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DANA ANDREWS STARRING IN 'THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES'

Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo in Best Years circa 1946
For a nearly three-hour film, the first hour (fifty-four minutes to be exact) is set in the course of one day and all night, something rare for that time, 1946, just after World War II ended...

As THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES has an ironic title being those YEARS are never shown, and only spoken of once, with bitter sarcasm by the token lush played by Virginia Mayo: And her "Best Years" aren't even known, nor were they experienced by three men, our leads back from the war but by the family and friends, where a particular amnesia of the soldier's importance...

And what they did, including dying, overseas, has struck the United States, especially rough for manly leading man Dana Andrews as Captain Fred Derry, whose aforementioned cheating wife, Mayo, and a dilapidated parental home/shack awaits, and even the smallest of jobs... working at the ladies section of a drugstore (which were supermarkets in those days) and then his old gig as a soda jerk... is tough to keep.

Terrible poster, looks like a soup can...
But that's not true... Sure, Fred's job is lousy... But the roughest lot goes to the Oscar Winning, first-time (and very natural) actor as a character wounded like the real man himself, something impossible to hide within true life: introducing Harold Russell as Homer Parrish, who lost both hands, replaced by hooks, and while he can use them just fine, his fiancée and family are shocked by this "elephant in the room," something our last but not least character, played by Oscar Winner for best Actor (that should have gone to a more natural Andrews), Fredric March, feels like to his wife and especially kids, the boy a teen, all full (bordering awful) of uptight, idealistic high school education, and the girl a lovely twenty-something who's not yet married...

So it took foreigners to get it right!
And there's the first-billed "star" of the film, Myrna Loy, hardly in the picture at all, playing Fredric March's wife... As Fred's character, banker Sgt. Al Stephenson, is the only true grownup of the three returning soldiers yet is the most fun and humorous and, in scenes with his family, seems more like a tremendous actor in a role than Dana's realistic, down-home persona, especially during that first night already mentioned and, after witnessing the trio just-adjusting to their families, March's Al hits a montage of modern jazzy hot-spots with his wife and daughter, winding up in Hoagy Carmichael's joint...

The iconic CASABLANCA musician's character is Butch, a cool yet cautious Uncle to the crippled, melancholy, and completely unhappy to be home with an awkward family, Homer, and between jamming on the keys, Hoagy plays a sarcastic lil' ditty about "The Bomb," that is, World War Three being "The Last One," giving BEST YEARS an anti-war touch of the Generation to come's shove that changed pretty much everything...

Teresa Wright looking at...
Surprising given the gung-ho movies during the war, OUR LIVES isn't over-patriotic, nor does it play out like propaganda for returning soldiers, but rather, sticks to each man with authentic realism and proper, non-melodramatic pathos...

Getting a "view of the good old United States"
This despite a "Mickey Mouse" score; notes playing along with actual movements of the character it's loudly backing up... usually found in the works of Max Steiner. And the most intriguing melodrama involves Andrews, who, realizing he's married unhappily, unhappily married, has his eyes and heart and everything set on March's previously mentioned daughter, played by SHADOW OF A DOUBT starlet Teresa Wright, seeming all too perfect for each other as the suspense lies mostly on their relationship hopefully working out despite a few difficult bouts with that blunt boozing wife... A scene with polar-opposite gals Mayo and Wright in a clubhouse/barroom restroom is like no other sequence between two women: just about everything is covered and Wright, hardly making a sound, merely listens. Meanwhile, Homer's tale, full of fitful and realistic sympathy regarding his young, shocked girlfriend getting adjusted to the awkward handicap, goes on way, way too long at times and, despite the importance of his company, much of the latter Homer scenes could have used some trimming...

A smitten Dana Andrews
If only the entire film were set longer on that first day the three men meet in a crowded Army airfield barracks, followed by their flight home with an aerial view from a bomber plane's nose, which they had to take since the big airlines were full of paid passengers... And because of that remarkable, existential, spontaneous kickstart, the rest of the film, although an incredible, nearly perfect, down-home, small town odyssey, falls short of the grandiose opening: No big deal, you just can't top perfection, that's all, and if we spent the actual amount of time in that plane, looking down onto the countryside, out amongst the heavens and in within the hearts of the three leading men and their palpable trepidation, it'd be just splendid.

Steve Cochran
RATING: ****1/2
TRIVIA: Harold Russell got the role because of his tragic accident, and, like he knew would happen, didn't exactly have a lucrative acting career after winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar... Although he turned up in INSIDE MOVES in 1980, a film about a crippled man played by John Savage, who basically played a variation of Russell's part in what was considered THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES of the post-Vietnam Era, THE DEER HUNTER... And while it was considered a "no no" in Hollywood to ever sell your own Oscar, supposedly, upon hardship towards the end of his life, it's reported that Russell had to sell his • Speaking of crippled soldiers, Marlon Brando played one in his first leading role, THE MEN, and his wife was... Teresa Wright...

Harold Russell, Dana Andrews and Frederic March YEAR: 1946
And the always scene-stealing Virginia Mayo would two-time James Cagney three years later in the gangster classic, and Cagney's return to form after nearly a decade of war films following THE ROARING TWENTIES and CITY OF CONQUEST, a cult favorite titled WHITE HEAT with the same big tough dude, Steve Cochran, who played a prime member of the gang in WHITE HEAT, who hooked up with Mayo when Cagney got locked up and has a cameo as an "old friend who wants to buy me a drink" in this movie... again with Mayo • Speaking of the "Mickey Mouse" score, which Orson Welles referred to as "Disney" while sharing what happened to THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, hits a low here when, while showing a few goading kids across the street from Homer's house, before they start their goading, the music plays a variation of "Nanny Nanny Billy Goat" to foresee their actions, ugh!
Dana Andrews and Harold Russell in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
Dana's Fred Derry REALLY getting the war out of his system
Title-spouting starlet Virginia Mayo with Dana Andrews
Dana Andrews The Best Years of Our Lives Dana Andrews Fred Derry Dana Andrews
Hoagy Carmichael gives Harold Russell a piano lesson in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
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