So I’m a big Scorcese fan. Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Hugo are some of my absolute favourite films. It was while watching one of his interviews recently, that I came to learn of one of his inspirations, William Wyler. Wyler was a director during what is considered as the golden age of cinema, somewhere between 1917 and the 60’s. Considered one of Hollywood’s most bankable directors, Wyler had a string of fantastic films which garnered critical reception as well as huge collections at the box-office. Often called “40-take Wyler”, he was regarded by most of his actors and associates as a perfectionist. Three of his best films were Ben-Hur (1959), Mrs. Miniver (1942), and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which each earned him the academy award for Best Director as well as Best Picture in each of their respective years, a task no director has managed to achieve since. The last one will be our focus today. Also, its hard to keep typing Best Years of….again and again, so I’ll stick to TBYOL.
TBYOL’s story is fairly simple. Three servicemen, Al, Fred and Homer, return from the war (World War II) to their home Boone City, and look forward to getting back to family and enjoying with their loved ones. But things have changed since their departure as they return to grown-up kids, troubling employment scenarios, and somewhat strained marriages. What is common to all three men’s lives is this inability to communicate the traumatising experiences of the war, and this seems to come in the way of their desire to get back to the ‘normal’ swing of things. Fred struggles with nightmares of the war and also struggles in getting a job. Marie, his wife, also seems to have changed as her employment in a nightclub downtown irks his suspicion. Al returns to his pre-war banking job, only now promoted to a higher post and in charge of small loans. His time away from home seems to have altered his perspective as we see him employing his new found skill of judgement in offering loans to people without collateral, something which his bank manager, Mr. Milton, and the rest find puzzling let alone detrimental. Homer struggles in his own way as he is unable to recuperate from the psychological discomfort of having lost both his hands, replaced by pincer-like claws, despising the sense of pity he seems to receive all around and only wanting to be treated as a normal person. This puts his engagement with Wilma on hold as he thinks she thinks of him the same way he thinks everyone else thinks of him (I hope I got that right). Basically, Al, Fred and Homer come back home and have no idea what the heck just happened. However, it all ties down beautifully as we see the men come together in the end, central to which is Al’s daughter, Peggy.
Its a film that’s really engaging, as nowhere did I find myself disinterested or distracted. Wyler manages to weave a story that possess a very simple spine but offshoots into several complexities which his characters portray beautifully. His ability to shuttle between three different stories with three different themes and characters all while giving equal importance to all three is nothing less than outstanding. His characters are full of life and and his sets are absolutely lovely and wondrous.
Poignant enough to connect yet lively enough to smile throughout the way, TBYOL is quite easily one of the most beautiful films to have emerged after the war. A handsome smooth devil but really kind at heart, I have a special place for Fred. :3