The postwar classic The Best Years of Our Lives, based on a novel in verse by MacKinlay Kantor about the difficult readjustments of returning World War II veterans, tells the intertwined homecoming stories of ex-sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March), former bombadier Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), and sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell). Having rubbed shoulders with blue-collar Joes for the first time in his life, Al finds it difficult to return to a banker's high-finance mindset, and he shocks his co-workers with a plan to provide no-collateral loans to veterans. Meanwhile, Al's children (Teresa Wright and Michael Hall) have virtually grown up in his absence. Fred discovers that his wartime heroics don't count for much in the postwar marketplace, and he finds himself unwillingly returning to his prewar job as a soda jerk. His wife (Virginia Mayo), expecting a thrilling marriage to a glamorous flyboy, is bored and embittered by her husband's inability to advance himself, and she begins living irresponsibly, like a showgirl. Homer has lost both of his hands in combat and has been fitted with hooks; although his family and his fiancée (Cathy O'Donnell) adjust to his wartime handicap, he finds it more difficult. Profoundly relevant in 1946, the film still offers a surprisingly intricate and ambivalent exploration of American daily life; and it features landmark deep-focus cinematography from Gregg Toland, who also shot Citizen Kane. The film won Oscars for, among others, Best Picture, Best Director for the legendary William Wyler, Best Actor for March, and Best Supporting Actor for Harold Russell, a real-life double amputee whose hands had been blown off in a training accident.
by Hal Erickson synopsis