The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is an American drama directed by William Wyler and starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, and Virginia Mayo. The screenplay was written by Robert E. Sherwood, based on a novella, Glory for Me by MacKinlay Kantor. The cinematography was by Greg Toland.
The plot of the movie concerns three United States servicemen returning home after World War II and the struggle they have re-adjusting to civilian life. The movie is almost a time capsule of what life was like after the war and the changes it brought to American society. Apart from winning the Best Picture Academy Award, it was the top-grossing film of the year and the top-grossing film of the decade. Adjusted for inflation, it is one of the top 100 grossing films in the United States.
|The movie poster downplays the seriousness of the film.|
William Wyler (1902 - 1981) was an American (born in Mulhouse, Alsace, then part of Germany) film director and producer. He won the Academy Award for Best Direction three times: Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Ben-Hur (1959). Wyler was nominated 12 times for Best Director, an Academy Awards history record. Wyler started working in the movie business during the silent era, eventually making a name for himself as a director in the early 1930s. He would go on to direct Wuthering Heights (1939), The Westerner (1940), and The Little Foxes (1941). Actress Bette Davis received three Oscar nominations under Wyler’s direction, winning her second Oscar for her performance in Jezebel (1938). Other popular films directed by Wyler include The Heiress (1949), Roman Holiday (1954), Friendly Persuasion (1956), The Big Country (1958), and Funny Girl 1968).
Myrna Loy (1905 - 1993) was an American film, television, and stage actress. Loy was a trained dancer but decided to concentrate on acting, appearing in silent films before becoming a major star with the advent of sound. Perhaps Loy is most famous for playing Nora Charles opposite William Powell in The Thin Man (1934) and its subsequent sequels. Loy and Powell were one of the screen’s most popular acting teams; they appeared in 14 films together. Loy starred opposite the top leading men of the day including Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Tyrone Power, and Cary Grant. Some of her films include Wife vs. Secretary (1936), Libeled Lady (1936), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Test Pilot (1938), Too Hot to Handle (1938), The Rains Came (1939), Love Crazy (1941), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). Film character: Milly Stephenson.
|Myrna Loy (left), Fredric March, and Teresa Wright|
Fredric March (1897 - 1975) was an American actor and two-time Best Actor Academy Award winner. Also a famous stage actor, March won two Tony Awards as well and is one of a few actors to have won both the Academy Award and the Tony Award twice. March was an immediate success in films receiving his first Best Actor nomination in 1930. He won his first Best Actor Oscar for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) and his second for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). During the 1930s and 1940s, March was a popular leading man starring opposite Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, Norma Shearer, Katharine Hepburn, and Carole Lombard. March continued acting on stage and in films until 1973, two years before his death from cancer. Film character: Al Stephenson.
|Actor Dana Andrews (standing) refuses to serve cinematographer Greg Toland (left) and director William Wyler (right) on the set.|
Dana Andrews (1909 – 1992) was an American stage, film, and television actor. During the 1940s, Andrews was a major star and leading man starring in Laura (1944), State Fair (1945), A Walk in the Sun (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Canyon Passage (1946), Boomerang! (1947), and Daisy Kenyon (1947) co-starring Joan Crawford and Henry Fonda; so popular was Andrews during the 1940s that he was billed above Fonda. During the 1950s, film roles were harder to come by, but he had success in Elephant Walk (1954) co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Finch, While the City Sleeps (1956), and Curse of the Demon (1957). In 1958 he replaced Henry Fonda on Broadway in Two for the Seesaw. Film character: Fred Derry.
Teresa Wright (1918 - 2005) was an American stage, film, and television actress. She received Academy Award nominations in her first three films, a record that still holds today. In 1942, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver and for Best Actress in The Pride of the Yankees. She won the Supporting Oscar for Mrs. Miniver, her co-star, Greer Garson won Best Actress. Today Wright is most famous for playing Lou Gehrig’s wife in The Pride of the Yankees, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Wright was a popular star throughout the 1940s starring opposite Robert Mitchum, Ray Milland, Gary Cooper, and David Niven. She starred opposite Marlon Brando in his first film role in The Men (1950). Wright continued working in film, with her last role as Miss Birdie in The Rainmaker (1997). Wright is the only non-baseball player to be honored by the New York Yankees when she passed away at age 86. Film character: Peggy Stephenson.
Virginia Mayo (1920 - 2005) was an American actress and dancer. She made a series of popular films with Danny Kaye while under contract to Samuel Goldwyn which made her a star. In the late 1940s, Warner Bros. bought her contract from Goldwyn and she became one of the studio’s top box office attractions. At Warners, Mayo made a variety of films including musicals, comedies, and dramas. She co-starred with James Cagney in White Heat (1949), The Flame and the Arrow (1950) opposite Burt Lancaster, Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. co-starring Gregory Peck (1951), the studio’s biggest hit of the year. After her film career ended, Mayo guest-starred on many popular television series including Remington Steele, The Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote. Film character: Marie Derry.
Harold Russell (1914 - 2002) was a Canadian-born American World War II veteran. Russell lost both hands in a training accident when a defective fuse detonated the explosives he was handling. He was given two hooks to serve as hands and he was featured in an Army rehabilitation film, Diary of a Sergeant. This film brought Russell to the attention of director Wyler who cast him in the film. Russell won two Academy Awards. He won an honorary award for bringing hope and courage to veterans and he also won the Best Supporting Actor award, something he was not predicted to win. Russell remains one of only two non-professional actors to win Academy Awards. Haing S. Ngor won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in The Killing Field (1985). Film character: Homer Parrish.
Cathy O’Donnell (1923 - 1970) was an American actress best known for her roles in The Best Years of Our Lives, They Live by Night (1948), and Ben-Hur (1959) where she played Tirzah, the sister of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston). She appeared on the small screen on Perry Mason and Bonanza. She was married to director Wyler’s older brother Robert. She passed away after a long illness on her 22nd wedding anniversary. Film character: Wilma Cameron.
The Best Years of Our Lives trivia:
- The fictional Boone City was modeled after Cincinnati, Ohio.
- William Wyler hated the score by Hugo Friedhofer; it won the Oscar that year for the best film score.
- Myrna Loy was only 13 years older than Teresa Wright who played her daughter.
- The film includes four Oscar winners: Fredric March, Teresa Wright, Hoagy Carmichael (Uncle Butch), and Harold Russell.
- Future director Blake Edwards has an uncredited part as a Corporal and actor Sean Penn’s father, Leo, played a soldier working as a scheduling clerk at the beginning of the film.
To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.
Questions for discussion:
- The film is a product of its time. Does it still have meaning for us today in 2021?
- What if anything surprised you about the film?
- Did you have a favorite scene or piece of dialogue that stood out to you?
- Would you recommend this film to a friend to watch?
- How do you think the acting holds up? Are the performances true to life?
- Do you think the film had an anti-war message?
- Why do you think this film resonated with audiences in 1946?
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