It’s amazing that this movie was made in 1946. It’s remarkable that the country could face such subject matter so soon following the end of World War II.
Three veterans return home to a small town from the war, and each encounters a different challenge in reentering civilian society. Al (Frederick March) can’t adjust to being a hardnosed banker. Fred (Dana Andrews) comes home to realize the wife he took before going overseas hasn’t waited for him. And Homer (Harold Russell) lost both hands in a fire, and now believes his fiance only stays with him out of pity, not love.
It’s a profound screenplay (Robert Sherwood – Oscar) brought to life by a talented director (William Wyler – Oscar) and a talented cast (March – Best Actor, Russell – Best Supporting Actor). To achieve as much realism as possible, Wyler used veterans behind the scenes as well, in props, grips, and mixing.
World War II had a definite conclusion and a signed surrender treaty. Now we fight enemies that don’t wear uniforms and don’t abide by civilized rules of war. So our wars are only over when we feel safe enough to say they are. Our soldiers come home one at a time, rather than all at once. But that doesn’t mean their adjustment problems are any less difficult than those veterans whose stories are told in this film.
That’s what the best movies do – give us timeless reminders of the human condition. And on any day – but especially on this day – this Best Picture gives us another chance to appreciate anew all those who served their country