effort. Unsure about her willingness to take asecondary role in which she would have a grown daughter, Goldwyn invitedher to his home for dinner, where he charmed her into taking the part. Shehad no problems with the role's size or the character's age, but wasconcerned about working with William Wyler. "I hear he's a sadist," sheconfided in Goldwyn. "That isn't true," he retorted. "He's just a verymean fellow." She signed for the role anyway, and her agent secured her topbilling.

In the view of most critics, The Best Years of Our Lives isindependent producer Samuel Goldwyn's best film. For all the jokes aboutGoldwyn's vulgarity and his mangling of the English language, the pictureis both tasteful and perceptive, the perfect embodiment of what his PRdepartment would call "The Goldwyn Touch." In truth, that touch was theproduct of some of the best filmmakers in Hollywood, including directorWilliam Wyler and cinematographer Gregg Toland, who worked under contractto Goldwyn. The film was really the last hurrah for The Goldwyn Touch, asit marked Wyler's last film before breaking out with a production companyof his own.

At 172 minutes, The Best Years of Our Lives was almost twice thelength of the average picture of its era. Goldwyn considered cutting it,but when he screened it with Wyler it was so tight that he couldn't findanything to cut. In addition, the time seemed to fly by. That judgmentwas reinforced by preview audiences in October 1946, who were soenthusiastic that he decided not to cut the picture.

The film won seven Oscars®: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor(Fredric March), Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Best Screenplay,Best Score and Best Editing. The only category in which it lost was BestSound. In addition, Goldwyn received the Irving Thalberg Award, a specialhonor for outstanding work in production. Russell's win was a surprise.Earlier in the evening he was handed a Special Oscar® "for bringinghope and courage to his fellow veterans." This would make him the onlyperformer to receive two Oscars® for the same performance.

Director: William Wyler
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay: Robert E. Sherwood
Based on the Verse Novel Glory for Me by MacKinlay Kantor
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: George Jenkins, Perry Ferguson
Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Myrna Loy (Milly Stephenson), Fredric March (Al Stephenson), DanaAndrews (Fred Derry), Teresa Wright (Peggy Stephenson), Virginia Mayo(Marie Derry), Cathy O'Donnell (Wilma Cameron), Harold Russell (HomerParrish), Hoagy Carmichael (Butch Engle), Gladys George (Hortense Derry),Steve Cochran (Cliff Scully), Ray Collins (Mr. Milton), Roman Bohnen (PatDerry)
BW-170m. Closed captioning.

by Rob Nixon

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