William Wyler’s WWII homecoming classic, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, pretty much sucked the air out of returning soldier problem films in ‘46. But this little progammer is too formulaic to stand out anyway, other than providing an early showcase for Robert Mitchum & Guy Madison. What's best in it comes & goes early as we’re zipped thru an abbreviated demob program with a battery of physical & mental tests before getting OK’d for discharge. Then, a third of their back pay (so they don’t blow it all in one place) and transport by stages home. Alas this is all taken care of in about one reel. After that, the guys struggle to fit in and get their lives back in gear in a brave new world of normalcy. They can’t take it. Madison, no actor, but painfully handsome (Warren Beatty pretty, with the same nose and a great baggy worsted suit in the second half), finds he can't get off the mark except for the spark he takes to young widow Dorothy McGuire. She’s playing the field a little too hard, trying to avoid commitment & a confrontation on her loss. Mitchum’s got a plate in his head, but won’t deal with it, while another wartime pal, Bill Williams, lost his boxing career when he lost his legs. There are some nice scenes in here, but it’s the sort of story that sets everything right at the end with a big barroom brawl. And then there’s that title tune, a popularization/vulgarization lifted from Chopin, Polonaise in A Major; fiercely plugged when the score isn’t playing Bishop’s ‘Home, Sweet Home’ for Madison’s return or Brahms’ Lullaby when he goes to bed. It’s that kind of film.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Cute little Jean Porter is a bit much (she’s supposed to be a bit a bit much) as a sort of Shirley Temple bobby-soxer next door with a heavy crush of Madison. Turns out, Temple left the cast to honeymoon with new hubby John Agar. Good news for director Edward Dmytryk (workmanlike here) as he married Porter two years on; and stayed married till he died 50+ years later.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Selena Royle, as the ex-boxer’s mom, gives her boy a pep talk about another fellow who made good without the use of his legs. In fact, he became President. A welcome reminder that FDR’s handicap was not so much hidden from the public, as seems to be more & more accepted these days, but just not referred to, as if it would have been in bad taste.
DOUBLE-BILL: Of course, BEST YEARS remains the film on the subject, but for an off-kilter try on the returning vet theme, one that almost works, try THE CROOKED WAY/’49, a Robert Florey pic that takes John Payne out of rehab and forces him into a twisty film noir.