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The Next Reel • Season 13 • Series: 1947 Academy Award Best Writing Screenplay Nominees • The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Our Lives

“Nobody’s job is safe with all these servicemen crowding in.”

Struggles of All Types for Post-War Veterans

The end of World War II brought a wave of veterans back to American society and an array of challenges as they tried to reintegrate and reconnect with family, friends, jobs and a society that struggled to fully understand their war experience. William Wyler’s 1946 multiple Oscar winner “The Best Years of Our Lives” tackles this subject with grace, nuance and warmth through the stories of three veterans returning to the fictional town of Boone City. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – for an in-depth conversation about this magnificent film that details the post-war life of a trio of servicemen – each a different rank and from varied socioeconomic backgrounds – as they try to reestablish their lives and rediscover purpose with loved ones as we continue our 1947 Academy Award Best Writing Screenplay nominee series with a look at Wyler’s 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives.

Here’s a hint at what we talk about:

The film begins with our three protagonists – Fred, Al and Homer – meeting by chance on a flight home, immediately establishing the camaraderie and connection that comes from shared experience. However, their stories quickly diverge as each tries to reintegrate into society and reconnect with jobs, family and partners with varying degrees of success.

Fred was a captain and bomber pilot but now finds himself unable to get a job despite his officer status. Al is a married sergeant and banker struggling with alcoholism and a family dynamic that shifted in his absence. Homer, who lost his hands in combat, worries that his girl won’t still love him with prosthetic hooks.

The performances are extraordinary, led by Best Actor winner Fredric March along with Dana Andrews and real veteran and double Oscar winner Harold Russell in his film debut. The women – Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Cathy O’Donnell, and Virginia Mayo – each play their roles with nuance, rounding out the principal cast.

Beyond the acting, William Wyler’s direction is exquisite, with cinematographer Gregg Toland delivering long, deep focus shots that enhance storytelling and emotion. It’s a searing, humanistic look at the complexities of war’s aftermath and the resilience of the human spirit.

We unpack this layered, resonant story and Wyler’s masterful direction. It remains painfully relevant today and delivers a complex, poignant punch. We have a great time talking about it, so check it out then tune in. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!

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