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CJ Johnson

The Best Years Of Our Lives

The Best Years Of Our Lives  

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  1. 1. Does "The Best Years Of Our Lives" belong on the AFI list?

    • Yes
      7
    • No
      2

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  • Poll closed on 11/22/19 at 08:00 AM

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Amy & Paul return home to 1946’s post-WWII drama The Best Years Of Our Lives! They praise the natural performance of first-time actor Harold Russell, compare the film’s style to noir movies and Network, and learn how the Hayes code circumscribed the film’s portrayal of veterans. Plus: Comedian Santina Muha talks about why disabled people’s representation is so important.

Who would you pull into an argument as an expert, Annie Hall-style? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

This episode is brought to you by Invitae (www.invitae.com) and Sonos (www.sonos.com).

Totally coincidentally I watched this the night before your ep dropped. You touched on the conspiracy theorist in the drug store who engages Homer before getting punched by Fred. What do you think the actual ideas (that he was reading in some newspaper) would have been? They must have been big at the time but now the actual ideas he's referencing are oblique, even as the scene is unbelievably resonant right now. CJ Johnson, Sydney. (PS on another topic, in the credits, weirdly, Cathy O'Donnell, who I think gives the film's only bad performance, is given a big "And Introducing" credit, while Harold Russell is simply billed low, below Hoagy Carmichael, despite being the clear and obvious "find".)

Edited by DanEngler
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I voted to keep this but I will certainly never watch this again. There are a few "detail the difficulty of veterans returning from war" movies and maybe one of those can be on the list instead. I don't remember any of the others I've seen being as good as this though.

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12 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

I voted to keep this but I will certainly never watch this again. There are a few "detail the difficulty of veterans returning from war" movies and maybe one of those can be on the list instead. I don't remember any of the others I've seen being as good as this though.

I agree. I’m mostly of the mind of, “Eh, I’m not mad at it for being here, but I wasn’t exactly floored by it either.” I’m not going to fight for its inclusion/exclusion. Whatever you guys want is fine by me. 🤷‍♂️ 

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I voted no, mainly because I think that cinematically, it's not all that remarkable. It is a good enough story and all, but I don't think it brings much to the table as a film. It could be a news article about these characters, and be just as effective. But I saw the Facebook groups poll on this same question, and it was overwhelmingly for the movie, so I dunno what we're missing here.

(Last check over there, it was 215 for and 15 against. But we're all mediocre about it here? What is this?)

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This film is far better than I thought it might be. I did not expect the wonderfully nuanced performances from everyone and, of course, Harold Russell. I also did not expect the script to lead us into the areas of PTSD, and the plight of Vets returning home from war as they deal with joblessness, familial conflict, the looming red scare, potential nuclear annihilation and interestingly, the very notion that our government wasn’t forced into WW2. It’s downright subversive!

But for a movie that was helmed and staffed by so many of our Service Members returning from war, there seems to be an incongruity that is really obvious to me and I’m hoping that there might be someone that knows more about what I’m about to mention. Fred, is a Captain. An officer. Officers, overwhelmingly are college educated. Fred is a soda jerk that somehow is offered a commission to be a bombardier in the Army Air Corps!?! 
Now, Al is obviously a college educated banker. He is the kind of person that WOULD be offered a commission. Think, Tom Hanks, in Saving Private Ryan. He’s a college educated school teacher, ergo, he’s offered a commission. But in this film, he’s an enlisted man!? Doesn’t make sense. It’s completely reversed from how it normally is.

 I come at this with some experience as I served in the Marine Corps back in the 80’s. This all speaks to the supposed veracity that Paul spoke of.

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One thing I really appreciate about this film is that, although it seems to basically give its characters classic Hollywood happy endings, it still implies that all of them are works in progress.  Fred finds someone who loves him for who he is instead of what uniform he wears, and he may have had some catharsis sitting in the plane at the end, but I doubt his nightmares have altogether stopped.  Homer marries Wilma, who also seems to accept him for who he is, but there are still questions about whether his family is able to accept him, and ultimately whether he can fully accept his own limitations.  And as mentioned on the podcast, Al's alcoholism is obviously a major concern of his wife, but it's not even addressed in the film as something that he may have to face.

I voted yes, because there's so much about the story that I love, even if I'm on the fence about the Peggy and Fred bits in the middle.

On 11/14/2019 at 4:15 AM, CJ Johnson said:

You touched on the conspiracy theorist in the drug store who engages Homer before getting punched by Fred. What do you think the actual ideas (that he was reading in some newspaper) would have been?

I assume it would be some standard Red Scare reporting, which would mutate later in the decade into McCarthyism.  If it's a legitimate newspaper, perhaps it was reporting on Canada's Kellock-Taschereau Commission, which investigated the possibility that Soviet spies existed in the Canadian government, a fear that many Americans shared.  But I don't think we ever actually see what the newspaper is, so it could have been less objective and skewing more towards hard-right propaganda, which would seem to fit with the guy's attitude.

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14 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I voted no, mainly because I think that cinematically, it's not all that remarkable. It is a good enough story and all, but I don't think it brings much to the table as a film. It could be a news article about these characters, and be just as effective. But I saw the Facebook groups poll on this same question, and it was overwhelmingly for the movie, so I dunno what we're missing here.

(Last check over there, it was 215 for and 15 against. But we're all mediocre about it here? What is this?)

Well, I absolutely loved it and did not expect to. Though because of the pure number of minutes to cover, I did have to split my viewing over two nights, it didn't "feel" like a long movie and I was engaged with all of the character stories throughout. I really liked how it lacked heroes and villains and gave focus to the wives and daughters along with the soldiers themselves. The typical Hollywood love triangle has a refreshing feel when people aren't sneaking around lying to each other and mostly just come out and say how they feel.

I would also disagree about the filmmaking. It's not flashy, but there are a number of interesting compositions using deep focus, where there is action in the foreground but your eye can drift to something in the background (like the scene where Homer is playing the piano with his hooks, but Fred is in the back breaking up with Peggy). Oh, who's the cinematographer? Gregg Toland, natch.

Anyway, it's interesting that most of the criticism at the time was for this film being too communist-sympathizing. I note that most of the movies from the 1940s on this list carry similar slants: It's a Wonderful Life, The Grapes of Wrath, even Citizen Kane in parts . . . all take a pretty dim view of capitalism and private enterprise and in most cases call for a collectivist solution to those problems. You can really see that's where the country's mood was after the Great Depression and WW2 (and perhaps we're returning there again?).

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How many folks had seen this before? I had vague memories of seeing it as a kid, but the only thing I recalled was the guy with hooks for hands.

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18 hours ago, grudlian. said:

I voted to keep this but I will certainly never watch this again. There are a few "detail the difficulty of veterans returning from war" movies and maybe one of those can be on the list instead. I don't remember any of the others I've seen being as good as this though.

I noted in the Deer Hunter thread that Hal Ashby's Coming Home is probably the other great example, but I think Best Years of Our Lives is better.

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11 hours ago, Scottcarberry said:

But for a movie that was helmed and staffed by so many of our Service Members returning from war, there seems to be an incongruity that is really obvious to me and I’m hoping that there might be someone that knows more about what I’m about to mention. Fred, is a Captain. An officer. Officers, overwhelmingly are college educated. Fred is a soda jerk that somehow is offered a commission to be a bombardier in the Army Air Corps!?! 
Now, Al is obviously a college educated banker. He is the kind of person that WOULD be offered a commission. Think, Tom Hanks, in Saving Private Ryan. He’s a college educated school teacher, ergo, he’s offered a commission. But in this film, he’s an enlisted man!? Doesn’t make sense. It’s completely reversed from how it normally is.

I wondered about that too. Seems like they're going for dramatic irony here, where the wealthier man is lower-ranked than the working-class guy, and they find their status reversed in civilian society.

Just speculating here, but I wonder if things were different during the WW2 era with so many people needed for the war effort? Perhaps it was easier to get promoted even without a degree.

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I watched this a few years ago because I realized I hadn't seen any William Wyler movies, even though he'd won three Best Pictures and Best Directors, along with one Director nomination before that. After watching all of them, I concluded that the Academy had really overrated his early work but that Best Years of Our Lives absolutely lived up to the hype. I agree it's much better than The Deer Hunter, but I'd already criticized that earlier. Homer is the most memorable and doesn't suffer at all for not being a professional actor, but I liked that we had the other two to illustrate other aspects of the post-war experience.

Ayn Rand didn't hate movies, in fact she worked in Hollywood and married an actor, but she did castigate artistic "realism", instead advocating for Victor Hugo-esque "romanticism".

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