Sunday, July 27, 2014

I'd stand up for you, kid, til I drop.

I saw the title first. Damn it. This is going to be boring.
Then I saw the year. Shit. I'll never make it to the end.
Then I saw the runtime. F--k. There is no way in Hell I can finish it.

Then I pushed play.

The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946's 172-minute epic, absolutely floored me by how great it was. Set after World War II, the film tells the story of three very different servicemen all returning to the same small town as each attempts to re-enlist into civilian life. While each character likely could have had their own feature, there's a beauty and charm to how all three tales are woven together. It's a fantastic film, start to finish.

Anchoring the film, is the story of Fred Derry (brilliantly embodied by Dana Andrews), an average guy (minus being a big hunk of heaven) who spent his military career dropping bombs out of airplanes. Fred's come back to a sexy wife but a decidedly unsexy life.Simply put, Fred needs a job. And a drink.

Homer, the youngest of the bunch, is a sailor returning home to his parents house and his love, Wilma, literally the girl next door. Despite sharing names with each half of iconic (television) couples, the reality of their relationship falls vastly short of anything written for the small screen. See, Homer has returned home without either of his hands, and can't get a grip (too soon?) on the idea that anyone could possibly treat him normally, let alone love him. Homer's gonna need some time. And a drink.
Finally, we have Al (Fredric March, winning the Best Actor prize for the role), clearly the most well-off of the bunch. Al returns to a stable family, an unbelievably understanding wife, and even gets his old job (more or less). But as he settles back into his moderately upperclass lifestyle, Al is tormented by seeing his fellow servicemen struggle all around him. He's in charge of loans at the bank, and can't seem to resist helping out those who served our country. But when a certain serviceman falls for his daughter, well, he's not really in the giving mood anymore. Oh, and Al doesn't need a drink. He's already had like eight...teen.

Speaking of losing count and letting a good thing go bad, here are the Yays and Boos once again. The best years of their lives are taking place right now...which is really, really depressing when you think about it.

No lie. I would totally make out with either of them. Or both.
Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

  • I love Fred (pictured to the left), but Harold Russell, playing the handless Homer, is really something else. The only special effect is how good his performance is.
  • In a way, you'd expect it to be the opposite, but I loved how much each guy hesitated when it was their turn to get out of the cab and go home. They were all so sweet about it, but so scared, too.
  • Man, I thought it was going to end disastrously, but Al takes his wife and daughter out for drinks (lots of them) basically the second he gets home, and everyone has a really good time. His wife Milly is a f--king champ, and his daughter Peggy is a close second. 
  • Speaking of lovely ladies, Wilma, Homer's girl, is incredible. Homer does everything he can to make her run as far away from his as possible, but she's having none of it. The whole thing is so sweet.
  • Uncle Butch. This guy is the f--king man. Honestly. Talented, handsome and classy, he's my favorite (incredibly) minor character ever.
  • Eventually Fred takes his fine-ass wife to a club, to, of all things, chaperone a date that Peggy is on with some jerk-off. Anyway, this club is the best. Everyone there is basically moshing like hardcore motherf--kers, just in the most regal and respectable way possible. Then the girls head to the bathroom, for an excellent conversation.
  • After which, Peggy announces, in a movie from 1946, I'm gonna break that marriage up. Badass shit, right? 
  • Al and Fred have a conversation about Al's daughter (Peggy), and let's just say on a scale that measures intensity, with 1 being not at all intense, and 10 being very much intense, this little talk between ol' war buddies is about a 19. When someone's dad says that you're taking his daughter's love on a bootleg basis, it doesn't seem like you stick around and order desert, you know?
  • Let's just say that our three guys have a bit of a falling out. Falling out, right? That's the term when once good friends punch the shit out of each other in a department store, right?
  • If only the fisticuffs didn't stop there. Even though no punches were thrown, I loved the scene where Fred comes home to find his wife with her friend Scully. 
  • Any movie gets bonus points for liberal use of the term, chum. Double points when it's used sincerely.
  • You have to love a movie that's just under three hours long and has forty seconds of credits.
  • And finally, I had no idea how timeless this movie was going to be (let alone how good). Obviously I've never served, but I imagine anyone that has, could see this movie for the first time tomorrow and feel that what they've been through is accurately reflected in this film. Released after the war, The Best Years of Our Lives could have been light-hearted patriotic goofiness, but instead it's a powerful and honest look at soldiers coming home and questioning not only where they are, but where they've been. I couldn't recommend this film any more. See it (it streams on Amazon Prime if you're interested!)!
Al's family is all kinds of awesome.
Even if this picture may be the only evidence of his son's existence.
Booooooo!
  • All of the homecoming are awful, but Al's might be the worst. His kids hug him as hard as you might hug your mailman, if you happened to see him out at dinner one night with his family.
  • Homer's isn't much better, actually, with everyone looking at him like he were Edward Scissorhands. You know, if that movie had come out fifty years before it did.
  • Frank's wife, like I said, is smoking hot, right? But she's also a vapid bitch. Imagine Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle, minus the shred of humanity having a kid gives even the most sleaziest of tramps, and you've got this lady (but damn, she fine).
  • While Wilma (Homer's girl) is a real good person, her dad is kind of a dick.
  • As is Dexter, the shithead who trains Frank at the department store.
  • PTSD. F--k that.
  • And finally, thanks Best Years of Our Lives for shattering the idea that all long, old, boringly titles movies are shitty. Now I might have to start watching classic movies, instead of you know, the direct f--king opposite.
It seems like there's a lesson here, something about judging something based on trivial things like the title and such. It appears that even things that look boring and uninteresting can actually be wonderful and totally worth the time investment. And being that you've made it all the way to the end of this post, obviously you realize...



...that's not always the case. 

14 comments:

  1. I love this film and I can see why the title is sounds boring and long, when it actually not that long once you press the play button. Also, you did a wonderful job reviewing this film.

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    1. Thanks, James. This is easily one of my favorite classic films, even if that really isn't my scene. It's such a fantastic movie!

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  2. Couldn't get a grip...lmao. Literally.

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    1. Please.

      Please don't encourage me.

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  3. I totally agree and had a similar experience in dreading the running time. It flew by, and I was interested in all the stories. The scene at the airfield is great, and Homer's moments with his wife are hard to watch because there's so much truth given the actor's history. Great stuff!

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    1. Ah, yes. The airfield. What a creepy/beautiful place that is.

      As for Homer...my goodness that final scene in the bedroom floored me. He's just standing there, like this is it, get out now, and Wilma just steps up in the best way possible. I almost died.

      Thanks, Dan!

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  4. It's true, despite the fact that I love all kinds of movies, sometimes you'd just rather watch Cliffhanger than a three hour post-war film from the '40s. But, occasionally, when we finally sit down and settle in, greatness takes over. I had the same exact experience watching this film as you did. Loved your review.

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    1. Thanks, man. I wish I knew more people that would watch this kind of stuff, because I think no matter how much I gush about it, all those superficial reasons not to watch it will win out.

      But damn, man. This movie is so good. Those three guys were absolutely perfect. And the women might have even been better, you know?

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    2. Oh for sure. Myrna Loy's monologue about how she's had to fall out of and back in love with her husband just slays me. Holy hell.

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    3. Incredible stuff. She blew me away, too.

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  5. Glad you gave the movie a shot. I'm a classic movie fan but the first time I watched it the running time gave me pause too, however once it started you couldn't have torn me away. So many great performances, Fredric March was terrific but I thought Dana Andrews was even better and yet he wasn't nominated. Equally great and also un-nominated was Myrna Loy as March wife. Incredibly as consistently exceptional as those two actors were neither ever received an Oscar nomination in their long careers. That's the disadvantage of always being good, it's tough to be recognized when excellence is expected.

    Wyler's direction is also a huge part of the film being so involving. His pacing is flawless and the little touches he adds are great, the wordless look on Homer's mother's face when he first arrives home and she sees his hands gets me every time. It's a quick cutaway moment but adds an extra piece of poignancy to the scene, the film is full of those glimpses.

    Hope the positive experience encourages you to try more films from the classic era. There's a lot of good, and some bad, ones out the there.

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    1. Great comment, here. Well said.

      I couldn't agree more about Dana Andrews and Myrna Loy, though to be honest, they were also my favorite characters in the movie, so I might be biased. I can't believe anyone would watch this movie and not nominate Andrews, that fact blows me away.

      The pace is indeed flawless, as the story breezes by without much effort from the audience. I'm not familiar with any of other Wyler's movies offhand, but I'd be interested to see more of his work (though I doubt any thing trumps this).

      As for more classical movies? Definitely. I'll probably start with Andrews, honestly.

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    2. If you haven't seen them a good place to start with Andrews is Laura, The Ox-Bow Incident and Fallen Angel, that one co-stars my favorite golden age actress Linda Darnell.

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    3. I will check those out. Definitely.

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