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Without question, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES ($25) is amongst the greatest classics of American films. In fact, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES has been selected as one of the most important films of all time by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry. Back at the time of its release, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES was honored with numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Director.

While the story would seem pure soap opera, under the Academy Award winning direction of William Wyler THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is anything but. The plot chronicles the very human experiences of three servicemen returning from World War II, along with the obstacles that they faced as they try to readjust to civilian life. Fredric March certainly deserved his Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of a middle-aged family man returning home to his wife and children who have grown up and grown older without him. March’s performance is very real, filled with both heartbreak and humor, making it utterly unforgettable. Not only did Harold Russell win an Academy Award for best supporting actor; he also received a Special Award from the Academy for his inspirational performance as a disabled war veteran. Russell’s character lost his hands during the war, which makes his return to civilian life especially challenging. He wants to be treated like everyone else, but the hooks that have replaced his hands left him feeling isolated. Not wanting to be the object of pity, Russell’s character further isolates himself from the woman he loves. Dana Andrews portrays the third returning veteran who was a bombardier and an officer in the Air Force. Andrews’ character’s war experiences left him with no practical skills and unprepared for the return to civilian life. Without his officer’s paycheck, and unable to get a good job, his marriage rapidly hits the skids. The cast of THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES also features strong performances from Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo and Cathy O'Donnell.

The HBO Home Video DVD edition of THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES appears to have come from the same transfer as did the Pioneer Special Edition Laserdisc, and includes some of the same extras. The black and white transfer is utterly superb. The film element used for this transfer was a duplicate negative, and frame by frame noise reduction techniques were utilized to eliminate scratches and dirt. The end result renders this fifty-year-old film in virtually pristine condition. The black and white image is crisply detailed, with excellent contrast and deep, realistic blacks. Cinematographer Gregg Toland was one of the great masters of his art form and this transfer is a tribute to his spectacular work. Digital compression artifacts were never an issue on this DVD. The film’s 172 minute running time necessitated that THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES be spread across both sides of this DVD.

The two channel Dolby Digital soundtrack for THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES has been given a matrixed surround sound re-mix by Chase Productions. Hugo Friedhofer’s Academy Award winning score receives all the benefits of the surround encoding, which gives the music a fuller sound than what is available on the monaural Dolby Digital track. While Chase Productions has cleaned up the track a great deal, a number of the limitations of optical soundtrack technology remain. Some minor distortions, along with pops and clicks remain. The monaural track has respectable sound quality, but it too is subject to the limitations of fifty-year-old optical sound technology. Other soundtrack options include French and Spanish language tracks, as well as an isolated music and effects track for those who wish to enjoy Hugo Friedhofer’s score. The interactive menus offer access to a theatrical trailer, a recent interview with Teresa Wright, an introduction and epilogue featuring Virginia Mayo, plus cast and crew biographies/filmographies.

As I stated above, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is one of the great classics of the American cinema. The DVD edition offers tremendous quality and value. It is certainly the best way to enjoy this wonderful film, which should be part of every personal film library. Absolutely recommended!


The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)


DVD reviews are Copyright 1997 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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