Three World War II veterans return home to their families to recover from the worst years of their lives.
The Best Years of Out Lives, a misfired title, seems to have started as a gleam in Samuel Goldwyn’s eye when he saw in a mid-war issue of Time a picture and article about returning veterans. At a later stage it was a verse novel by MacKinlay Kantor called Glory for Me—not a very good title either. Robert E. Sherwood turned this into a screen play; the director William Wyler and the camera man Gregg Toland and a few hundred others turned the screen play into a movie. The movie has plenty of faults, and the worst of them are painfully exasperating; yet this is one of the very few American studio-made movies in years that seem to me profoundly pleasing, moving, and encouraging.
The story is a sort that could have been, and often remains, just slick-paper fiction and its most sincere, and that could also have become, and occasionally suggests, a great simple, limpid kind of fiction at its most sincere, and that could also have become, and occasionally suggests, a great and simple, limpid kind of fiction which few writers of serious talent seem able to attempt or even to respect, at present. An ex-bombardier (Dana Andrews), an ex-infantry sergeant (Fredric March), and an ex-sailor (Harold Russell) meet for the first time as they return to their home city, part to undertake the various pleasures and problems of their return, and meet again at various subsequent times as their lives and relationships shake down into new shape.
The bombardier, a highly intelligent proletarian, can find nothing better in the way of a job than his old place in a drugstore. He finds, too, that he and the girl he married just before he went overseas no longer get along. The sergeant, who was once the kind of nervously well-married, vocationess. rather sensitive business man, too good for his job, who tries to sweep along his uneasiness in a momentum of alcohol, clowning, fairly sophisticated wit, and his real but seldom focused affections, finds that none of that has changed for the better. He is made vice-president of his bank, in charge of G.I. loans, and spends a good deal of his time drunk. The sailor, who has lost both hands and has learned to use a pair of hooks quite well, returns to the gentlest and most touching depths of the lower middle class. His chief problem is the girl he had always expected to marry; another is his extreme uneasiness about everybody’s attempt to be good about his hook; a hideous complication is that he is at once intuitively very perceptive and sensitive, and hopelessly inarticulate, and that most of the people he returns to are equally well-meaning and un-sophisticated.