Poster from the Golden Globe winning film The Best Years of Our LIves

hfpa archives

War comes home in director Wiliam Wyler’s drama about three servicemen returning from the blood-soaked battlefronts of World War II to hometowns they no longer recognize. The project started out as an article in Time magazine about the difficulties encountered by troops coming home, turned into a screenplay by MacKinlay Cantor, commissioned by producer and studio head Samuel Goldwyn. Cantor like the subject so much he turned it into a novella  – Glory for Me –  which was finally adapted into a script by author and playwright Robert E. Sherwood, a member of the Algonquin Round Table and a speechwriter for President Franklin Roosevelt.

A veteran of World War II himself – he volunteered to serve as major in The United States Army Air Forces- Wyler had risked life and limb shooting documentaries on the European Front and came home partially deaf as a result of injuries sustained. Goldwyn thought he would be a perfect match for the project - and was absolutely right. Wyler cast a disabled non-actor, Harold Russell, as one of the key characters, veteran pretty officer Homer Parish,  asked the actors to purchase their own clothes and ordered the sets built with life-size proportions in order to convey an authentic feeling.

The tale of the three soldiers – played by Russell and pros Dana Andrews and Fredric March – trying to find a place of their own in a society that had been changed by war as much as the veterans themselves - connected with audiences immediately, becoming the highest grossing film of 1946 and a huge international success, especially in the UK, where it still is one of the top 10 box office grossers of all time. Besides its Globe win as best motion picture, Harold Russell received a special achievement award for his performance.