William Wyler

Harold Russell (AA - Supporting Actor), Dana Andrews and Frederic March (AA - Actor) in the 1946 Academy Award winner for Best Picture - The Best Years of Our Lives

Harold Russell (AA - Supporting Actor), Dana Andrews and Frederic March (AA - Actor) in the 1946 Academy Award winner for Best Picture - The Best Years of Our Lives

  • Born: 1902
  • Died: 1981
  • Rank: 30
  • Score: 640.60
  • Awards: 3 Oscars / DGA / Golden Globe / NYFC / 2 NBR
  • Nominations: 12 Oscars / 7 DGA / 5 Golden Globes
  • Feature Films: 37
  • Best: The Best Years of Our Lives
  • Worst: The Liberation of L. B. Jones

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. The Best Years of Our Lives – 1946
  2. Detective Story – 1951
  3. Wuthering Heights – 1939
  4. The Heiress – 1949
  5. Roman Holiday – 1953

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1936 – 8th – Dodsworth
  • 1937 – 8th – Dead End
  • 1939 – 4th – Wuthering Heights
  • 1940 – 7th – The Letter
  • 1941 – 7th – The Little Foxes
  • 1942 – 9th – Mrs. Miniver
  • 1946 – 7th – The Best Years of Our Lives
  • 1949 – 4th – The Heiress
  • 1951 – 3rd – Detective Story
  • 1953 – 6th – Roman Holiday
  • 1959 – 6th – Ben-Hur
  • 1965 – 4th – The Collector

No director was an honored by the Academy as William Wyler was. John Ford won 4 Oscars while Wyler won only 3, but Wyler had 12 nominations for Best Director, while no one else had more than 8. Wyler was a director of “serious” films, those that merited Oscar attention and aside from the accolades thrown upon him, he also directed 14 Oscar winning performances (including 4 films that won multiple acting Oscars) and while George Cukor is widely acknowledged as a great woman’s director, it was Wyler who directed the Best Actress winning performances of Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Olivia de Havilland, Audrey Hepburn and Barbra Streisand. The 24 films he made after 1935 garnered a grand total of an astounding 36 acting nominations. He made 13 films in a row that had at least one acting nomination and of those 13, 9 were nominated for Best Picture and all 9 of them had multiple nominations for acting. Those films included Wuthering Heights, The Little Foxes and the Best Picture winners Mrs. Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives. The streak was finally broken when Carrie received only 2 Oscar nominations (Art Direction and Costume Design) and in 1955 he made The Desperate Hours and in spite of winning the NBR for Best Director it was his first film in 20 years to not receive a single Oscar nomination. But he wasn’t done yet, because he made Ben-Hur in 1959, still the all-time champion (now tied) with 11 Oscars. His career faded in the 60’s as he made fewer films and they received less attention, but he made a swan song with Funny Girl, garnering nominations from the DGA and the Golden Globes for Best Director (though, ironically, not the Academy) before making his final (and sadly, his worst) film, The Liberation of L. B. Jones in 1970.

The Best Years of Our Lives – #2 film of 1946

There are moments in film history that are all about sheer emotion.  One of the best of these is that moment early on in The Best Years of Our Lives when Frederic March arrives home.  He rings the bell and when his son answers he quickly puts a hand over his mouth and asks him where his mother is.  Then Teresa Wright comes in and March does the same to her and the sheer joy in her eyes at the return of her father is evident.  But the mother is calling from the other room and when there is no answer she comes to the hall.  The siblings watch as their parents see each other across the hallway and then move into each other’s arms.  It is one of the great moments in all of film history, a beautiful moment that says so much more than a thousand speeches of heartfelt love would.

There was never any question going into either the Academy Award nominations or the awards themselves what the Best Picture of 1946 would be.  Best Years had been a tremendous success, both on a commercial and a critical level and more importantly, it said something about what was going on in the country.  It spoke to the unrest felt among soldiers returning home to a country that had changed in some ways, while in some ways it was the returning soldiers themselves who had changed.  And there were those people who were caught in the middle.

The story centers around three returning soldiers – one played by Harold Russell (who won the Oscar) as a sailor who lost his hands.  Russell’s performance was so incredible that the Academy decided to give him a Special Oscar even before they knew that he had won the Supporting Actor award.  Dana Andrews, normally among the most boring of Hollywood leading men, comes through with the best performance of his career as a soldier whose wife has moved away from him and whose job has followed suit and must try to adapt to this new world when in wartime he was a Captain and a hero.  Frederic March is the man in the middle, the family man returning to his job at the bank to try and stay in line with his superiors while helping out the returning soldiers who might not have enough collateral to justify their proposed loans.  He is able to walk that line but it is harder when Andrews begins to romance his daughter.

The greatness of the film begins with the script which gives a considerable chunk of time to the return journey home as the three soldiers begin to know one another as they return from different aspects of the war to the same city.  All three are great and the fantastic performances are joined by Myrna Loy and Teresa Wright as March’s wife and daughter and while they were overlooked by the Academy, Loy deserved a nomination and Wright deserved the Oscar for Supporting Actress.

The Best Years of Our Lives is the best English language film of 1946 (second best overall behind Children of Paradise, one of the greatest films ever made), one of the great years in film history – any year that can’t include Henry V or Notorious in the top 5 deserves special recognition (my others in the top 5 were Brief Encounter, It’s a Wonderful Life and The Big Sleep).