The nature of the subject, its relevance, its seriousness, its social usefulness, demanded first and foremost an extreme meticulousness, a quasi-documentary accuracy. In this film, Samuel Goldwyn and William Wyler wanted to do a civic good deed as much as to create a work of art. The task was to expose through a story – romanticised, to be sure, but credible and even exemplary in its details
– one of the most crucial and distressing social problems of postwar America, and to do so with the necessary breadth and subtlety. In a certain sense, The Best Years of Our Lives is still related to American wartime propaganda films, to the didactic mission of the film unit of the American army, the unit from which Wyler had just been discharged.
The war and the particular view of reality that it engendered have deeply influenced the European cinema, as we all know; the war’s consequences were less strongly felt in Hollywood. Yet, several American filmmakers took part in the war, and some of the horror, some of the shocking truths, with which it ove whelmed the world, could be translated by them as well into an ethic of realism. “All three of us (Capra, Stevens, and Wyler) took part in the war. It had a very strong influence on each of us. Without that experience, I couldn’t have made my film the way I did. We have learned to understand the world better … I know that George Stevens has not been the same since he saw the corpses at Dachau. We were forced to realise that Hollywood has rarely reflected the world and the time in which people live.” These few lines of Wyler’s sufficiently illuminate his purpose in making The Best Years of Our Lives … Wyler’s ethical reverence for reality found its aesthetic transcription in the mise en scene. Indeed, nothing is more fallacious and absurd than to contrast ‘realism’ and ‘aestheticism’, as was frequently done in reference to the Russian or the Italian cinema. In the true sense of the word, there is no film more ‘aesthetic’ than Paisan. Reality is not art, but a truly ‘realistic’ art can create an aesthetic that is incorporated in reality. Thank God!
André Bazin, William Wyler, or the Jansenist of Directing, “New Orleans Review”, vol. 12, n. 4, 1985
Cast and Credits
T. it.: I migliori anni della nostra vita. Sog.: dal romanzo Glory for Me (1945) di MacKinlay Kantor. Scen.: Robert E. Sherwood. F.: Gregg Toland. M.: Daniel Mandell. Scgf.: Perry Ferguson, George Jenkins. Mus.: Hugo Friedhofer. Int.: Myrna Loy (Milly Stephenson), Fredric March (Al Stephenson), Dana Andrews (Fred Derry), Teresa Wright (Peggy Stephenson), Virginia Mayo (Marie Derry), Harold Russell (Homer Parrish), Cathy O’Donnell (Wilma Cameron), Hoagy Carmichael (Butch Engle). Prod.: Samuel Goldwyn Productions, Inc. █ DCP. Bn.
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