The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

165, 170 or 172 mins | Drama | 1946

Director:

William Wyler

Producer:

Samuel Goldwyn

Cinematographer:

Gregg Toland

Editor:

Daniel Mandell

Production Designers:

Perry Ferguson, George Jenkins

Production Company:

Samuel Goldwyn Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

The working titles of the film were Glory for Me and Home Again . In the opening credits, actor Fredric March's name is spelled correctly, but in the end credits, his given name is spelled "Frederic." HR news items, the film's presskit and other contemporary sources reconstruct the evolution of the film from Aug 1944: After reading a 7 Aug 1944 Time magazine article, "The Way Home," on apprehensions and adjustment problems that were facing some soldiers returning from World War II, producer Samuel Goldwyn's wife Frances suggested that the men's story would be a good basis for a film. Taking the title of the proposed film from the hand-written "Home Again" sign in a photograph accompanying the article, Goldwyn decided to go ahead with the project. That same night, Goldwyn contacted MacKinlay Kantor, who had written a number of novels that had been adapted for the screen, to write a treatment. In Jan 1945, Kantor turned in the first part of the story, which was more than 100 pages of blank verse. Given the go-ahead to continue, Kantor eventually completed his story in more than four hundred pages and submitted it under the title Glory for Me . The novel was published in 1945.
       When frequent Goldwyn collaborator William Wyler returned from his own war service, Goldwyn brought him onto the project. According to both contemporary and modern sources, Wyler was somewhat reluctant to film the project, in part because he had just started his own company, Liberty Films, along with fellow veterans and filmmakers Frank Capra, George Stevens and Samuel Briskin. Wyler, who an ... More Less

The working titles of the film were Glory for Me and Home Again . In the opening credits, actor Fredric March's name is spelled correctly, but in the end credits, his given name is spelled "Frederic." HR news items, the film's presskit and other contemporary sources reconstruct the evolution of the film from Aug 1944: After reading a 7 Aug 1944 Time magazine article, "The Way Home," on apprehensions and adjustment problems that were facing some soldiers returning from World War II, producer Samuel Goldwyn's wife Frances suggested that the men's story would be a good basis for a film. Taking the title of the proposed film from the hand-written "Home Again" sign in a photograph accompanying the article, Goldwyn decided to go ahead with the project. That same night, Goldwyn contacted MacKinlay Kantor, who had written a number of novels that had been adapted for the screen, to write a treatment. In Jan 1945, Kantor turned in the first part of the story, which was more than 100 pages of blank verse. Given the go-ahead to continue, Kantor eventually completed his story in more than four hundred pages and submitted it under the title Glory for Me . The novel was published in 1945.
       When frequent Goldwyn collaborator William Wyler returned from his own war service, Goldwyn brought him onto the project. According to both contemporary and modern sources, Wyler was somewhat reluctant to film the project, in part because he had just started his own company, Liberty Films, along with fellow veterans and filmmakers Frank Capra, George Stevens and Samuel Briskin. Wyler, who an 11 Sep 1945 article in HR quoted as saying that he wanted to resume his career with "socially significant" films instead of "pure escapist" ventures, soon agreed to direct the story, and together with Goldwyn worked with Robert E. Sherwood to adapt Kantor's blank verse novel into a shooting script. Sherwood's adaptation, which had significant differences from Kantor's novel, was entitled The Best Years of Our Lives . According to a Jun 1947 article in HCN , Kantor was very vocal in his irritation over changes from his original novel and the film, particularly over the title change.
       One major change from the novel was that the disabled soldier in the book was a spastic, while in the film, he is an amputee who has lost both hands. Wyler had seen a short educational army film, "Diary of a Sergeant," featuring Harold Russell, a soldier who lost both hands in a training mishap in 1944. Russell's ease using the metal prosthetics that replaced his hands, and his naturalness in front of the camera, convinced Wyler and Goldwyn that Russell could play a major role ("Homer Parrish") in their film, which marked his feature film debut.
       According to a HR news item in Aug 1944, Goldwyn planned to cast Teresa Wright, Dana Andrews, David Niven, Farley Granger, Walter Brennan and Constance Dowling, but only Wright and Andrews were in the released film. A HR news item on 27 Aug 1945 includes George Davis in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A Jan 1946 HR news item noted that June Haver was being borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox as a "leading lady," but she was not in the film. Drummer Gene Krupa and singer Georgia Kane are seen performing very briefly in the nightclub montage; the shots were outtakes from other films. Cathy O'Donnell, who portrayed "Wilma," made her motion picture debut in the film.
       Various news items indicate that some backgrounds and aerial shots were filmed in the Southern part of the United States and that Sacramento, CA was to be used as the fictional town of Boone City. It is unlikely that much, if any, Sacramento footage was used in the film, though. According to the film's presskit, Cincinnati, OH was the prototype (but not location site) for Boone City. Many of the exterior scenes in the film were shot in and around Los Angeles. The apartment building in which "Al Stephenson" and his family live is located on Beverly Blvd. near La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, not far from the Goldwyn studios. A pre-production news item indicated that songwriter-actor Hoagy Carmichael was to compose two songs for the film. Although Carmichael did appear in the film, the film's principal song, "Among My Souvenirs," which he played on the piano in the film, was a 1927 song bought to lend a nostalgic atmosphere to the picture. According to various news items, scheduling problems arose during production because Virginia Mayo was appearing concurrently in The Best Years of Our Lives and another Goldwyn picture, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty . Although a 22 Jul 1946 HR new item announced that shooting might shut down for twenty days to accomodate Mayo's schedule, later news items indicate that no significant shut-downs or delays took place on The Best Years of Our Lives .
       Contemporary news items and feature articles stated that to publicize the picture, Goldwyn switched advertising agencies from Donahue & Coe to Foote, Cone & Bleding, who were handling the film's $500,000, six-month ad campaign. HR news items from Aug through Nov 1946 indicate that the film's planned 21 Nov 1946 premiere at the Astor Theatre in New York became problematic because United Artists was suing the theater owners to have the British-made Caesar and Cleopatra forcibly withdrawn prior to the premiere of The Best Years of Our Lives . The theater's management was threatening to leave the theater "dark," but the suit was settled in mid-Nov when New York State Supreme Court Justice Levy ruled that Caesar and Cleopatra would stay at the theater until just before the Goldwyn picture's debut. The New York premiere for The Best Years of Our Lives was held as a benefit for the Lighthouse, an organization that aided the blind. Road show engagements began in several cities in Dec, and the film opened at the Fox Beverly Theatre in Los Angeles on Christmas Day, for a limited engagement for 1946 Academy Award consideration.
       The film received outstanding reviews in trade and consumer publications, both in the United States and abroad. The FD reviewer wrote that the film "comes close to being the perfect film--as close indeed as you've ever seen"; the Var reviewer called it "one of the best pictures of our lives"; and Bosley Crowther of NYT stated, "It is seldom that there comes a motion picture which can be wholly and enthusiastically endorsed not only as superlative entertainment but as food for thought. Yet such a one is The Best Years of Our Lives ." The film won many critical awards, including Best Picture of the Year by the New York film critics, Look magazine's Industry Award, NYT 's and Time 's Best Picture award. The film won the BAFTRA award for Best Picture of the Year in Britain and won Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Picture; Best Director (William Wyler); Best Actor (Fredric March); Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell); Film Editing (Daniel Mandell); Music (Hugo Friedhofer for scoring a dramatic or comedy picture); and Best Screenplay (Robert E. Sherwood). In addition, a special Academy Award was given to Russell "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance" in the film and Samuel Goldwyn was given the Irving Thalberg Award. The film received one additional nomination, for Sound Recording. March earned his second Best Actor Academy Award for the film; his first was for the 1932 Paramount production Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.1076).
       Articles in FD and MPH just after the Academy Awards ceremony indicated that touting the film's "nine Oscars" early in the film's run, when it had yet to open in many cities in the U.S., would significantly increase the film's box office grosses, which had thus far amounted to $5,000,000. To capitalize on the large number of Academy Awards, Goldwyn produced a new campaign book and presskit for exploitation of the film. The new publicity materials prominently displayed pictures of the awards and called The Best Years of Our lives "The most honored Picture of All Time...the only picture ever to receive nine Oscars and such an avalanche of honors from all over the world." New one-sheet and three-sheet posters with a picture of an Oscar and the tag line "The Academy Award Picture! Winner of 9 Academy Awards" were also distributed, both to theaters already showing the picture and to future venues.
       The new ad campaign was one of the first examples of a studio's capitalization on winning Academy Awards to further promote a film still in release. Despite the fact that ads seemed to promote the idea that The Best Years of Our Lives had earned more Oscars than any previous film, in fact, it did not. The "nine" Oscars mentioned in the ads included the special award for Russell and Goldwyn's Thalberg Award. Gone With the Wind was still the film with the most Academy Awards, having earned eight regular awards, plus one scientific and technical award and one special award, thus bringing its overall total to ten, not including David O. Selznick's Thalberg Award that year (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.1674).
       According to a modern source, The Best Years of Our Lives went on to earn over $11,300,000 dollars at the North American box office. A 19 Apr 1948 Var news item reported that the film earned $8,000,000 in Britain in its initial release. The picture was re-released in 1953 in "first run" houses, according to HR and NYT , to tie-in with the homecoming of soldiers returning from the Korean War. Reviews upon the picture's re-release were excellent, with many critics pointing out that time had not diminished the film's emotional impact.
       Shortly after the film's completion, HR reported that Wyler was being banned from the Goldwyn lot after a heated argument with the producer. Although biographies of both Wyler and Goldwyn indicate that the two continued to have an on-again, off-again social relationship, Wyler never made another picture for Goldwyn, for whom he had directed a number of important films from the mid-1930s through 1941, including Dodsworth , These Three , Wuthering Heights (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.1090, F3.4556 and F3.5212) and The Little Foxes (see below). In 1958, Wyler sued Goldwyn for $408,356. That amount, Wyler claimed, was owed to him based on his 1939 contract with Goldwyn, which entitled him to twenty percent of the profits from all films he directed for Goldwyn. In a 1 Jul 1958 LAT article, columnist Hedda Hopper quoted Goldwyn as saying, "...if Willy feels that he has been mistreated by being paid such a 'paltry' sum as $1,400,000 for directing that picture, he is certainly entitled to the great American privilege of going to court." A 4 May 1962 DV article stated that Wyler's suit was set to go to court on 11 Sep 1962, but the exact disposition of the suit has not been determined.
       In Jul 1992, Harold Russell announced his intention to sell one of his two Oscars, the one for Best Supporting Actor, at auction. Russell, who only appeared in one other picture, Inside Moves (1980) and a few television programs, needed what he termed a "financial cushion" beyond his military and disability pensions. According to a feature article in People magazine, incumbent AMPAS president Karl Malden urged Russell not to sell his award because the Oscars "should not become objects of mere commerce." Despite the protests of AMPAS and considerable publicity, Russell's award was sold on 6 Aug 1992 for $60,500. The Best Years of Our Lives was ranked 37th on both AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films and AFI's 1997 list. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
7 Dec 1946.
---
Daily Variety
22 Nov 46
pp. 3-4.
Daily Variety
4 May 1962.
---
Down Beat
16 Dec 46
p. 17.
Film Daily
22 Nov 46
p. 7.
Film Daily
18 Mar 1947.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
27 Jun 1947.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Aug 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Sep 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Sep 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Oct 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jan 46
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 46
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Mar 46
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 46
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 46
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Apr 46
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Apr 46
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jul 46
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jul 46
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jul 46
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Aug 46
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 46
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Nov 46
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Nov 46
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Nov 46
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 46
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Nov 46
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Nov 46
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 46
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 46
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Dec 46
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Feb 47
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Oct 1953.
---
Look
21 Jan 47
pp. 88-90.
Los Angeles Times
26 Dec 1946.
---
Los Angeles Times
1 Jul 1958.
---
Motion Picture Daily
26 Dec 1946.
---
Motion Picture Herald
22 Mar 1947.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
16 Nov 46
p. 3312.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
30 Nov 46
p. 3335.
New York Times
22 Nov 46
p. 27.
New York Times
11 Sep 1947.
---
New York Times
26 Apr 1953.
---
People
17 Aug 92
p. 101.
People
24 Aug 1992.
---
Time
7 Aug 44
pp. 15-16.
Variety
27 Nov 46
p. 14.
Variety
19 Apr 1948.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
And Introducing
Billy Newell
Stephen E. Soldi
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Aerial photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff dir
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Glory for Me by MacKinlay Kantor (New York, 1945).
SONGS
"Among My Souvenirs," music by Edgar Leslie, lyrics by Horatio Nicholls.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Glory for Me
Home Again
Release Date:
1946
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 21 November 1946
Chicago opening: 18 December 1946
Boston and Los Angeles opening: 25 December 1946.
Production Date:
15 April--mid August 1946
Copyright Claimant:
Samuel Goldwyn Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
22 November 1946
Copyright Number:
LP787
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
165, 170 or 172
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
11972
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

At the end of World War II, three demobilized servicemen meet on a flight to Boone City, their mid-Western hometown. The men, Air Force Captain Fred Derry, sailor Homer Parrish, and Army Sergeant Al Stephenson, quickly develop a bond, even though they come from different backgrounds. Al is a prominent banker with a wife and two children; Fred is a former soda jerk from the wrong side of the tracks, and Homer, who has lost both hands in the war, comes from a close-knit, middle-class family. As they share a taxi from the airport and happily reminisce about familiar locations, including a tavern run by Homer's uncle, Butch Engle, each expresses trepidation about the future and how they will adapt to civilian life. Homer is welcomed joyfully by his parents and girl friend, Wilma Cameron, but his mother cannot hide her heartbreak over seeing his prosthetic hooks. Al is dropped off next at his swank apartment, where he is lovingly greeted by his wife Milly and two children, Peggy and Rob, who have grown up during their father's absence. Finally, Fred goes to see his good-hearted, alcoholic father Pat and his stepmother Hortense in the shanty in which they live and learns that his wife Marie has moved into her own apartment. At Al's apartment, the realization that things have changed during his absence makes Al feel awkward and he suggests that Milly and Peggy join him for a night out on the town. Homer is equally uncomfortable talking with Wilma's parents and decides to go to Butch's place, where he finds Fred brooding over not locating Marie. They are soon joined by a very intoxicated Al, ... +


At the end of World War II, three demobilized servicemen meet on a flight to Boone City, their mid-Western hometown. The men, Air Force Captain Fred Derry, sailor Homer Parrish, and Army Sergeant Al Stephenson, quickly develop a bond, even though they come from different backgrounds. Al is a prominent banker with a wife and two children; Fred is a former soda jerk from the wrong side of the tracks, and Homer, who has lost both hands in the war, comes from a close-knit, middle-class family. As they share a taxi from the airport and happily reminisce about familiar locations, including a tavern run by Homer's uncle, Butch Engle, each expresses trepidation about the future and how they will adapt to civilian life. Homer is welcomed joyfully by his parents and girl friend, Wilma Cameron, but his mother cannot hide her heartbreak over seeing his prosthetic hooks. Al is dropped off next at his swank apartment, where he is lovingly greeted by his wife Milly and two children, Peggy and Rob, who have grown up during their father's absence. Finally, Fred goes to see his good-hearted, alcoholic father Pat and his stepmother Hortense in the shanty in which they live and learns that his wife Marie has moved into her own apartment. At Al's apartment, the realization that things have changed during his absence makes Al feel awkward and he suggests that Milly and Peggy join him for a night out on the town. Homer is equally uncomfortable talking with Wilma's parents and decides to go to Butch's place, where he finds Fred brooding over not locating Marie. They are soon joined by a very intoxicated Al, who arrives with the indulgent Milly and Peggy. While playing the piano, Butch listens sympathetically as Homer talks about his family's self-consciousness, then plays "Among My Souveniers" for Al, who dances lovingly with Milly. When the bar closes, Peggy drives the group to Marie's apartment building, but when Fred passes out on the front steps, they decide to take him home to their place. In the middle of the night, Fred has a nightmare about a friend burning in his crashing plane, and his screams awaken Peggy, who gently comforts the sobbing Fred back to sleep. The next morning, a very apologetic Fred is driven home to Marie by Peggy and confesses that he doesn't know what he will do, but will never go back to soda jerking. Meanwhile, Al awakens with a hangover, throws his army boots out the window and compares himself unfavorably to his pre-war photograph. After showering and shaving, he and Milly nervously embrace for their first time since he went into the Army. Later, Al is irritated that Mr. Milton, his former boss, wants him to return right away to the bank and saddened by the thought of all the men who did not come back. Meanwhile, Fred goes to see his old boss, Mr. Bullard, and discovers that the drugstore is now part of a large chain. Bullard recommends Fred to the new manager, but Fred bristles at the idea of taking a low-paying job which would still involve working at the lunch counter. When Al goes to the bank that afternoon, Milton offers him a large raise and a promotion to head the small loans department, but pressures him to start working as soon as possible. That night, when Marie insists that Fred wear his uniform to impress her friends, he agrees, but begins to worry that their hasty wartime marriage was a mistake. At Homer's house, Wilma tries to make him realize that she still loves him as much as ever, but runs home crying after Homer angrily pushes his hooks through a window after seeing his little sister Luella and her friends staring at him. Some weeks later, Fred's money is gone, and he has been unable to get a job. Marie, who likes to go to clubs every night, argues with Fred over money, prompting him to take the job at the drugstore. One day, Peggy stops by, and he asks her to have lunch with him. During lunch he tells her about his "cockeyed" dreams overseas of having a family and a little home, then later kisses her. That same afternoon, Al takes a chance on granting a loan to fellow veteran Novak, a hard-working sharecropper, whose only collateral is his abilities. Although dismayed, Milton does not override Al's decision, but advises him to be more cautious and not gamble with the depositors' money. That night, as Al and Milly prepare to go out to a banquet in his honor thrown by Milton, Milly says that she has a hunch that Peggy is "crazy" about Fred. Peggy, who has invited Fred and Marie out to dinner, admits that she is in love with Fred, but does not want to be, and thinks that seeing Fred with his wife will have a therapeutic effect on her. At the banquet, an inebriated Al gives a rambling speech, but ends by saying that he loves the bank so much, he plans to gamble with the depositors' money and on the future of the country. Although Milton is somewhat annoyed at Al's remarks, Milly feels very proud. At the end of the evening, Peggy returns home and tells her parents that she is going to break up Fred's loveless marriage. Al and Milly try to convince her that an outsider cannot know the true state of someone else's marriage. The next day, Al meets Fred at Butch's and asks him if he is in love with Peggy. When Fred admits that he is, Al suggests that he reconsider things, prompting Fred to call Peggy and lie that he has merely been flirting with her. Some time later, Homer visits Fred at the drugstore and gets into a conversation at the lunch counter with a man who suggests that the war was unnecessary and that the United States was pushed into it by "the Limies" and "the Reds." Fred asks him to leave and Homer, who is incensed by the man's self-proclaimed "old-fashioned Americanism," goes after him. Fred then slugs the man and is fired. On the way home, Fred asks about Wilma and advises Homer to tell her how much he loves her and marry her right away. Late that night, Wilma comes to see Homer, saying that her parents want her to go away because it is obvious that Homer no longer loves her. He argues that she does not know what it would be like living with him, but because she wants to try, he decides to let her see the worst. In his room, Homer gets out of his robe, is able to drop the harness that holds his prosthetics and put on his pajama top without help, but after that, he is completely vulnerable. Rather than being repulsed, Wilma says that she will never leave him and lovingly tucks him into bed. Some time later, Fred, who has been unable to get another job, argues with Marie, who wants to go out with an old boyfriend. Bitterly telling him that she gave up the best years of her life for him, she demands a divorce. Fred then goes back to his father's house and decides to leave Boone City for good. After saying goodbye to his father and Hortense, and leaving his military decorations with them, Fred goes to the airport and waits for the next flight out. Walking onto a part of the field filled with surplus military planes now destined for scrap, Fred climbs into the tail of one of the planes and begins to think of the horrors he witnessed during the war. When he is startled by Karney, the man who owns the salvage company, Fred asks him if he has any jobs. The gruff Karney, who is also a veteran, explains that he is using the scrap for prefabricated houses and hires Fred on the spot. Some weeks later, at Homer and Wilma's wedding, Fred, who is Homer's best man, is nervous to see Peggy and her parents again. At first, Fred and Peggy merely exchange pleasantries, but when Homer kisses Wilma at the end of the ceremony, Fred goes to Peggy and they kiss, happy to face an uncertain future together. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.