Movie Review: The Best Years of Our Lives

dana andrews & virginia mayo - the best years of our lives 1946by Brad Nelson
When Dana Andrews is in a movie, that’s always a danger signal for me. His acting usually struck me as plastic and stilted. His monotone voice typically matched his monotone performances. And he sure found his way into a lot of cheesy films. Well, that prejudice has now been shattered.

For what could be described as an extended soap opera (this film is about 3 hours long), this is a darn fine soap opera. And Dana Andrews is terrific in it — so much so that you might be surprised to learn that it was Frederic March and Harold Russell who won the Oscars, not the better-deserving Andrews.

But in the case of Harold Russell winning best supporting actor, one must remember that this film came out in 1946, just after the war. And the entire theme of the movie is regarding the struggles that servicemen were having returning to civilian life. Given that the part of Homer Parrish was played by real-life war veteran, Harold Russell — who lost both hands in the war — there was a unique power that he brought to that role.

So although the Academy (particularly in recent decades) is known to do some very goofy and superficial things as they vote not for the quality of the movie or the acting but for one stupid libtard “cause” or another, this is one instance where giving the Oscar to Homer was something that all hearts and minds could agree upon. Homer was a stand-in for tens of thousands of men and women who had been scarred by that terrific fight, both physically and mentally.

But I was surprised as heck to see Dana Andrews in such a superb role. He was the heart and sole of the picture, not Homer. But as good as Andrews was, I think the most memorable performance was the unintentionally comically stilted performance of Michael Hall as Rob Stephenson, who is the son of the father, played by Frederic March. It’s really awful. Dial this one up and have a Mystery Science Theatre party with your friends just for this one performance.

On the other hand, Virginia Mayo plays a wonderfully spoiled slut as the wife of Dana Andrews’ character. Lots of verve and vigor there. And as a wife, she’s a noticeable upgrade performance-wise from Myrna Loy who plays the wife of Frederic March and is nothing special (you can understand why I refer to this movie as a sort of extended soap opera…some of the acting is about at that level). But the daughter, played by Teresa Wright, is another stand-out.

Few people these days want to invest three hours in an old black-and-white movie. But if you did, this wouldn’t be a bad one at all. It’s got nostalgia up the ying-yang and plenty of historic overtones. You become very involved in the characters. And there are some great moments in it, particularly when Al Stephenson (played by March) gives a dinner speech while he’s pretty much 3 sheets to the wind.

And as I said, I don’t know what magic elixir Dana Andrews took before making this movie, but he is interesting to watch in every scene and is the real backbone of this film, and not (at least to our time and to my eyes) the real-life handicapped war veteran, Harold Russell. There’s a bit too much sentimentality attached to his story and not enough grittiness. But overall you do get a real sense for what it must have been like for all veterans who returned with obvious visual scars. And because of that, Russell’s performance succeeds.

This is an engaging story with interesting characters. You won’t be disappointed if you watch it. I give it 3-1/2 Norden bombsights out of 5. • (885 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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5 Responses to Movie Review: The Best Years of Our Lives

  1. jc says:

    Agreed, it is a splendid film.

    I have another take on some aspects of the movie of which the reviewer above is somewhat critical.

    The movie was set and made in the early 1940s, an era hugely different from our own, as far in time from the Civil War as we are now from WWII. Many of those who fought in WWII had lived and grown up not in cities or even suburbs (of which there were few in the years preceding WWII). The US was largely rural during the Depression era, and many of the boys who went to war in the 1940s were country lads, accustomed to hard life and harder work, though not with the experience of war except through the stories their fathers and grandfathers told — if indeed any tales were told. There was much not expressed in that era: the horror of Civil War battles and the trench warfare of WWI were not something spoken of over dinner — nor otherwise.

    I did not know until just now, when I looked up Dana Andrews in wiki, that he was a son of the South, from a very rural county in the lower half of the state of Mississippi, a county that even today has a population of fewer than 20,000 spread over some 400 square miles. The land there is poor and hard to farm, but the piney woods are abundant and offer small game for someone with a good eye and a quick trigger finger.

    My family is from a neighboring county in Mississippi, and the somewhat shy and diffident manner Andrews has in the movie would have been quite common among men there in the years before WWII, when Andrews was growing up. Make no mistake, these are manly men, living a hard life off the land, especially during the Depression. Andrews was born in 1909, around the same time as my grandparents, and his reserved demeanor in the film is quite familiar to me from those I knew some decades later in southern Mississippi.

    Add that naturally reserved persona to the horrors of WWII brought home (but not easily expressed) by the returning soldiers, and Andrews’ portrayal rings quite true in a man of that region, that era, and that terrible experience. And hell, he might even be my cousin.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Great points, JC. And thanks for filling me in on some of the background on the time, the region, and the characters. That goes a long way to movie appreciation. And, really, that’s part of my evil secret motive. I want to subvert the bad tastes of this culture and get them to watch Casablanca instead of Avatar.

      Appreciation goes to the heart of saving America from the Leftist horde. Abject cynicism, vulgarity, and just the general dumbing-down of the public is leading our country to ruin. If we can’t appreciate a good movie, what chance is there of appreciating our own Constitution?

      I don’t know that good movies will necessarily change this. But when good movies are highly regarded, this is certainly a sign that people are developing themselves behind the juvenile, the vulgar, the excessively and vapidly pedestrian. Art is a thing that can enrich our lives. And if our lives are enriched, we will tend to want to enrich them more by surrounding ourselves with noble things. We will watch and appreciate Casablanca and leave the Avatars of the world to gather dust on the shelves.

      Oh and, by the way, I love the prick Admiral that Dana Andrews plays in In Harm’s Way, which I rate as one of the best war movies of all time. A surprising number of people have not watched that one.

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    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thanks, CC. If I can find time today, I’ll try to integrate that into a Sidebar thing.

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