The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
“You know, I had a dream. I dreamt I was home. I’ve had that same dream hundreds of times before. This time, I wanted to find out if it’s really true. Am I really home?”
“I dreamed I was gonna have my own home. Just a nice little house for my wife and me out in the country… in the suburbs anyway. That’s the cock-eyed kind of dream you have when you’re overseas.”
Last summer I went to England for a month as part of a study abroad program. I missed home a lot I really missed my brothers and my parents I emailed them and my grandparents every day. What really hit me and made me miss them even more was when I visited the Imperial War Museum. The museum really struck a nerve in me because I kept thinking after seeing and learning about all the fighting the British soldiers and men all over the world and women as well did put things in perspective. I visited the museum twice and each time I thanked God that I knew I was going to see my family in a few weeks times but I could never help feeling guilty when I knew for certain that I would be back home with my family. I felt guilty because so many service men sacrificed their lives even the ones who did return home sacrificed so much of themselves for their country, they missed their families and their families missed them and they never knew when they were going to see each other there was no certainty for them like there was for me. I cannot even tell you how bad I missed my family after seeing the museum’s Holocaust’s exhibit and there was this one recorded interview with a prisoner from Auschwitz who said that she could have imagined life without her brother if she had to but she could never live her life without her mother. But again that experience in that exhibit definitely put things in great perspective and again made me feel a bit guilty.
As I said I was only away for a month and it was tough it was the longest I had ever been away from home but I cannot even begin to imagine how the men fighting in the European and Pacific Theaters of war felt being away for years at a time. William Wyler in is 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives tells the story of three servicemen returning to their small hometown after the war.
Al Stephenson (Frederic March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), and Homer Parrish return to their small hometown. Homer is the youngest he lived with parents before the war and had a girl named Wilma. He is at first excited to see home but once he is there he is unsure of how he will be looked at. Homer lost his hands when his ship he was serving on was hit. His parents are happy to see him and so is Wilma but he cannot hug her back. Al is next to go home. He returns home to his wife Milly (Myrna Loy), his daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright), and son. His wife and children are all more than happy to see him. Fred returns to his parents’ home where he expects to find his wife but they say she moved into her own apartment. When he gets to her place she is not there.
That night they all run into each other at Homer’s uncle’s place Butch’s. Al wanted to go out so he dragged Milly and Peggy all over town from one bar to the next. Fred is a mess because he cannot find his wife. Homer is upset with the way his family treats him and looks at his hands he says they look guilty because they have hands and he does not. Fred is so drunk that Milly and Peggy wind up putting him in the back with a drunken sleeping Al and taking him to their place for the night.
The rest of the film tells how each one adjusts to be home again dealing with their new surroundings and the changes that have happened to their families. The film is so amazing I do not want to say anymore about it than what I have already written.
I may have said many of the films I have seen are perfection but with The Best Years of Our Lives I sincerely mean this the film is just perfection in every single way. Unlike today where every film and TV show wants to get things down to the nitty gritty real life issues of the world in 1946 the real life and its issues was not really shown. Al, Fred, and Homer were three men rehabilitating to being back in their old lives that had dramatically changed while they were away: Homer with his hands, Al with his children all grown up and now he is drinking heavily, and Fred with a wife that pretty much just married him for a thrill and expected that thrill to return when he did and she cannot understand how he suffers mentally when he has his PTSD dreams at night. Many people in Hollywood felt Sam Goldwyn was crazy for doing a story such as this since it was so real.
Goldwyn and Wyler went for broke on the realism by having the role of Homer Parrish played by a real war veteran named Harold Russell who lost his hands in boot camp in an accident. Wyler wanted the clothing to be realistic so the designer went out to shops and bought clothes instead of making them herself. Each room was made smaller than normal for film sets. The story is based off an article that Goldwyn and his wife had read in Time about returning servicemen that was then turned into an original story by MacKinlay Kantor and written as a screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood. The realism just adds so much of to the film it makes the characters and story more moving, sympathetic, and heartfelt. I can see why the film was so highly praised when it was released because so many people could absolutely relate to what the characters were feeling and going through.
The cast is one of the greatest I have ever watched in a film. Much of the great acting credit goes to Dana Andrews, Frederic March, and Myrna Loy. The more I see of Andrews the more impressed I am with him and the more I see how versatile he is. Besides Homer, Fred was the most realistic character of the whole story and Andrews just knocked his performance out he was so good. March was great especially when he was in scenes with Loy because they were both knew what they were doing and were seen as great actors even by this time. Wyler stated “When… you work with two people like Freddy March or Myrna Loy, a director might improve their work, but he certainly can’t make a performance because they are too knowing.”
Myrna Loy gets top billing even though her part is small because she was the most successful female star of the time. At first she was afraid to take the role because she had heard that Wyler liked to do many takes and could be tough but once filming started they became good friends. What I want to know is why Ingrid Bergman can win years later an Academy Award for her role in Murder on the Orient Express when her only big scene was five minutes long and Myrna Loy cannot even be nominated and she had more screen time (nothing against Bergman she was fabulous in that role this is against the Academy). Milly’s role in the story had originally been smaller but once the film got moving and Loy was cast the role expanded. Loy tells in her autobiography that Goldwyn pitched the role to her pretty hard because it was small but she said she liked the story and would have taken it no matter what. This is just one of the many roles why Myrna Loy as the reputation as the perfect wife because she played the perfect wife like no one else could. Her facial expressions and mannerism are unequaled. Years later Wyler was amazed how in one scene Loy actually cut out one of her lines for the sake of a good scene and praised her for her intelligence for choosing a picture instead of a part. Loy made her part bigger than it was because she was just good.
I could go on and on about Myrna Loy in her part because whatever praise she was or is given she deserves it.
There are so many fantastic scenes it is hard to pick just one. Peggy and Milly drop off Fred at his wife’s place but she does not answer and he falls down drunk and sleeping. The two women pick him up and put him in the back with Al. Fred puts his arm around Al and Al takes his hand and Milly says “They make a cute pair” (something along those lines). When they get back Milly puts Al to bed dressing him and tucking him in. She tries to get him on his back so he will not snore and his arm in under him so she takes his arm and flips him over. The next morning Milly brings Al breakfast in their room and he just takes her and they kiss (Teresa Wright excellently explains her feelings towards the scene: “To me their scenes still stand as the epitome of married love on the screen. You can take all the erotic pictures of the world and they won’t compare with the bedroom scene the morning after. She brings that breakfast tray in and he looks at her and sets it aside. It’s a marvelous moment because you’ve seen them the evening before dancing and coming together with the beautiful subtle things that both of them did. What’s being felt and played underneath is exciting”). The one scene I found very moving is when Homer has Wilma come up to his room when he about to go to bed. He has been telling her to let him go because he himself cannot cope with his hands and he does not want to burden Wilma. After he takes his hands off and she buttons his pajama top he finds that she still loves him and wants to be with him no matter what.
William Wyler shot the film so wonderfully and so raw. There are so many scenes that were filmed so brilliantly. In several shots he used deep focus and these were greatly enhanced by Gregg Toland’s Academy Award winning cinematography. If you have seen Citizen Kane you know how incredible Toland’s cinematography is.
The Best Years of Our Lives won the Academy Award for Best Film in 1946. The film’s depiction of real issues of America and servicemen returning home after war was never seen before. Private issues like PTSD and alcoholism as an after effect of war were never shown before and were a taboo subject. By this time Americans did not want to see rich people fluttering around society and worrying about their rich love problems they wanted to see people like them who had lost someone or something and saw the world as not all butterflies and rainbows with happy endings. The Best Years of Our Lives appealed to the common viewer they could connect in some ways to the characters. The film was so popular it became the biggest success since Gone With the Wind and is today ranked number thirty-seven on AFI’s Top 100 Greats Films.
The best and one of the worst times in American history was during World War II. During this time everyone came together to help out one another and everyone was patriotic. The Best Years of Our Lives captures the American dream, the American life, and when we really feel like it the American way of coming together and helping out others. The film tells the story of returning men struggling and coming to terms with what they went through but also knowing that with someone to love them and care for them they can survive and get through life. Al, Fred, and Homer also know that they each share a bond that will last and that bond will keep them friends for the rest of their lives.
Do not miss out on any opportunity to see The Best Years of Our Lives
The plot to Sabrina is nothing new. A young girl named Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn) lives with her chauffer father on the estate of the Larrabee family. Ever since she was little Sabrina has had an unrequited crush on the youngest son David (William Holden). David is the typical rich playboy who can have any woman he wants and has been married three times. He never really takes notice of Sabrina since she is just a young girl and the daughter of a member of the help. Sabrina follows David around during a party watching him dance with a rich, pretty young woman.
Sabrina is sent off to Paris to attending a cooking school for three years. While away she longs for David so much that her cooking suffers. When she returns home her father is late to pick her up from the train station. David is driving home past the station when he sees Sabrina but does not even recognize her he just saw a beautiful girl and picked her up. Now David is totally head over heels for her and she could not imagine anything better.
The rest of the family are not as happy as David is about his new object of affection. His older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) has arranged for business for David to marry so the families’ companies can merge. Linus does everything he can to make sure that Sabrina and his brother are kept apart but not shockingly Linus begins to fall for the young girl himself.
I was not particularly thrilled with the plot I feel like I have seen it a hundred times in movies. I also did not particularly care for the cast. William Holden I think was a great actor and so was Humphrey Bogart but I think they were both terribly miscast. Bogart was fifty-five he was way too old to be Audrey Hepburn’s man at the end. I did like seeing Bogart in a light role but it would have been better had he gotten his way and Lauren Bacall had been cast or someone close to his age. Holden would have b
een the better choice to play Linus and someone younger than him cast to play David. Audrey Hepburn never impresses me in any film I see her in. I cannot tell you exactly why I do not like Audrey Hepburn I cannot put my finger on it. I do not find her acting that great all but I do respect her as a style icon.
Speaking of style, Edith Head is given credit as costume designer for the film and even won an Academy Award for it but it was actually Hubert de Givenchy who designed the costumes for Audrey Hepburn. Her outfits and gowns are absolutely stunning in this film.
Sabrina is a cute, light film. It is a great classic film which I cannot see why because of the boring, overused plot and the casting but I would not say to blow it off and never see it.
Union Depot (1932)
Whenever I take the train home from Penn Station and I have to wait a bit for the train I like to sit and people watch. If you have never been to Penn Station in New York City it is always busy and crowded. It is fun to imagine where people are going and why and who they are visiting or going home to. The 1932 Pre- Code film Union Depot offers the audience an inside glance at peoples’ comings and goings through a train station.
At the Union Depot train station passengers are running off and running to their next train. Some say goodbye to their loved ones as they are left behind. Business transactions of all kinds happen within the station. Outside in the back of the station is Chick Miller (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and his vagrant friend Scrap Iron. Through bars on a window Chick steals a man conductor’s uniform, puts it on, and walks through the station into the men’s waiting room. Chick’s luck is really good when a drunk man is late for his train and runs out of the room without his bag. He finds a suit in the bag and puts in on. His luck gets better and better when he finds a wad of cash in the back pocket of the suit.
Chick grabs a large dinner from the station diner with the money he has found. Walking out he sees a young girl sitting on a bench by herself. He goes over and talks to her. She is not a prostitute like Chick though but an ex-chorine named Ruth (Joan Blondell) looking to get away from a man she got mixed up with and is down on her luck without a job after she got hurt. He likes her and decides to help her out the best he can.
A while later Chick’s luck really kicks in when Scrap Iron finds a ticket for a holding container in the station. When he goes to claim his ticket he is given a violin case but when he opens it he finds thousands of dollars in cash inside! Unfortunately the bills are fake and Chick’s luck begins to change.
The story as I described it may sound boring but trust me it is not. There are many detailed things going on that make it very interesting and several other stories that come together in the end that involve Chick and Ruth. Warner Bros had the great advantage of not being one of the most polished studios with releasing gritty films Pre- Code films. Union Depot is gritty and more appealing to the common audience. Chick is not the common “hero” of the film. He is a vagrant who has just gotten out of prison and is doing what he can to get by in the hard times. Ruth also has done what she could do to get by after injuring her ankle going so far as to work for a dirty old doctor.
There are so many little instances and occurrences that make this one of the perfect examples of Pre- Code Hollywood. There are prostitutes around the station with one even propositioning Chick. He notices she is a prostitute because she has money in her sticking and he swipes the lipstick off her lips smearing it. A woman waves goodbye to her porter husband as a train leaves telling him to write to her and tell her when he is coming home. As the train nears its end a man jumps off and comes the woman turns around to him and they leave together. The man Ruth is trying to get away with had her read him dirty stories and she became afraid of him after reading the stories a few times and he would look at her lustfully. There is counterfeiting and attempted murder thrown into the mix.
The scene where Chick is in the men’s waiting room and the drunk man was talking was interesting. The drunk man talks about serving in World War I. I do not know why I liked it. I think it is interesting to hear someone talk about in a film of this time period rather than see an entire film about the War set in its time period.
I really enjoyed Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Blondell together. I have seen Blondell in a film before but at the time I was not paying attention to the whole film and really did not take notice of her. I liked her she was a good actress.
The direction Alfred E. Green was really creative and very different. The opening scene is a sweeping shot of the train station beginning with a bird’s-eye-view down to eye level roaming through the station like a passenger. The cinematography is very good as well.
Union Depot is a very good Pre- Code film. It is not very long but packs a lot of story and action into its run. This film is one of them many film why I love the Pre- Code genre. I find all Pre- Code films to be different from one another and not boring at all. If you like story and like good acting then definitely see Union Depot.
Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948)
“The course of our lives can be changed by such little things. So many passing by, each intent on his own problems. So many faces that one might easily have been lost. I know now that nothing happens by chance. Every moment is measured; every step is counted.”
The only line from a play I will ever remember by heart is “Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life” from The Prime of Miss Jean Brody. If you know the play you know what it means and why Miss Jean Brody said it but it can apply to anything for an impressionable young girl. The line can definitely apply to the character of Lisa Berndle in the film Letter From an Unknown Woman.
Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan) has to leave immediately. He is in trouble and needs to leave Vienna in a hurry. As he is preparing to leave his butler gives him an envelope. The envelope is thick with a letter several pages long and filled with photographs. Forgetting all that is going on around him he takes time to read the letter. The letter is read by the disembodied voice of the woman who wrote it and through her reading we are given a look back on her life and how Stefan left a lasting impact on it.
Lisa Berndle (Joan Fontaine) was a young girl when Stefan moved into her building. Walking home from school she found movers carrying many instruments including a grand piano. She finds out that the man is Stefan Brand a famous concert pianist. Every night Lisa stays up to listen to him play the piano. In her letter Lisa writes that she liked to think that he was playing just for her. She admired Stefan from afar following him in the streets or looking in on his parties. Stefan is always seen with many women surrounding him and entertaining them all through the night.
Lisa gets what is the worst news in her young life: her mother is to remarry and they are to move away to another town. At the station she runs away from her mother and her new husband just to see and hear Stefan one last time. We fully grasp her obsession with the concert pianist when months later she does not accept a marriage proposal by saying she is already engaged to someone else and moves back to Linz.
Every night after she leaves the clothing shop where she works Lisa stands outside Stefan’s window. One night he finally notices her, actually he has noticed her many times before but just now goes to talk to her. He takes her out and for the next few weeks they begin to see each other. This is more than Lisa could have ever dreamed of. The two enjoy themselves at fairs and dance to the early hours in the morning. There seems to be nothing that can tear the two lovers apart until Stefan has to leave for a tour for two weeks. The night before Stefan leaves they give into their love for each other. When Stefan leaves the next day Lisa’s whole world changes and she does not see Stefan for ten years.
When Stefan sees Lisa for the first time since he left he vaguely remembers her.
The story is without a doubt a melodrama and worse a melodrama about a little girl’s infatuation with an older man that never dies…. Oh wait a minute, does this sound kind of familiar? Scarlett O’Hara anyone? For some reason the plot really works and does not get unbearable (well to me anyway). Both characters have many faults- Lisa has either a mental or moral weakness which never lets her get over Stefan and Stefan just floats through life never committing. For one it works so well because of Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in the leading roles. Fontaine is amazing this is one of her best roles (apparently this is her favorite film she made). Besides the voice over she does not really say too much in the film but she does not have to she could always say so much just through her facial expressions. Jourdan was perfectly cast of a man who is surrounded by women and cannot settle in his life even giving up on being a concert pianist. The second thing that makes it work is the writing. The screenplay was written by Howard Koch who wrote such films as The Sea Hawk, In This Our Life,Sergeant York, and my all time favorite classic film Casablanca. The characters and story come from a novella of the same name by Stefan Zweig. I am not sure if it is the same in the novella but I liked how there was great meaning given to trains in this film they are sentimental and heartbreaking.
Letter From an Unknown Woman is a very good film and a good story no matter how melodramatic it is. Lisa Berndle was a girl at an impressionable age when she first laid eyes on Stefan Brand. Her first impression of the man stayed with her all her life. I guess I am a sentimental at heart otherwise I would have laughed off a story like this but I did not instead I found myself thinking of the film long after it was over. In many ways Letter From an Unknown Woman is heartbreaking it is heartbreaking in the fact that Lisa was so infatuated and obsessed with this one man and while she practically lives for him he never remembers her and he is made to seem like he never cared for her. I really cannot explain why I was left thinking of the film later on but I was. It is not incredible or life changing it is just very well done all around.