One of the highest grossing pictures of the 1940s, The Best Years of Our Lives was also one of the most acclaimed pictures of that same decade. The tale of three men arriving home after World War II and having to readjust to life outside the battlefield, it struck a chord with the post-wartime mentality rapidly pervasive throughout America for the time. Thanks to William Wyler’s direction, this manages to encapsulate much of the troubles, hardships, and benefits the returning soldiers faced and received, while still managing to tell the story well.
The three male leads, as a group, are endlessly memorable both in their own scenes and when they interact together, and they form a solid core for the real of the film to build off of. Much has been made of Harold Russell’s turn as the handless veteran Homer, and while watching him I couldn’t help but agree with much of what’s been said, while also wondering how they must’ve written the script around his handicap. Russell has such a charm and kindness about him that you can’t help but watch him whenever he appears on screen; even without his hook hands, he’d still be a scene stealer. Gregg Toland’s deep-focus cinematography makes every crowd and multiple-layered shot memorable, while still being invisible enough to not draw too much attention to itself. As for the story, it doesn’t have much actual storytelling to go through, but it has enough material to warrant its lengthy running time.
There’s a lot in this film to take in, but as long as you’re able to keep pace with it, you’ll do just fine with this one. It’s a little of my opinion that the film may be a bit overhyped, especially with all the critical reception it’s gotten over the years, even up to today, but it’s still a great picture and one that stands well on its own two feet. It has quite the story to tell, and message to impart, and it is definitely one that is worth watching, for many more reasons than I have cared to name here.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10