THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is the earliest movie I’ve seen about veterans coming home from war and having trouble readjusting, and very different from the other ones. If it was made after Iraq and Afghanistan it might’ve been a sun-drenched support-the-troops true tale of sacrifice like AMERICAN SNIPER. If it was after Vietnam it might’ve been a dark but entertaining genre tale, like ROLLING THUNDER or FIRST BLOOD. But this was 1946, right after World War II, so it’s a beautiful black and white ensemble drama directed by William Wyler (BEN-HUR) and shot by Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE).
It’s the story of three men fresh back from the war. Army captain and bombardier Fred Derry (Dana Andrews, GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK) can’t get a flight back to his home town of Boone City, but a woman at the airline desk points him to where he can catch a ride on an army plane. He has to wait around for hours, but ends up in the nose of a bomber with sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell, INSIDE MOVES) and infantry sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March, …TICK …TICK …TICK). They marvel over the view of America and bond over what they did in the war, and who and what they’re coming back to.
They get home and we follow each of them as they return to their families, try to find jobs, try to make regular life work again. For the most part their loved ones are thrilled to have them back, and will do anything they can to support them. And many people see their medals and treat them as heroes. Al is welcomed back at the bank where he worked, to almost an uncomfortable “we want to show off that we have a veteran on staff” level. Fred not as much. The drugstore has been taken over by a chain who will only hire him back as assistant to his old assistant when he was a soda jerk. (read the rest of this shit…)