*The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)*

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Starring: Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Teresa Wright, Myrna Loy, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O’Donnell

Director: William Wyler

Summary: Three returning servicemen fight to adjust to life after World War II

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (March)*, Supporting Actor (Russell)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Dramatic/Comedy Score*, Sound Recording, Film Editing*

Positives

-This is a strong screenplay. For a Hollywood film from this period, it’s surprisingly unsentimental and real and covers a timeless subject: the problems faced by soldiers coming home from war, which in large part apply the same to those coming WWII, Vietnam, Iraq or any conflict. The movie takes on the challenging task of looking at three different perspectives, balancing and covering them well for the most part.

-The performances are really good all-around, especially Andrews (who should have gotten the Best Actor nomination), Russell (who holds his own with everybody despite being a non-actor), and Wright who I liked more here than in any of her previous roles. Loy is good as always, but doesn’t get a lot to do for the most part.

-Gregg Toland’s camerawork is effective and for him quite subdued vs. Citizen Kane and The Long Voyage Home), and the score is very good as well

Negatives

-March’s story isn’t anywhere as developed or interesting as the other two, and it lacks a satisfying conclusion. We see some a couple of things that could end up turning into hooks for a real direction, but instead he just kind of acts as a bridge for the other two stories.

Overall

Regardless of how “important” this movie was at the time, it still holds up well as a great drama with strong performances and characters.

Rating: A-

Henry V (1946)

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Starring: Laurence Olivier, Renee Asherton, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks

Director: Laurence Olivier

Summary: Shakespeare’s tale of the warrior king who learns the meaning of heroism during a daring invasion of France

Other Nominations: Actor (Olivier), Dramatic/Comedy Score, Color Art Direction

Positives

-The most obvious thing to talk about with this movie is its presentation: when it starts, we see it as a play in front of the Globe Theater audience, with full audience reactions and behind the scenes looks at costume changes and people preparing to make their entrances while the play is going on; then we go to full sets, but they are highly stylized and draw attention to themselves; finally, we see it in the style of a normal film presentation, before going in reverse again. While it doesn’t always work, it does make it stand out from other Shakespeare films and the color design really helps make everything look good for the first two parts of the film (as a play and with stylized sets).

-The Battle of Agincourt is impressive due to the sheer number of extras and horses involved; they were able to get so many men during the war because they filmed in Ireland which was a neutral country (which I actually did not know before).

-Olivier is good…I think? First, I’m not familiar enough with the play to be able to really determine whether this is a particularly good interpretation or not, and second Olivier has so far not been a real favorite of mine. I certainly respect him as an actor, but he’s not somebody I look forward to seeing either.

Negatives

-As I have said before, Shakespeare is not something I get a lot out of most of the time. I think the language and the style of acting that typically comes with classical interpretations of the material (such as we have here) tend to turn me off to a lot of his works, although I like some of his darker works like Macbeth, King Lear and Othello better.

Other Stuff

-This was released in the UK in 1944, but was not released in the US until 1946, hence why it was nominated for this year.

Overall

Relatively interesting take on the play, mainly from a stylistic standpoint and because one of the most famous Shakespearean actors is in the lead. If you like the material, check it out.

Rating: C+

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

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Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell

Director: Frank Capra

Summary: An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been had he never existed

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Stewart), Sound Recording, Film Editing

Positives

-Jimmy Stewart is the reason this film is remember today at all. Stewart was the best ever at playing sympathetic do-gooder characters who get kicked around-partially because he’s playing a character who embodies a lot of the things we think about Stewart himself. Even when his character does not so nice things, we still like him because of Stewart. The other thing is how charming of a couple Stewart and Reed are, which is a key component to the film and almost wasn’t: originally, it supposed to be Jean Arthur instead of Reed, which makes since she had done a good job playing his love interest in You Can’t Take It With You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I like Arthur and it would have been interesting, but what we did get works really well.
-This film presents a clear conception of Capra’s worldview, probably in it’s most palatable form, as it’s not as obnoxious as some of his other works which are pure message movies (Lost Horizon, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town). This is a very, very Christian movie (George Bailey being an almost Biblical character-Job with a happy ending), but it’s not overbearing about it.

-Barrymore is also perfect in his role as Mr. Potter-even his voice and cadence fit the character to a T. Interestingly enough, he’s one of the only characters I can think of during this period who commits an illegal and vile act and yet receives no punishment for it whatsoever. My best guess is that the PCA didn’t realize it considering how happy the rest of the ending is.

Negatives

-I hadn’t watched this movie in many years, so I completely forgot that we don’t see Travers’ character until the last 30 minutes of the film (although we do hear him). Structurally, the screenplay may have worked better by starting with George Bailey at the bridge (which is how the source material starts) then flashback or something, although this is purely armchair writing

Other Stuff

-This movie is well-known for being a failure at the box office (it finished 24th for the year against a huge budget) and then it being forgotten until a clerical error pushed it out of copyrighted status and then local TV stations showed it constantly from the mid 1970s-early 1990s (until it copyright was re-established). There are probably two reasons for the movie not doing well at the box office. The first is that the general viewing public was becoming tired of Capra’s style-after the war, he never had a financially successful film despite having a number of stars in their prime at his disposal (Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Bing Crosby). The second and probably biggest reason was that it’s wide release came a week after the wide release of The Best Years of Our Lives, which was the highest grossing movie of the decade.

Overall

If you are a white person in the United States, you have seen this movie at some point. This is a movie that most remember as a heart-warming Christmas classic, but it’s remarkably depressing until everything ends up in the most uplifting manner possible, which makes that ending feel so earned. Great movie.

Rating: A-

The Razor’s Edge (1946)

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Starring: Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, John Payne, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, Herbert Marshall

Director: Edmund Goulding

Summary: A young man’s quest for spiritual peace threatens his position in society

Other Nominations: Supporting Actor (Webb), Supporting Actress (Baxter)*, B&W Art Direction

Positives

-Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb are by far the best things this movie has going for it and add a lot of life to this otherwise awful movie-it kinds of reminds of of Anthony Adverse in a way, where Gale Sondergaard and Claude Rains were way better than anything else, also playing the villains of the movie.

Negatives

-This movie reminded me so much of Lost Horizon, and if you read my review of that movie, you know that’s not a good thing. First, I’m not very sympathetic to Power’s character at all. He starts out as a kid from a wealthy family who doesn’t want to work but instead wants to “discover himself”, which leads to him doing nothing in France for a year and then he goes to Tibet to study religion with basically the Dalai Lama for the next 9 years until he returns home as basically a saint on earth. How many people can afford to spend a year abroad doing nothing and then pay airfare to get Tibet and back, and then, as far as I can tell, not work once he comes back? What makes this guy so above everybody else, a guy who says he doesn’t work a desk job like other people-we never see him do any works of charity, live on humble means or anything that would give us reason to think of him the way the movie clearly wants us to. He only looks great because the villains are so over the top. Second, the author of the source material, W. Somerset Maugham is actually a character and I hate him too. He does nothing except for tell all the bad guys that they’re jerks, but we don’t see him do anything more than sit on his butt and going to parties and social events. This movie has a Capra-esque aura of smugness about it that I absolutely hate and is completely unjustified.

-Power’s character wants to find himself after seeing the senseless of WWI first-hand; this makes total sense, but almost no mention is made about what his specific experiences, and he looks and acts completely fine in every way when we see him, bearing no obvious ill-effects from his service.

-I actually thought Baxter was pretty bad here despite winning the Oscar, she’s constantly over acting; to be fair, this is better than Power’s non-acting in the lead where he was horribly miscast.

Other Stuff

-During filming, Power and Tierney started a romantic relationship with each other (even though both were married at time, although Tierney was separated and about to divorce). Tierney however ended their relationship around the time of the film’s premiere because she had begun another relationship, this time with a young WWII veteran from a wealthy family: John F. Kennedy.

-Actual line from the movie: “the dead are so terribly dead when they’re dead.” Makes sense in context, but much like the infamous “people die when they’re killed” line from Fate/Stay Night, it’s hilarious out of context.

Overall

I hated this movie and almost everything about it, save for a couple of entertaining characters and performances. Because there’s at least something I really liked and because it’s completely fine on a technical level, I give it a…

Rating: D

The Yearling (1946)

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Starring: Claude Jarman Jr., Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman

Director: Clarence Brown

Summary: In 1870’s Florida, a boy’s pet deer threatens the family farm

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Peck), Actress (Wyman), Color Art Direction*, Color Cinematography*, Film Editing

Positives

-Peck and especially Wyman, who plays a stern mother who has hardened her heart after previous heartbreak, are good.

-The color is solid if unexceptional (although some of the sunset and silhouette photography is really nice), but the production design feels completely authentic (as it should, they filmed at the National Forest in Florida where the events that inspired the book took place.

Negatives

-The summary is correct, but what it doesn’t tell you is that the boy doesn’t even get the pet fawn until 65 minutes into the movie. Before that, not a lot of note happens except for an unsuccessful bear hunt and some horses are stolen. After that, it starts becoming the prototype for another very famous kid and his pet story, and becomes better but still nothing I haven’t seen before.

-Jarman plays the kid-while he isn’t outright bad, he’s not good and is the relative weak link in the cast and gets the most screentime.

Other Stuff

-Filming actually started in 1941, with Spencer Tracy and Anne Revere in the two main adult roles. Filming was a disaster for a number of reasons, which led to filming shutting down at the start of the U.S. entrance into WWII with MGM taking a loss of $500,000. A couple of minutes of nature footage from the original shoot do appear in the completed film, and you can tell if you’re looking for them as the color quality is slightly worse.

Overall

This is a simple and conventional family film highlighted by some good performances but still doesn’t feel like something that should have been nominated.

Rating: C-

1946 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1946

Song of the South: This film has famously never been released by Disney on home video formats due to the controversy surrounding its depiction of life as a black sharecropper in the reconstruction-era South. The other thing that the movie is remembered for is the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, which won the Academy Award and a lot of people probably don’t even realize where it came from.

Notorious: One of Hitchcock’s best movies from the 1940’s, with a great cast of Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant and Claude Rains. Nominated for two Oscars, and in the National Film Registry.

The Big Sleep: Classic film noir by Howard Hawks, starring the couple of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in her most famous role. In the National Film Registry.

Beauty and the Beast: Jean Cocteau’s live-action adaptation of the fairy tale that’s remembered for it’s great visuals and music.

Duel in the Sun: King Vidor Technicolor Western with an outstanding cast including Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten, Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore. Highly controversial at the time due to its heavy sexuality, but nominated for two Oscars.

Gilda: Rita Hayworth’s has her signature role as the prototypical femme fatale in this film noir. In the National Film Registry.

The Killers: Film noir starring Burt Lancaster in his film debut and was not nominated for Best Picture despite being nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Director. In the National Film Registry.

My Darling Clementine: Considered one of John Ford’s best films and one of the best Westerns ever made, starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp in one of the many. many films made about his life. In the National Film Registry.

A Matter of Life and Death: Considered one of the best British films ever made, this Powell and Pressburger movie stars David Niven as a RAF pilot who experiences the afterlife.

1946 Nominees in Review

It’s a Wonderful Life: A-

The Best Years of Our Lives: A- (Won Best Picture)

Henry V: C+

The Yearling: C-

The Razor’s Edge: D

This was a mixed bag if there ever was one, with two excellent movies and one of my least favorite movies so far. The Best Years of Our Lives was a gargantuan hit both critically and at the box office, making it easy to see why it won, especially considering the lack of contemporary success of It’s a Wonderful Life had. Even today, it still feels like a reasonable choice and both are great in their own way.

On to 1947, which has two classic Christmas-season movies, although they’re about two completely different aspects of the season; two movies about anti-semitism, although the novel one of them was based on dealt with homophobia which would have been extremely bold for the time; and David Lean directing a Dickens tale with our first Alec Guinness appearance