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William Wyler
Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O'Donnell, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Russell
Writing Credits:
MacKinlay Kantor (based on a novel by), Robert E. Sherwood

Filled with all the love and warmth and joy ... the human heart can hold!

Three WWII veterans return home to small-town America to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed.

Box Office:
$2.1 million.
Domestic Gross
$23.650 million.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Latin Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 170 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 11/5/2013

• Introduction By Virginia Mayo
• Interviews with Virginia Mayo and Teresa Wright
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Best Years Of Our Lives [Blu-Ray] (1946)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 5, 2013)

As someone who wasn't even a glimmer in my parents' eyes when World War II ended - heck, my Dad was only ten in 1945 - I've had to rely on media depictions of the war to understand what it was like at that time. I've always found that war to be very interesting and I've studied it a fair amount over the years.

The vast majority of that focus remained on military and political aspects of the conflict, so I know relatively little about the social domains and how WWII affected them. To be honest, I'd always accepted the standard line that the entire country got behind the military in a big way and everyone went all out with their support. We've always been taught that Vietnam was the first conflict during which things went poorly for veterans in the social realm.

For the most part, that may be true, but I was surprised to find the even after WWII, the media were willing to recognize that all wasn't just peaches and pie for returning soldiers. The general impression that's always been left is one of men coming back from the conflict, effortlessly re-entering our society and then propelling the US into some of its greatest "boom" years during the Fifties.

Apparently that wasn't quite true, as depicted in The Best Years of Our Lives, a 1946 film that won the Best Picture Oscar. It shows three men, Strangers at the start of the movie, three returning soldiers become friends after they share a transport back to their home town. The rest of the picture depicts the trials they face as they attempt to reintegrate with society.

Lives offers a compelling picture of their various problems but suffers from this diffusion of focus. Even at nearly three hours in length, the movie doesn't seem long enough to fully document what happens to these men, and I think it lacks the depth it needs.

The tri-focal nature of the piece works in that it shows these reintegration difficulties weren't limited - something we might believe if it depicted only one main character - but I can't help but feel that a more specific protagonist might allow the movie to flesh out his story more fully.

Actually, one character does seem to stand as the de facto "main" one, although this never becomes explicit: Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) definitely musters more screen time than the other two men. Sergeant Al Stephenson (Frederic March) comes next - aided by the fact his tale and Derry's become more interwoven when Derry hooks up with Stephenson's daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) - and injured sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) brings up the rear with the smallest part of the main three.

I think the fact Parrish's story gets the least attention occurs for a few reasons, and none of them good. The Parrish character lost his hands during the war, and the film used a hand-less actor. This surprised me, since Hollywood usually takes an established performer and fakes the injury rather than work the other way around. Russell was not a professional actor and although his work he earned him serious accolades - he actually received two Oscars for the part - he didn't make another movie until 1980.

Despite this acclaim, I really don't think much of Russell's acting; he's decent but wooden and ham-fisted in the role. Politics were alive and well in Hollywood even in the Forties, and I'd speculate that he got the awards because of the real-life aspects of his story, not because of his work. Anyway, I feel Parrish's story gets put on the backburner just because the filmmakers knew Russell was the least talented of the actors and didn't want to make him the focal point of the movie.

I also wonder if the potential reactions to Russell's disability may have kept him somewhat in the film's shadows. Although there aren't any graphic "stump" shots in Lives - his arms are always neatly bandaged - I'm sure audiences were probably a bit shocked to see Russell's handless arms and his hooks. The filmmakers may have minimized his screentime to make the project more palatable to the era's tastes.

Which is too bad, because Parrish's story really is the most dramatic and compelling of the three - or at least it could have been, since the character faced the greatest obstacles to reintegration. As it stands, the movie essentially works as a romantic melodrama, since two of the three stories revolve mainly around relationship issues; Derry's in a loveless marriage to a floozy (Virginia Mayo) while Parrish is sure his long-time honey Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell) can't love a deformed lump like him.

In contrast, Stephenson's story - which lacks romantic interest since we see things seem good between him and his wife Milly (Myrna Loy) - largely sticks with his issues at his bank management job as well as his clear drinking problem, which doesn’t receive much real attention. As such, although March and Loy appear to be the two strongest actors in the cast and both lend weight to their characters, their story seems fairly forgettable.

I kept waiting for something to occur in regard to the drinking and for the two problems to interact - especially when Al makes a drunken speech at a banquet in his honor – but this never happens, and the Stephenson family's main concern seems to become Peggy's romantic woes. They have a son as well, but since he doesn't fit that plot, he literally vanishes early on; I can't state for certain we never see him again, but I can't recall observing Rob (Michael Hall) after the movie's first 30 minutes or so.

Despite these criticisms, I did find Lives to offer a generally compelling experience. The film had the potential to be a serious drag considering its length, but that's one area in which the three somewhat superficial storylines help; they make the project move along at a nice clip since the plot never gets bogged down with dull filler.

With the exception of the awkward Russell, the acting seems uniformly good; as I mentioned, Loy and March seem strongest, but most of the others are almost as good. I can't call The Best Years of Our Lives a great film, but it clearly has some merits and it did provide an eye-opening view of the way society reintegrated World War II veterans.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus D+

The Best Years of Our Lives appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie looked quite good.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. Though the image could be a little on the soft side at times, this appeared to stem mostly from the photography; the film opted for a fair amount of “deep focus”, and that meant less than optimal delineation on occasion.

That said, the flick usually appeared accurate and concise, without prominent softness on display. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge haloes weren’t a factor; Peggy’s hat caused a little “ghosting” in a bar scene but that was the worst of it. With natural grain on display, I don’t suspect any egregious digital noise reduction occurred.

Blacks looked deep and tight, with good depth at work. Shadows also seemed smooth and clear; a couple of low-light shots could appear slightly thick, but not to a problematic degree. Print flaws were a non-factor, as the movie remained clean and clear. I felt pleased with this satisfying presentation.

I also remained happy with the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Best Years. Speech sounded fairly natural, without edginess or other concerns; the lines showed their age but seemed well-reproduced within the technical confines of their era.

The same went for the rest of the track. Music lacked great power but sounded clear and concise, while effects appeared reasonably accurate. Nothing here dazzled but I wouldn’t expect a 67-year-old soundtrack to blow me away, so I felt more than satisfied with what I heard here.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 1998? Audio seemed clearer and more natural, while visuals were substantially more accurate, cleaner and better rendered. The DVD wasn’t a high-quality product, so the Blu-ray improved on it in every possible way.

Most of the DVD’s extras repeat here, and we launch with an Introduction by Actor Virginia Mayo. In the one-minute, 10-second piece, she gives us a few general thoughts. It’s nothing special.

In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, we find Interviews with Actors Virginia Mayo and Teresa Wright. The featurette runs seven minutes, 22 seconds as the actors discuss director William Wyler, performances and some scene specifics. Both actors can be pretty frank; while they generally praise the film, they also provide some mildly critical comments about it. While the piece is awfully short, it comes with some good insights.

The Best Years of Our Lives provides a take on the reintegration of World War II veterans. The film seems a bit superficial and perhaps too ambitious but it remains generally interesting and provocative. The Blu-ray delivers very good picture and audio but lacks substantial bonus materials. It’s too bad the Blu-ray doesn’t deliver much in the way of supplements, but it does give us a strong presentation of the movie itself.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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