Saturday, May 19, 2007

Movie Reminder

Turner Classic Movies is showing "The Best Years of Our Lives" tonight (actually Sunday morning) at 2:45 AM. If you have never seen this Best Picture winner, I highly recommend it.

It might be unique in the post-war genre (it was released in 1946) in that it does not have any war film, not even a flashback, in the story. It also sends the strongest "Support our veterans" message I've ever seen.

Spoilers and commentary below the fold.

Veterans needed a lot of support in 1946. Demobilizing a 4 million man army dumped millions into an economy that had not really recovered from the Depression. The money that would drive consumption, earned during the war, had all been borrowed from the people who earned it. It was still tied up in War Bonds, to be paid off over the next decade. Production lines were still set up to build tanks and planes, and those jobs were already filled.

This movie, rich with irony, follows three men who return to their hometown on the same plane ... but who never knew each other before or during the war. They come from very different social circles, and one of the messages is that the WW II draft brought America together in a very real way that other wars (including the Vietnam draft) did not.

The first to be dropped off is a Navy enlisted man who lost both hands in combat. No "Forest Gump" special effects here. The actor, in his first and only role, lost his hands in a training accident during the war. He comes from a middle class neighborhood. His reunion includes some amazing acting. Watch his mother's transition from joy to fear as she embraces him. That scene resonates today.

The greatest irony in the movie is that this man, despite his injuries, is the best adjusted of all three returning veterans. He helps center the other two.

The second to be dropped off is an Army sergeant. He is a banker, returning to the fanciest apartment building in town. Is he out of place. The doorman isn't sure about letting a sergeant in, and his family sees a different person than the one who left for three years of combat (in the Pacific, IIRC). His job at the bank is waiting for him, but he is not comfortable there. He now drinks heavily, mostly to forget, like he did after combat. And he is much more tolerant of loan requests from veterans with little collateral but lots of guts.

The last is an Army Air Force officer. He is from the wrong side of the tracks, literally. His parents are dirt poor. His wife, well, I won't spoil the whole story. He has no job. His only skills are dropping bombs and making milkshakes (while in school). He is unemployed, unemployable, and not college material. When he shows up at his old job, the guys who did not go to war are worried about losing jobs to all of those returning vets.

Happy ending for all? Sort of. Lets just say it ends on a positive note, looking ahead to the future and not back to the past.

Side note:
Hoagy Carmichael (a singer / songwriter / piano player whose big hit, Stardust, has a casino named after it) plays a significant sidekick/ sounding board role in this movie as he does in "To Have and Have Not". No surprise that he is a piano player in a bar in both movies, but his scene in this movie rehearsing a group of kids is priceless.

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