81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Best Years Of Our Lives, The

September 7th, 2009 · No Comments · 1946, Adaptation, Best Years Of Our Lives, Black and White, Drama, Hoagy Carmichael, MacKinlay Kantor, Marriage and Divorce, Myrna Loy, Samuel Goldwyn Company, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, William Wyler

The Best Years Of Our Lives Another adaptation, the 12th out of 19 Oscar-winning movies, and the second in a row. At this point, Hollywood makes a movie out of a novel, short story, or play 63% of the time – a remarkable statistic!

The Best Years Of Our Lives was directed by William Wyler (1902-1981), who also directed Mrs. Miniver. But I won’t hold that against him.

The film was written by Robert E. Sherwood (1896-1955), who also wrote the screenplay for Rebecca, another adaptation. But I won’t hold that against him.

MacKinlay Kantor (1904-1977) wrote the novella “Glory For Me” on which The Best Years Of Our Lives is based. I may hold that against him.

Here’s the plot: “Three WWII veterans return home to small-town America to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed.” That’s what the film’s IMDB entry says, anyway.

One vet, an amputee (Harold Russell), has to convince himself and those around him he’s still a regular guy. Another vet, an unhappily married man (Dana Andrews), falls for the daughter of the third vet (Fredric March). The entire movie is the story of these three lives, intersecting at times, unfolding at others, coming together in the end.

Thirty minutes into the film I find myself wondering what more there could possibly be to this. The movie starts with three sad-sack vets coming home to three down-in-the mouth families. It’s clear right from the start that all is not well. People aren’t connecting. The vets are uncomfortable. And the families aren’t comfortable with them.

I get it.

I get it so clearly that I’m worried that the entire movie will be the story of their lives unraveling.

Please, God. Don’t let this movie be nearly three hours of this heavy-handed, stilted dialogue and on-the-nose performances.

It’s now 90 minutes into the movie. I’ve been watching the lives of these people for an hour and a half.

And I still don’t care about them. Not a whit.

“I’m going to break this marriage up!” Peggy Stephenson says when she tells her parents she’s in love with Fred Derry and knows Fred doesn’t love his wife any more than his wife loves him. Up to this point (historically speaking), marriage was sacred. I don’t recall seeing any affairs in the previous Oscar-winners. And I certainly don’t recall hearing a young woman say she’s going to bust up a marriage.

Interesting.

The Best Years Of Our Lives is the first Oscar-winning movie that deals with infidelity, albeit merely a kiss between a married man and a young gal who’s not his wife, and divorce.

Another groundbreaking element of the movie is its treatment of the handicapped. Real-life amputee Harold Russell was portrayed sympathetically, but not pityingly. He demonstrated that although he was limited physically, he wasn’t so mentally.

One last comment: According to its listing on Amazon, The Best Years Of Our Lives is now out of print, making it the third Oscar-winning movie to be unavailable in the United States, except through Amazon Marketplace or similar online sellers.

Here’s the cast:

Milly Stephenson (Myrna Loy, 1905-1993), Al Stephenson (Fredric March, 1897-1975), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews, 1909-1992), Peggy Stephenson (Teresa Wright, 1918-2005…Teresa also appeared in Mrs. Miniver, which was directed by the same chap who directed this movie), Marie Derry (Virginia Mayo, 1920-2005), Wilma Cameron (Cathy O’Donnell, 1923-1970…according to her entry on IMDB: “Sister-in-law of William Wyler, niece-in-law of Carl Laemmle, cousin-in-law of Carl Laemmle Jr.” Can you say nepotism?), Homer Parrish (Harold Russell, 1914-2002…from his entry on IMDB: “He was training paratroopers at Camp MacKall NC on June 6, 1944 when some TNT he was using exploded in his hands. He lost both hands. After receiving hooks, and training on them, he was chosen to make an Army training film called “Diary Of A Sergeant”. William Wyler saw the film and decided to change a character in his film The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) from a spastic to a double amputee. Harold Russell played Homer Parish. For this role he received 2 Oscars, a Best Supporting and one for being an inspiration to all returning veterans. He is the only actor to receive 2 Oscars for the same role.”), Butch Engle (Hoagy Carmichael, 1899-1981).

The best years of their lives? Maybe. But I just wasted 172 minutes of mine watching this tedious movie.

But what do I know? The movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won eight of them, including Best Picture, Best Leading Actor (Fredric March), Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), and Best Director (William Wyler).

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