Samuel Goldwyn’s “The Best Years of Our Lives” is one of the best pictures of our lives. It’s the type of film production which belies Goldwyn’s own well-publicized interview of last week that the British would soon seriously challenge America as pacemakers in motion picture production because of what he terms the Britishers’ more realistic approach to films.
Ballyhooey or otherwise. Goldwyn fundamentally doesn’t need any spurious spotlighting on his “Best Years.” In the MacKinlay Kantor novel, as dramatist Robert E. Sherwood has transmuted into a screenplay and director William Wyler has vivified it, the producer has a fundamental story which will sell around the world. As the postwar saga of the soda jerk who became an Army officer; the banker who was mustered out as a sergeant; and the seaman who came back to glory minus both his bands, “Years” is right out of your neighbors’ lives. Or, maybe, even your own.
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Inspired casting has newcomer Harold Russell, a real-life amputee, pacing the seasoned trouper, Fredric March, for personal histrionic triumphs. But all the other performances are equally good. Myrna Loy is the small-town bank veepee’s beauteous wife. Teresa Wright plays their daughter, who goes for the already-married Dana Andrews with full knowledge of his wife (Virginia Mayo, who does a capital job as the cheating looker). Both femmes in this triangle, along with Andrews, do their stuff convincingly.
Cathy O’Donnell, newcomer, does her sincerely-in-love chore with the same simplicity as Harold Russell, the $200-a-month war-pensioned hero, who, since he has lost his hands in combat, spurns Miss O’Donnell because he never wants to be a burden. That scene, as he skillfully manages the wedding ring, is but one of several memorable high spots.
March’s forthright stance as a banker, father and free-and-easy bourbon drinker makes his performance easily one of the year’s cinematic outstanders. Given a v.p. title and a returning war hero’s salary boost as the bank’s officer in charge of small loans to Gis, he tells off the smug doubletalking bankers about “secure collateral” by exercising innate judgment, predicated on human values and faith in the American future. In a couple of scenes which by their very underplaying hit hard he scores a single-handed thespic triumph.
Then there is Hoagy Carmichael as the laconic piano-playing tavernkeeper who teaches the amputated ex-seaman how to play the ivories with those trick lunch-hooks. The songsmithing actor has become quite a trouper. Gladys George does well as blowsy stepmother to Dana Andrews, whose pop (Roman Bohnen) lives in frowzy gin-reeking existence down by the railroad tracks, only suddenly awakening to the boy’s military prowess which has made the kid from the wrong side of the tracks emerge an officer. It takes Andrews a little longer to find himself but he does in that telling final scene which augurs well for him and Miss Wright.
The pace of the picture is a bit leisurely. Almost a full hour is required to set the mood and the motivation, but never does it pall. Not a line or scene is spurious. The people live; they are not mere shadow etchings on a silver sheet. The realism is graphic; the story compelling; the romantic frailties and the human little problems confronting each of the group are typical of the headlines in stressing the impact of postwar readjustment and faith in the future.
1946: Best Motion Picture (Samuel Goldwyn Productions), Actor (Fredric March), Actor in a Supporting Role (Harold Russell), Directing (William Wyler), Film Editing (Daniel Mandell), Music–Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Hugo Friedhofer), Writing–Screenplay (Robert E. Sherwood), Special Award (To Harold Russell for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in “The Best Years of Our Lives.”)
Nominations: Sound Recording (Samuel Goldwyn Studio Sound Department, Gordon Sawyer, Sound Director)