Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Four stars for sure - this is one of those movies that is well made and really moving and has a complexity that really makes you reflect on serious themes - and yet at the same time, you don't stop just enjoying wondering what's going to happen next.

Okay, so this is three hours long and it took us two nights to finish because we started it kind of late on Memorial Day (TCM was running a bunch of war/veteran-themed movies in honor of Memorial Day, while we were mostly drinking margaritas -I had the day off - my network always airs a COPS marathon in honor of three-day-weekends and all the drunk driving that goes on I guess). On Tuesday while I was at work, I found myself looking forward to going home to watch the second half, so that's always a good sign.

I remember in college studying about this movie and how it showed the true impact of the war, through the eyes of three returning veterans, whereas the wartime movies were all upbeat and positive. It's clear of course that this movie aims to tell the harsh truth about the effects of war, but it's still got a lot of all those things movie-goers love: two and a half love stories, a fist-fight, a cooch dancer, a dash of humor, and Myrna Loy.

I adore Myrna Loy because of the Thin Man movies so of course that's how this movie came to be on my Tivo Monday night. And she does a great job playing the mother and wife who can handle it all with a smile. In fact so does her daughter. You could probably subtitle this movie "hey guys, women are tough, too".

The story follows three men: Al, Fred and Butch, all returning from the war to the same fictional home town, Boone City - at least, I assume it's fictional...where's my research department when I need them? Al is middle-aged and I guess was an officer in the army, hard to be sure they don't talk much about the war in the movie. Fred was a pilot, a bomber, and Butch was in the Navy and lost both his hands.

Left to right: Butch, Al's daughter Peggy, Fred, Al's wife Milly, Al.

Butch is like the sweetest character ever, Fred is troubled by nightmares about the war, and Al is returning to a wife and two almost-grown children, and a job at the bank. Al's just having a hard time remembering how to be a civilian. Fred doesn't have a job, but he does have a ditzy wife who he married in a hurry before he shipped off to war, and she seems to have been working as a cooch dancer while he was away. Butch has the most trouble re-adjusting, although he seems at first completely relaxed about his hooks-instead-of-hands - making jokes and showing off tricks he has taught himself - this belies a deep uneasiness.

Cooch Dancer? Couldn't find a picture of her in character, but the part is played by Christina Applegate-ish Virginia Mayo.

The movie is full of fun things to look at - the side characters are excellent - from Butch's uncle who owns the bar in town to the drug-store assistant manager who bosses Fred around, to Fred's poor down-on-their-luck parents. Myrna Loy herself is really just a side character, but she is so great she steals every scene she is in - God, if anyone could really be a wife and mother like that - taking everything in stride and with a sense of humor and kindness - well - there would a lot of out-of-work therapists for one thing.

I also have to say I really loved watching Butch - who in real life lost his hands - grapple with things - no pun intended, really - it was Freudian, I guess. He won two Oscars for the role, according to Robert Osbourne, and in my opinion they were well deserved. Normally I would say two Oscars for one role is excessive...but what other leading role are you going to play as a guy with no hands? Right. Therefore, totally fair.

Great movie, awesome ending - thankfully a Hollywood ending despite the serious themes (I don't think you have to have a sad ending to make a point). Will definitely watch again. Would make a great double-header next Memorial Day with "Till They Sail" - ooh - that's an idea so good I might just have to host a party!

1 comment:

Cyndi B. said...

I could watch this movie everyday. The best movie ever made about WWII, even though it's set after the war is over. Harold Russell was amazing as Homer and deserved both Oscars that he won for his role...excellent movie!!!