February 7, 2010

Movie Monday

Don't forget to post some questions for my Q&A post, coming soon!
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Okay, so after my rant in last week's Movie Monday, I thought I'd tackle a few movies that approached our military from a different angle. Sadly, this means I have to go back in time a few years. Sadly for Hollywood, but it makes me thrilled. This is my era!

Today, we will talk about
"The Best Years of Our Lives."


First, some background info:

This movie was independently produced by Samuel Goldwyn, who read about the plight of returning WWII servicemen and wanted to make a movie about it. The director is one of my favorites, William Wyler. Wyler, a WWII vet himself, was very passionate about this film and the men it represented. One of the main stars of the movie is also a WWII veteran.

Don't let the happy-go-lucky title fool you. This is a dramatic feature about three WWII vets coming home at the end of the war to their small town.

It's about readjustment, PTSD, a double-amputee, alcoholism, coming home to children who grew up without you, to a woman you married two weeks before you left who doesn't hardly remember you, to your high school sweetheart you don't think will accept you as you are, to a job you thought you had but didn't wait for you, to a job that waited for you but you don't want anymore. And like many 1940's movies, many of these are portrayed in an overly-dramatic fashion, but that was the style of the day.

It deals with very heavy subject matter, but contrary to modern movies, does so in a way that respects both our servicemembers and their families.

The three men are Al Stephenson, Fred Derry, and Homer Parrish. The three of them have never met, but turn out to be from the same small town in flyover country. They hop in the back of an old prop plane for a ride home, and that's where our story begins.

Al is a middle-aged Army sergeant returning to his family. His "kids" aren't kids anymore. His wife has lived without him for almost four years. He has to learn how to live in a family again with a family that looks just a little like the one he left. He is an executive loan officer in a bank. On the way home, he says "the thing that scares me the most is that everybody's gonna try to rehabilitate me."

Fred is an Air Force Captain returning to no job, no prospects, and a wife he married 2 weeks before going overseas. He doesn't know her, doesn't know what he will do tomorrow. He's worried about the fact that he has no real plans and no real jobs skills, other than being an AF officer. But is ready to be home and see his folks, who live in a shanty under the railroad tracks.

Homer is a sailor, played by real-life WWII vet Harold Russell, an amputee with hooks for hands. He was (most likely) drafted right out of high school, and is coming home to his family, including his high school sweetheart whom he loves dearly. They planned on marrying as soon as the war was over. This is his first time home since his accident, and he refuses to let himself believe that Wilma, his girlfriend, will accept him as he is. He won't even return her welcoming hug.

None of these men return to the lives they were expecting to find.

The rest of the movie, as you might expect, is an emotional rollercoaster. None of these guys are whitewashed stereotypes. However, neither are they one-dimensional freaks or monsters. They are full-bodied characters with both virtues and vices. The men's lives intertwine throughout the movie as their families and the community adjust to them. The movie deals with many of the same issues that today's movies do, but never once does it assume the worst of Al, Fred or Homer. If anything, the movie shows how the attitude of, "The war's over, time to move on" (which is constantly thrown around by the community) does more to hurt soldiers than help them.

If anything, I'd say the only "idealized" part of the movie is Al's wife, played by the fantastic Myrna Loy. She was a major headliner in those days, but only got a secondary part in the movie. And yet, she has a large presence as the patient, understanding wife trying herself to adjust to her husband being home after so many years. She brings a dignified subtlety and sweetness that I would love to learn how to carry.

I'd take 1,000 words to talk about how much I love this movie if I thought you'd read it. Let me just end with a plea that you find this movie and watch it. I know I've rented it through Blockbuster online, so I'm sure it's also available on Netflix. Or, if you want, I see where the entire movie is available (in parts) on youtube.

The cast is excellent, the writing sincere, and the characters empathetic. It's not the feel-good movie of the year, but it won Best Picture, and actually deserved it. Check it out. You won't be sorry.

6 comments:

  1. That's a great review. I am going to search out this movie - it sounds like it will be just my style. Thanks!

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  2. Thanks SO much for sharing this!

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  3. I've never heard of this movie, but thanks for letting us know about it. It sounds great!

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  4. This is one of my favorite classic movies. They already played it this month on TCM 31 days of classics. Luckily, I recorded it on my DVR and can watch it whenever I want!

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  5. sounds like a great movie! i am going to have to check it out. thanks!

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  6. I always do Theater Thursday. You should totally link up!

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