This beautiful and thought-provoking film is about three returning servicemen who fight to adjust to life after World War II. The story revolves around Al Stephenson (Fredric March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), as they are reunited with the people they left behind. It deals with so many of the issues that servicemen face when they find they are suddenly home again after being gone for months or even years, and realize that their life is suddenly completely changed from what it had been. It won seven Academy Awards, including those for Best Actor, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Harold Russell), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Musical Score, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture.
Harold Russell was a war veteran himself...not an actor. He lost both of his hands in a ship explosion and was actually "discovered" when director William Wyler saw an army training film called "Diary of a Sergeant" that Russell had appeared in about the rehabilitation of injured servicemen. Besides the Oscar he received for Best Supporting Actor (which surprised everyone very much that he actually won) he also received a special Academy Award at the Oscars for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives", making him the only person to win two Oscars for the same performance. He is definitely my favorite character in the whole film--his performance broke my heart...though he wasn't an actor, he played the part much better than one could have, because he had experienced and felt so many of the same things his character did. Just for his performance alone this movie is worthwhile.
Wyler also pulled the rest of his crew from the ranks of WWII veterans--props, mixers, grips, etc--to give the film more of a documentary-style realism. This movie is definitely a must-see.
Milly Stephenson: "We never had any trouble." How many times have I told you I hated you and believed it in my heart? How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me; that we were all washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?
Peggy: What d'ya do before the war, Fred?
Fred: I was a fountain attendant...soda jerk...Surprised?
Peggy: Yes, a little. I betcha you mixed up a fine ice cream soda.
Fred: You're darn right. I was an expert behind that fountain. I used to toss a scoop of ice cream in the air, adjust for wind drift, velocity, altitude. Then wham, in the cone every time. I figured that's where I really learned to drop bombs.
Homer: What about us? We're all right, aren't we?