The Best Years of Our Lives
Robert E. Sherwood, MacKinlay Kantor, and William Wyler, 1946

This one wasn't just for fun! I watched it for the history class I'm auditing this semester; we're starting with World War II, and this film is about three American servicemen returning to their Midwestern town and having problems readjusting to civilian life. And, uh, yeah. I don't have much to say about it. As a movie, the usual Pattern 22 stuff applies: though it certainly kept my interest more than, say, Only Angels Have Wings, I was put off by the melodramatic acting, crashingly unsubtle score, extremely languorous pacing, and dull romance plot. So, in lieu of anything further in the way of a review, here are some of the notes I took in class regarding things that we were supposed to see reflected in this movie. (I.e., these are not my assertions — I'm just passing these ideas from lecture along because I found them interesting.)

  • Though Tom Brokaw and others have tried to build up the WWII generation into superheroes, most served reluctantly. 2/3 of US troops were drafted, and the 1/3 who enlisted mostly did so assuming they'd inevitably be drafted and wanting some control over their destiny. Volunteers got to choose their branch of the service, for instance, and many selected one branch or another based on their calculations of which uniform would be most likely to get them laid. (According to this movie, the correct answer appears to be "Air Force.")

  • Most troops were very unimpressed by their experience in the military, which bore a fairly scant resemblance to a well-oiled machine. This was the war that brought us neologisms such as "snafu" (situation normal, all fucked up) and "chickenshit" (someone whose pettiness made a bad situation worse). It also brought us "brown-noser," as "a good Joe" was a soldier who did his duty but no more.

  • As noted in The Gold Coast, the main front for the US was the Pacific front, and that meant most soldiers who went overseas (for 25% never left American shores) deployed from the west coast. Often that meant that the last things they saw of America as they went to risk their lives were the people lucky enough not to be going for one reason or another frolicking on the beach. And while there was plenty of talk of sacrifice for the war effort, in fact the standard of living for those who remained rose.

In short, the troops didn't want to go, they had a lousy time even when they weren't being shot at, and they returned home to discover that seemingly everyone who hadn't fought got rich off the war and rose above them in the socioeconomic pecking order. So, yeah, you could make a movie about that! And so they did... and then let those themes take a backseat to the question of whether Cap'n Meatface will get the girl. (Spoiler: yes.)

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