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Free Content Multiple makers: The Best Years of Our Lives

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The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler, 1946), which was the highest-grossing film in the United States after Gone with the Wind (Fleming, 1939), was instantly praised for its realism by Gen. Omar Bradley and by numerous film reviewers. Justly influential scholars and theorists continue to single out this film as an example of realism, the style for which Andre Bazin commended William Wyler (What Is Cinema, 1967). The present article draws upon evidence of three kinds: the film’s production files, including the film-makers’ correspondence about the script; a specific comparison of the film’s narrative content with that of the novel on which the screenplay is based (Glory for Me (1945) by MacKinlay Kantor); and analysis of┬áthe cinematography and artistic composition of the film. The present article suggests that the film reverses some of the polemical novel’s central and recurrent meanings. In the interest of stylistic realism, The Best Years of Our Lives includes critique of the artifices of illusion in the consumerist American culture of the post-war years, even while it exploits that artifice and becomes an outstanding example of it. Like the later postmodern parodies that Linda Hutcheon characterizes as ‘complicitous critique’ (The Politics of Postmodernism (1989) by Hutcheon), The Best Years of Our Lives exemplifies the corporate culture that it criticizes. The film’s extreme artificiality achieves the illusion of realism.
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Keywords: Samuel Goldwyn; The Best Years of Our Lives; William Wyler; World War II films; censorship; film adaptation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Texas A&M University

Publication date: March 1, 2014

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  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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