The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, William Wyler)

Katy and I did not know they made this kind of movie in the 40’s. It’s a wonderful bummer of a post-war drama dealing with the problems ex-soldiers faced upon returning home. Won every male-centric oscar that year (sorry, actresses), wiping It’s a Wonderful Life and Brief Encounter off the board.

Myrna Loy (between Thin Man 5 and 6) is first-billed for being the most famous person in the cast, mother of Peggy (Teresa Wright, star of Shadow of a Doubt) and husband of Al (Fredric March of I Married a Witch, Seven Days in May), who suffers from psychological trauma and chronic comic drunkenness (a common affliction in the 40’s).

Homer (Harold Russell, my favorite actor in the movie despite having never appeared in films before) has hooks for hands, thinks he is no longer worthy of his longtime sweetheart Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell of Side Street, They Live By Night) so spends all day hanging out with his bartender buddy Hoagy Carmichael (a rare film role for the songwriter, who also appeared in To Have and Have Not).

Fred (Dana Andrews of Laura and Canyon Passage) is underemployed now that all the fighting men are back to work, gets along fine with new wife Marie (Virginia Mayo of White Heat, The Flame and the Arrow) at first, until her love for fast dudes and fancy duds outpaces his salary.

What does happen to Fred? Does he get divorced? I remember he has anger management issues and gets fired from his job for tossing an anti-military sumbitch through a glass display, but it’s been a couple weeks now since we watched this and Fred is starting to slip my mind. He was a bombardier in the war and wanders into a new job when he’s spotted by a deconstruction crew while visiting decommissioned planes. Al is a banker, promoted to loan supervisor by the higher-ups who think it’s prestigious to have a war officer in their employ, but they aren’t too happy when he starts approving loans for trustworthy-seeming but collateral-lacking young soldiers. Homer’s main conflict is that he’s comfortable with the hooks physically but not socially, figuring himself an unlovable outcast. They’re all mighty good roles, and the movie has an epic feel despite being about three small families in a small town. Katy and I found it quite deserving of its reputation.