Friday, 6 November 2015

"The Best Years of our Lives," William Wyler, Film Review

In Britain army staff at different ranks often live and socialize with their own rank.  In some cases this means all the officers live in one street, with a certain standard of home, and all the generals live in another street with a different, better standard of home, and so on.  And then the socializing between families is conducted purely within the rank, for dinner parties, golf buddies etc.

This system may seem terribly British and class-focused but in The Best Years of our Lives, you see some of the embarrassing problems that it can solve.


In William Wyler's film, three US servicemen returning home from WWII become buddies.  They come from different ranks.  And because of this ungodly mixing of ranks, before you know it, the married captain is soon kissing the sergeant's daughter, and the intimacies of all three men's marriages and relationships are held up for the inspection of all the others, along with their drinking habits, night terrors and all sorts of other personal and demeaning information.

Thank goodness for the British system.  All that dirty laundry is kept in nicely segregated wash-bins, ordered by class.

Review continues below...

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Each of the three men returns home to a woman in the same small town.  And in each case the woman initially reacts in the opposite way to how she'll end up feeling.  The nightclub floozy wife of the captain welcomes her man with open arms, the sweetheart of the disabled sailor looks a little nervous about what's she's getting into, and the wife of the sergeant tiptoes and fuses around him, as though uncertain that their love is still valid.  It's a useful dramatic touch that sends off three narrative trajectories.

There are also a lot of nicely framed shots of isolated men, smoking in corridors, wandering between a graveyard of decommissioned warplanes etc.

There is an interesting under-use of fighting.  The captain has several chances to fight but only once acts on it (knocking down an anti-war customer in his store and getting fired as a result).

The film asks questions about the nature of worthwhile work and worthwhile skills – using the army as an example where simple capability and character can sometimes override background and put the right man in the right job.  Back in civvy street the captain finds he must go back to being a soda jerk.  The sergeant goes back into a promotion at his bank.

Personal Score: 6/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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