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BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, The
(William Wyler . 1946 )

 

“I’ve had that same dream hundreds of times... Am I really home?”

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES

 

 

“I don't want you to think of this as a Hollywood picture,

I want something simple and believable.”

 

… so said producer Sam Goldwyn, still minus an Oscar after seven near misses.

Back from the war (the subject of the movie), director William Wyler balked at owing one more film to the man he said would like his credit to read: Sam Goldwyn presents Sam Goldwyn in Sam Goldwyn, written, produced and directed by Sam Goldywn.

The only project Wyler fancied on the shelves was MacKinlay Kantor's Glory For Me. Playwright Robert Sherwood moved into Goldwyn's home to work on the script, although feeling it would be outdated before the film could open. Quite the opposite, said Sam.

Fred MacMurray and Olivia De Havilland were not impressed by the Stephenson couple.  “Third banana,” is how Fred described the role that earned another Fred, Fredric March, his Oscar. From his contract stable,  Goldwyn planned veteran Walter Brennan  as Al Stephenson, the banker back from the war, with  Constance Dowling as his daughter (Wyler prefered “the best  crier  in  the business” - Teresa Wright). Plus  David Niven as Fred Derry (Niven as an ex-GI!!!), who finds his wife has become a party girl. (They became  Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo). 

Sam also favoured Farley Granger as Homer, the disabled soldier - a spastic until Wyler recalled Diary of a Sergeant, a US Army educational documentary about a real soldier, Sergeant Harold Russell,  “who’d got into an argument with a  block of TNT.”   His hands were  replaced by hooks. (Goldwyn wanted June Haver as his bride-to-be (?) but a debuting Cathy O’Donnell won the day). 

Russell proved a natural actor.  More important, his attitude was right.  Homer, like Russell, had adjusted to Civvy Street better than the other two vets, suffering more emotional than physical trauma.

Exit: Granger.

Enter: Russell, forever being told by March to...

 

“Keep those godamned

hooks out of my dialogue.

 

 

Russell was an untrained actor, but utterly sincere, praised US  critic Roger Ebert, citing the scene where  the soldier  shows his girl what is involved in simply getting ready for bed… perhaps why they shouldn’t  marry. “This is when I know I’m helpless. My hands are down there on the bed. I can't put them on again without calling to somebody for help. I can’t smoke …or read a book. If that door should blow shut, I can't open it and get out of this room. I’m as dependent as a baby that doesn’t know how to get anything except to cry for it.”

 

"We know Russell is speaking for himself," wrote Ebert, 60 years later, "and the emotional power is overwhelming. O'Donnell's response is pitch-perfect."

Shooting took place from April 15-August 9,1946.  The more important date was March 13, 1947 - Oscarnight at the Shrine Auditorium.The film won seven of eight nominations: editing, music, script, supporting actor, actor, director and, finally for Goldwyn, best picture.  He also won the Irving Thalberg award and Russell became the first winner of two Oscars for one role (he sold one for $60,000 in 1992 - the first being a special award for “bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans”).

Therefore, Sam called it nine Oscars - “one more thanGone With The Wind!”And Cary Grant asked Russell: “Where can I get a stick ofdynamite?”

As part of the hype, Goldwyn went on Bob Hope's radio show. “Well,Mr.Goldwyn how have things been going since I left your studio?”  The scripted answer was obvious: “We'vehad the best years of our lives.”

Sam, being Sam, said:“Things are better than ever”!






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