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The Blu-ray debut of this powerful Dana Andrews Oscar-winner isn't perfect, but it's still quite notable...
Warner / 172 Minutes / 1946 / Unrated / Street Date: November 5, 2013
The Best Years of Our Livessometimes resorts to maudlin melodrama in order to manipulate its audience to shed a tear or two, but the fashion in which director William Wyler does this is what gives the movie such incredible legs. What I mean is that while The Best Years of Our Lives is implicitly and resoundingly soapy as a narrative construct, the fastidious and devoted capacity with which it’s presented is exceptionally inviting: in addition to the movie being a major statement on war and its psychological, physical, and cultural effects, it’s also a helluva weepie.
The film follows a set of fellas as they leave the fronts of WWII and return home to an early 1940s America that is both familiar and alien to them. Harold Russell – an actual veteran of the war – is happy to be home, but the fact that he lost both his hands in battle presents a serious set of challenges to his reintegration into society. And Dana Andrews is here, as well, as a good ol’ boy trying to balance the more Norman Rockwell-esque elements of his suburban life with the demons of battle still gnawing at his heart and mind.
The Best Years of Our Lives is a significant piece of political filmmaking, a movie that isn’t exactly an Oliver Stone expose of the follies of war, but one that isn’t afraid to ask questions about what is actually involved in the return of soldiers to their homes. And Wyler’s craftsmanlike direction is able to drum up often uncomfortable and disquieting theses while shrouding them in a veneer of histrionic melodrama that makes the film both subversive and exceptionally dramatically fulfilling. It’s a major piece of work that continues to improve in heft and import as the years go by.