Posts Tagged ‘William Wyler’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Best Years of our Lives

My husband is a chemical engineer.  Logic-driven, analytical thinker, understands all math with ease.  He isn’t as knowledgeable about Classic Movies as I am, but he knows who James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Claude Rains are.  If he were to select a favorite classic film that he truly enjoys, he’d pick 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives.  Directed by William Wyler, it won Best Picture, Best Actor(Frederic March), Best Supporting Actor(Harold Russell), Best Director(Wyler) and Best Screenplay(Robert E. Sherman) at the 1947 Academy Awards.  The Best Years of Our Lives poster 1

The Best Years of Our Lives is about 3 returning WWII veterans, coming back to their lives in a mid-sized American city, coming back to their loved ones, their friends, and hopefully, to their former jobs or careers.  The oldest veteran in our trio is Army Sergeant Al Stephenson(March), a man with a loving wife, two kids, a nice home, and a nice job waiting for him at the bank.  The second veteran is Army Air Corps Captain Fred Derry(Dana Andrews), a former soda jerk for a large drugstore.  Fred has an elderly father, stepmother, and a vivacious wife.  It’s pretty clear that after we see Al’s homecoming and then Fred’s, that Fred lives on the poorer side of town.  The third veteran is sailor Homer Parrish(Russell) who will be coming home to his parents, younger siblings, and the neighbor girl next door, but due to a horrific war injury, he is coming home without his hands, just hooks that he has skillfully learned to use.  We see Homer’s unease and nervousness about seeing his family for the first time with the prosthetic hooks.

The three veterans meet

The three veterans meet

When the three veterans meet, it is evident they didn’t know one another prior to leaving for the War but now they become good friends through their shared experiences of having served their country, having given up part of their former lives in order to fight, and the commonality of trying to adjust to their former lives.  Each goes through a personal battle to regain a foothold in American post-war society.  Al is older, his kids grew up while he was away.  His daughter, Peggy(Teresa Wright) is a college student now and his son, Rob(Michael Hall) is in high school.  He feels distant from them and from his wife, Milly(the outstanding Myrna Loy).  He also has to deal with his wanting to use alcohol too much in  numbing his pain, and clashing at the bank with his boss, Mr. Milton(Ray Collins) over  attempts to ease up on loan regulations for returning veterans.

A neat scene, all is too quiet and Milly leaves the kitchen to see Al standing there!

A neat scene, all is too quiet and Milly leaves the kitchen to see Al standing there!

Al embracing Milly

Al embracing Milly

Al reunited with Milly, and their kids, Peggy and Rob

Al reunited with Milly, and their kids, Peggy and Rob

Fred is warmly greeted by his father, Pat(Roman Bohnen) and his stepmother Hortense(Gladys George), but he notices that his wife, Marie(Virginia Mayo) is not at his father’s house to also greet him.  Pat informs his son that Marie moved out some time ago, that she decided to get her own place.  This news surprises and bothers Fred, as Marie never wrote him about her decision.  He gets the address for Marie’s new place and goes there to greet her, but she isn’t home. Through the course of the movie, we learn that Marie is quite the club hopping gal, that she isn’t happy with Fred’s job as a soda jerk as she wants him to earn more money, and Fred begins to have doubts about his quick, war-time marriage to Marie.

Fred's dad, Pat, and stepmom, Hortense

Fred’s dad, Pat, and stepmom, Hortense

At first, Marie is glad Fred is home

At first, Marie is glad Fred is home

Fred and Marie about to have one of their many arguments

Fred and Marie about to have one of their many arguments

Homer arrives at his home and his family eagerly rushes out the front door to greet him.  The neighbor girl, Wilma(Cathy O’Donnell) and her family are also there to greet Homer.  All are uneasy when they see Homer’s hooks, and his mother breaks down despite trying not to.  After unloading his gear in his boyhood bedroom, Homer decides he needs to get away for a bit and he heads down to his cousin Butch’s (Hoagy Carmichael) bar.  When he arrives, he meets Fred again, who has gone there to mull about he and Marie’s poor marriage.  Pretty soon, they are joined by Al, Milly, and Peggy.  The 5 of them have an enjoyable evening.  Homer catches a cab ride home.  Al and Milly offer to drive Fred over to Marie’s new place, but when Fred passes out due to too much alcohol, the 3 Stephenson’s decide to let him sleep it off in their guest bedroom.  During the night, Fred has a very bad dream and Peggy rushes to his side to help him.  It is then that Peggy and Fred start to develop feelings for one another, but both are cautious due to Fred being a married man.

Homer greeting his family and friends

Homer’s family uneasy about his prosthetic hooks

Explaining how the hooks work to Wilma

Explaining how the hooks work to Wilma

Everyone at Butch's Bar

Everyone at Butch’s Bar

 

As the movie advances from Butch’s Bar, the three veterans have their own personal mountains to overcome.  Peggy decides to inform her parents how she feels about Fred despite he being in a bad marriage.  Her parents try to counsel her that she really cannot know how a marriage really is between two other people and that she should give Fred space to work this out on his own.  Fred needs to decide what he wants to do career -wise, and what to do about Marie.  Homer needs to realize that Wilma loves him, whole-bodied or not.

Hoagy Carmichael doing what he did best!

Hoagy Carmichael doing what he did best!

Peggy listening to her parents advice about Fred

Peggy listening to her parents advice about Fred

The Wedding-very emotional scene!

The Wedding-very emotional scene!

The Best Years of Our Lives will be airing on Turner Classic Movies on Sept. 30th at 1:30 am(EST)/ 12:30 am(CST) so set that dvr machine!  It is also available to view via Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/The-Best-Years-Our-Lives/dp/0792846133 to either buy or see it on their instant viewing, it is available to rent through Netflix http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Best_Years_of_Our_Lives/299970?locale=en-US,  and many clips of famous scenes are up on Youtube.  For an evening in the company of a very true to life tale of returning veterans, don’t miss seeing The Best Years of Our Lives!

One interesting  side note, Harold Russell was not a professional actor.  He was in the US Army during WWII and lost his hands during a training exercise at Camp Mackell, in North Carolina.  A defective fuse detonated on an explosive he was handling, and that is how he lost his hands.  After his recovery and rehabilitation, he was a student at Boston University and had appeared in a film made by the US Army, called Diary of a Sergeant, about the rehabilitation of injured soldiers.  Director William Wyler happened to see that film and cast Russell to play the part of Homer.

My Classic Movie Pick: Roman Holiday

My twin daughters, 13 year olds, surprised me last Saturday evening and asked to watch a classic movie, preferably one with Audrey Hepburn in it.  I was glad to help them search our Netflix Streaming site and was very glad when I found Roman Holiday.  So we popped up some popcorn and settled in for a well-crafted film, starring Audrey Hepburn in her first film role, and for which she won the Best Actress Academy Award in 1954.  RH poster This movie has two protagonists: Princess Anna(Audrey Hepburn) and American newspaper journalist, Joe Bradley(Gregory Peck).  Princess Anna is young, 19 or 20, and she is tired.  She is on a whirlwind tour of major European cities and in each one, she has to attend meetings, press conferences, visit schools or farms or museums, make speeches, and at night she has to preside over balls hosted by her country’s embassy.  Her life is  tightly wound around a schedule.  In one amusing scene at the embassy in Rome, she is standing forever shaking hands with all the dignitaries at the ball, and her feet hurt.  Her beautiful ball gown is long enough to conceal her feet, so she decides to take off one shoe and rub that sore foot on the shin of her other leg, and as she finally gets an opportunity to sit in a throne-like chair on the dais in front of all the guests, her dress length is shortened by the sitting and her empty shoe is revealed!  Joe Bradley, is a cynical newspaper man.  We don’t know how long he has been assigned to the Rome Bureau of his newspaper, but he does wish to eventually be reassigned to the American Bureau, at a higher position than what he currently has.  He doesn’t mind Rome and has learned the language and gets along fine with his landlord.  Fellow co-worker, photographer Irving Radovich(aptly played by Eddie Albert) is his poker playing buddy and they help each other out with loans of money and hanging out together when off-duty.

At the ball in Rome.

At the ball in Rome.

Princess Anna After the ball in Rome is over, Princess Anna is tucked in for the night, and she works herself up into hysterics about her rigidly run life, never getting to have any fun for herself or making her own decisions.  Countess Vereberg, the lady in waiting, immediately calls for the doctor who gives the princess a sedative.  After they leave the princess so she can go back to sleep, she gets up and dresses and decides to slip out of the embassy and see Rome for herself and on her own terms.  Unfortunately the sedative begins to take effect and that is where Joe finds the princess, alseep on a bench  in front of a building.  Being a gentleman, he tries to wake her but only gets responses that don’t make sense to him, so he deposits the princess into a cab and reluctantly takes her to his apartment and lets her sleep it off on his sofa.  Joe has assumed that this young woman is simply drunk and that he had better offer her shelter for the night instead of letting her sleep it off on the street.

A very sleepy princess meets Joe.

A very sleepy princess meets Joe.

The next morning, Joe finds out that he has overslept and missed the press conference with Princess Anna.  He rushes off to work and there finds out by looking at a picture in the morning newspaper, that the supposedly “sick” princess who had to cancel her press conference is really the young lady asleep on his sofa!  Joe decides to do a story about the princess and her time exploring Rome, and gets his photographer pal Irving to come along to take pictures with his new toy, a cigarette lighter with a camera hidden in it.  Joe tells his boss that he’ll have an exclusive story to give him about the princess that will bring in a lot of money when the other news outlets beg for it.  Thus begins Joe’s odyssey of helping the princess tour Rome and break free of her scheduled life, with Irving taking pictures along the way, all unknown to the princess as to who Joe and Irving really are.  She has not told Joe who she is, that she is just Anna Smith and he hasn’t told her who he really is, telling the princess that he is a fertilizer salesman!

The majority of the film is the fun Princess Anna is having touring Rome with Joe.  Many shots of famous Roman sites are in this film and there is a cute segment of the princess trying to drive a Vespa scooter.  A famous site that is visited is the “Mouth of Truth”, which is a face carved in stone that has an open mouth in the carving.  Joe tells Anna that legend says if a liar puts his or her hand into the mouth, it will get cut off.  Both challenge one another to place their hand in the mouth and the scene builds on the tenseness each character has developed about the lie they are living, by not revealing who each of them really is. Anna’s day of sightseeing is done but she is not ready to go back to the embassy.  She tells Joe about a dance near some boats that the hairdresser who cut her hair invited her to.  Off she and Joe go to the dance, with Irving tagging along to get some photographs.  The embassy  has meanwhile flown in secret agents from the home country and they have found the princess at the dance.  A melee results as Anna and Joe manage to get away and as they flee they realize they both have fallen in love with each other. What will happen?  Will they reveal who they really are to one another?  Will Princess Anna be allowed to marry an American who is obviously not royalty?  Will Joe be willing to give up his life to live in a palace?  Will Joe turn the story into his boss along with Irving’s pictures?Will Irving sell his photographs to make himself some extra money?  Will the newspaper story harm the Princess?  I am not giving away the answers because I want the readers of this blog to find this movie, view it and see the answers for themselves!

Fighting the secret agents at the dance!

Fighting the secret agents at the dance!

The Mouth of Truth

The Mouth of Truth

Learning to drive a Vespa!

Learning to drive a Vespa!

The Princess's new hairdo!

The Princess’s new hairdo!

Anna and Joe at the Spanish Steps.

Anna and Joe at the Spanish Steps.

Roman Holiday was directed by William Wyler and the screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo.  Trumbo won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and Edith Head won the Award for Best Costumes.  Two side-notes about the film: First, Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in the late 1940s  for communist party sympathies, so even though he wrote the screenplay, his name couldn’t be listed as the actual writer.  Another writer agreed to let his name be used in Trumbo’s place in the credits, and this writer sent all payments for the film to Trumbo.  I also assume that this same writer after he accepted the Oscar, had it sent to Trumbo.  60 years after the movie was released, Trumbo was finally given posthumous credit for having written it.  Second, Elizabeth Taylor was the first choice to play the princess, but after Hepburn’s screen test, she so wowed the director and the crew that the part was hers. Roman Holiday is a very charming movie.  A gentle romance-comedy that is tastefully done and very well-acted.  I am glad that it was the movie that my twin daughters chose!   RH poster 2Joe loves her!

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