37 – The Best Years of our Lives (1946)

Milly Stephenson: You’ll probably have to make a speech.
Al Stephenson: It’s my plan to meet that situation by getting plastered.
Seen before?

R: No.

F: No.

Thoughts?

R: This is a perfectly pleasant film but I’m not sure I can get very excited about it. My two biggest problems are how slow it is to get going, and how underwritten all the female characters outside the Stephenson household are. This was made only two years before the previous film on the list, but it feels much more old-fashioned.

F: Well at least there are female characters in this! Unlike The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre where I can’t think of a single one. I agree with you about the pacing though. I thought the last film was long but this does drag!

R: It also takes place on a very small scale. It’s the sort of story you could easily imagine being a two- or three-part TV drama. So what is it that puts this on the list and in such a high position?

F: It’s universal I guess. The story of veterans returning from war could be made fairly glamorous but actually this film was brave enough to show how coming home had a huge, and not always positive, impact. These were ordinary men who had been through an extraordinary time and the people back home couldn’t imagine that. I did like how this film starts with the emotional reunions most films end with.

R: You’re right that in 1946 it must have been brave for a film to tackle the unglamorous bit of a war story where the soldiers return home, and be so frank about it. I also think you’ve got to respect it for having a disabled lead character who is defined by more than his disability. It’s just a shame that his plotline is the dullest of the three lead characters.

F: Yes and I also like the fact that he wasn’t an actor – an actual veteran who lost his hands which helps gives this a sense of realism. Would you say this is more a film to be admired than enjoyed?

R: That makes it sound very dry and academic, when there are some good comedic moments and quite enjoyable performances. I think it’s more one of those films that’s important, been very influential, but surpassed by subsequent film makers. Although having said, I now can’t think of any other film that tells this sort of story with this sort of tone. The Deer Hunter is similar subject matter but obviously goes much darker…

F: They’re probably out there but yes the most obvious comparison we’ve seen so far on this list is The Deer Hunter which handles this differently. I just think the main issue I have with this film is there’s nothing stand out. The performances are fine, the story is fine, the characters are fine but there’s nothing that really grabs me. Do you know what I mean?

R: Definitely. I’ve said before that I think films on this list need to be truly outstanding in at least one area to be worthy of their place, and I’m just not sure you can say that here.

F: I still think it’s worth people watching though!

Is it worthy of the top 100?

R: Distinctly missable. No from me.

F: I think it’s important but I just found it a bit bland. Sorry it’s a no from me.

Up next:
36 – The Bridge on the River Kwai
Previously:
38 – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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