The story concentrates on the social re-adjustment of three World War II servicemen, each from a different station of society. Al Stephenson returns to an influential banking position, but finds it hard to reconcile his loyalties to ex-servicemen with new commercial realities. Fred Derry is an ordinary working man who finds it difficult to hold down a job or pick up the threads of his marriage. Having had both hands burnt off during the war, Homer Parrish is unsure that his fiancée's feelings are still those of love and not those of pity. Each of the veterans faces a crisis upon his arrival, and each crisis is a microcosm of the experiences of many American warriors who found an alien world awaiting them when they came marching home.Written by
William Wyler, who served as a major in the Army Air Force during World War II, incorporated his own wartime experiences into the film. Just as Fred Derry did in the movie, Wyler flew in B-17s in combat over Germany, although rather than being a bombardier, as Derry was, Wyler shot footage for documentary films (his hearing was permanently damaged when an anti-aircraft shell exploded near his plane while on a bombing raid). Additionally, he modeled the reunion of Al and Milly, in which they first see each other at opposite ends of a long hallway, on his own homecoming to his wife, Margaret Tallichet. See more »
After Fred Derry dresses after staying the night at the Stephensons' home, he emerges in his uniform with his jacket belt buckle positioned way off to the right, over his right front pant pocket. Any real serviceman would position his belt buckle (pants or jacket) dead-center, directly over his pants' zipper flap. See more »
The character played by Ray Teal (the Axis sympathizer whom Homer Parrish attacks at the soda fountain) is listed in the credits as "Mr. Mollett". However, the character's name is never mentioned or otherwise alluded to. See more »
The film was modified to play on a wide screen and reissued on February 3, 1954. See more »
Some of this film's greatest moments were scenes without a spoken word!
There are several thoughtful reviews of this movie here already - most all of which I concur with.
I'll try to add a couple of unique comments about this most wonderful of films.
It occurred to me that some of this films greatest and most touching moments are told without dialogue:
The scene so many readers here have already mentioned - when Fred visits the boneyard for all those bombers waiting for the scrap heap. Through the camera work and Mr. Andrews' acting, we too are transported back to his harrowing missions aboard one of these planes. The urgency, the fear, the terror, the danger are all palpable at once as though we're in the cockpit too, flying over Europe against great enemy resistance, even though it's a sunny day somewhere in America in a lot for surplus aircraft. When I watched that scene, I felt like I really knew what tremendous ordeals he had endured. I felt for Fred now that this plane, that had been so decisively important, just as he himself had been so important, risking his life in service to his country as part of the plane's crew suddenly no longer served any useful purpose.
The scene where Homer is just about to go to his girlfriend's, Wilma's, house as planned - but he stops and he watches her through the window as she works in the kitchen, and plainly, we see that she is dear to him. But instead of going in to see her, with great struggle he changes his mind and he goes home and to his room. What a sweet room it is! It's the room he left - just out of high school - to join the navy. It's a high school student's room, a boy's room in his parent's house, with his trophies and pennants on the wall. He looks around at his boyhood triumphs and - we see through the camera - he stops and looks at his posed portrait in his football uniform, his right arm cocked back holding the football, his left arm pointing towards the imaginary receiver his head up, proud, and his gaze confident and purposeful. And then he looks at an action shot of himself dribbling the basketball past defenders. I can't begin to assess what Homer could be feeling at that moment - feelings of loss? of uselessness? Is he thinking that he'll be forever a boy - dependent on his parents and that he'll never be able to be his own man? That sequence - all without dialogue - speaks volumes!
The kicker for me though, is the reminder that this is not merely a character in a story that has moved me, but this is also a real person who lost both his hands in service to his country. Those photographs of him holding the football and dribbling the basketball sure look to me like they are real pictures of the real person, Mr. Harold Russell, who plays Homer. What kind of courage did he have to look those things in the face for millions of viewers to witness? And how hard was it for Mr. Russell the person to make light of his character's and his own real life disability by playing Chopsticks on the piano with his "hooks" for everyone's amusement?
Those two scenes stick in my mind as the most powerful to me - but there are so many more in this movie. It's worth noting that they were so effective without any dialogue at all. An actor shares a soul stirring revelation and it is carefully captured and revealed for us with sensitive and skillful film making.
This is one of those movies that would go on a very short list of all time favorites. It's not perfect - when I can detach myself emotionally from the people in this story I can say that it could possibly be just a little heavy handed with it's message, but to watch this movie with all it's masterful performances from so many in the cast all assembled so lovingly and with great such great care by a great director - I have to think that it is very near perfect.
I read here on IMDB under Harold Russell's (plays Homer) bio that he sold his Oscar in order to pay for surgery for his wife!! He is still living, retired on Cape Cod. Someone, somehow should get his Oscar back to him. It seems so wrong!! He paid very dearly with flesh and blood and bone and then had to, while on display, stare his loss in the face for the benefit of the movie going public. Someone should return his Oscar to him - the Academy? Steven Spielberg? Tom Hanks? William Wyler's heirs? I don't know who, but someone should really do that for him. It seems like a small price to pay for what he gave.
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