AFI Movie Club: THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – American Film Institute
The Best Year of Our Lives Film Still - Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo



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AFI Life Achievement Award recipient William Wyler helmed THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – deemed not only one of the greatest American films by AFI but also one of the art form’s most inspiring stories.


-DID YOU KNOW THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES started with producer Samuel Goldwyn’s wife Frances reading a 1944 magazine article called “The Way Home,” which laid out the difficulties faced by some soldiers returning from World War II? Frances suggested that the men’s story would be a good basis for a film.

-DID YOU KNOW according to author Mark Harris, when director William Wyler returned from the service, he was nearly deaf, so cameraman Gregg Toland rigged a special system for Wyler to hear the actors?

-DID YOU KNOW Samuel Goldwyn contacted MacKinlay Kantor to write a treatment of the soldier’s story? Kantor turned in more than 100 pages – written as a poem – and was given the go-ahead to continue writing. He turned it into a 400-page novel titled “Glory for Me” – which was published in 1945 and became the basis for the film.

-DID YOU KNOW when screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood was adapting “Glory for Me” into a screenplay, he made significant changes including changing the title to THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES?

-DID YOU KNOW the part of Homer Parrish was not played by a professional actor? Harold Russell was a soldier who had lost both hands in a military training mishap in1 944. Wyler saw Russell in a short Army instructional video demonstrating the ease of using the metal prosthetics that replaced his hands – and Wyler was convinced that Russell could play the role.

-DID YOU KNOW that the film was a hit with audiences and critics alike? THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES was a mainstream success across America, and Bosley Crowther’s review for The New York Times seemed to encapsulate a critical consensus: “It is seldom that there comes a motion picture which can be wholly and enthusiastically endorsed not only as superlative entertainment but as food for thought. Yet such a one is THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.”

-DID YOU KNOW Harold Russell won the Academy Award® for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his feature film debut – one of only a few roles he ever played? His was one of the seven competitive Oscars® – including Best Picture! – that the film won at the 1947 Academy Award® ceremony.

-DID YOU KNOW a special Academy Award was also given to Harold Russell “for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance” in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES? This was the second Oscar® of the evening that Russell received, becoming the only person to ever receive two Oscars® for the same role.


Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.
-Since THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES was released, have there been changes in the societal landscape that have made it easier for soldiers to adjust to returning home?

-Why is change so difficult for people?

-How do you deal with major changes in your life?

-What was the significance of Harold Russell being cast in the film?

-What does Butch’s bar represent to Homer, Fred and Al in the movie?

-What is the significance of the old warplanes as Fred wanders past them?

-Why did THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES resonate so much with audiences and critics when it was first released?

-Does the movie and its themes still resonate today?

-How would you rate THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES?


In this exclusive AFI Archive video, Mel Brooks talks about the importance of THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES:

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