Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

In William Wyler's landmark, classic homefront drama, and Best Picture-winning film - a powerful, insightful, hopeful and provocative film with many touching moments in the lives of combat survivors now returned to their former lives - the lengthy film featured great acting, story-telling, direction and pacing by Wyler; it was perhaps the most memorable film about the aftermath of World War II, unfolding with a number of great plot threads about the homecoming of three servicemen to their small town. The compassionate movie portrayed the reality of altered lives, readjustments at work, dislocated marriages and the inability to communicate the experience of war on the front lines or the home front:

  • in the film's opening set in the nose of a B-17 bomber, three returning veterans had their first glimpse of their (fictional) hometown of Boone City - feeling alienated, aloof and detached from the strange sights and memories of their former home - attempting readjustment to peacetime life and discovering that they had fallen behind
  • the three WWII veterans were: middle-class husband Army Sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March), a former Cornbelt Bank banker who turned to drinking, decorated Air Force Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) who was rejected by his unfaithful war-bride spouse Marie Derry (Virginia Mayo) and was forced to return to his old job as a soda-jerk, and handicapped seaman Homer Parrish (Oscar-winning Harold Russell) who had lost both arms and agonized over his relationship with his childhood sweetheart-girlfriend Wilma Cameron (Cathy O'Donnell)
  • in the film's most poignant moment, Homer's mother (Minna Gombell) experienced her first look at her double-amputee son's hooks for hands, and had an uncontrollable reaction - she muffled a gasp and sobbed involuntarily - but then not wanting to draw attention to his permanent handicap, she blurted out: "It's nothing"
  • during his deeply-moving homecoming reunion scene, Sgt. Al Stephenson entered his apartment complex and then the door of his apartment and silenced with his cupped hand the mouths of his son Rob (Michael Hall) and daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) - and then suddenly, his wife Milly (Myrna Loy) was surprised to realize that he had come through the door: ("Who's that at the door, Peggy? Peggy? Rob? Who is...?")
  • Fred experienced PTSD - fitful, sweaty nightmares of a disastrous bombing run over Germany, while Peggy (a trained nurse)comforted and soothed him: "There's nothing to be afraid of. All you have to do is go to sleep and rest. Go to sleep. Go to sleep, Fred. Go to sleep and rest"
  • Homer's girlfriend Wilma continually vowed her love for Homer: "All I know is, I was in love with you when you left and I'm in love with you now. Other things may have changed but that hasn't"
  • in a moving sequence, Homer was being tormented by curious neighbor children - and he yelled at them ("You want to see how the hooks work? Do you want to see the freak? All right, I'll show ya!"), and then thrust his hooked hands through a window
  • Al was offered a bank job by bank president Mr. Milton (Ray Collins), becoming Vice President of the Cornbelt Trust Company in charge of a new department (small loans to veterans) at a salary of $12,000 a year
  • he then approved a questionable loan to fellow veteran Mr. Novak (Dean White) and defended his idealistic, non-collateral loan on the basis of his own judgement: "Novak looked to me like a good bet...You see Mr. Milton, in the Army, I've had to be with men when they were stripped of everything in the way of property except what they carried around with them and inside them. I saw them being tested. Now some of them stood up to it and some didn't. But you got so you could tell which ones you could count on. I tell you this man Novak is okay. His collateral is in his hands, in his heart and his guts. It's in his right as a citizen"
  • in another memorable sequence - at a welcome-home banquet attended by stuffy bankers and their wives - Al delivered a wartime parable to rectify himself in front of his astonished, skeptical audience; he argued about how battles and wars were not won by first demanding collateral from Uncle Sam; he asked his associates to show more tolerance and acceptance toward the less privileged veterans returning from the war, and to not always seek collateral or guarantees for every risk of expenditure
  • persistent and young Peggy Stephenson, Al's intelligent, articulate, headstrong daughter, made some remarkable homewrecking efforts to win Fred away from his mismatched marriage to his unloving blonde floozy wife Marie Derry: "I've made up my mind...I'm going to break that marriage up. I can't stand it seeing Fred tied to a woman he doesn't love and who doesn't love him. Oh it's horrible for him. It's humiliating and it's killing his spirit. Somebody's got to help him...He doesn't love her, he hates her. I know it. I know it"
  • during an unconventional love scene between Homer with Wilma, he showed her his difficult nightly routine with his 'hooks' as he prepared for bed; after removing his harness without assistance, he stood helplessly in front of her with what was left of his arms; she gently reassured him of her deep love, paving the way for Homer's acceptance that their love could overcome any misfortune or disability
  • during a bittersweet scene, Fred's father read with pride his son's citation for a Flying Cross honor, for valor and heroism in the skies over Germany: "Despite intense pain, shock, and loss of blood, with complete disregard of his personal safety, Captain Derry crawled back to his bombsight, guided his formation on a perfect run over the objective, and released his bombs with great accuracy. The heroism, devotion to duty, professional skill, and coolness under fire displayed by Captain Derry under the most difficult conditions reflect highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States of America. By command of Lieutenant General Doolittle"
  • one of the most remarkable scenes was of Fred Derry's walk through a junked airplane graveyard where he relived his many wartime memories of bombing missions in the nose of an abandoned B-17 bomber
The Bomber Junkyard Bringing Back War Memories for Fred
  • the film concluded with Homer's wedding to Wilma, when he demonstrated great skill in placing a ring on her finger - with the added knowledge that Peggy and Fred - seen in the background - would eventually also marry after his divorce with Marie could be finalized

Homer's Marriage to Wilma

Peggy and Fred in the Background
  • in the final line of dialogue, Fred realistically cautioned Peggy before they kissed: "You know what it'll be, don't you, Peggy? It may take us years to get anywhere. We'll have no money, no decent place to live. We'll have to work - get kicked around"

The Three Vets Returning Home in the B-17 Bomber

Homer's Awkward Homecoming with His Mother and Girlfriend Wilma

Al's Surprise Reunion with Wife Milly

Trained Nurse Peggy with Nightmare-Suffering Fred

Wilma with Homer - Adjusting to His Disability

Homer Thrusting His Hooked Hands Through a Window

Al's Welcome-Home Speech

Wilma's Steadfast Love for Homer

Peggy and Fred - Soon to Marry


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