In my more than 20 years at the Chicago Reader, whenever an old film came to town that had a Reader capsule on file by Dave Kehr, my long-term predecessor at that paper (who left the paper in the mid-1980s), I always had the option of either using that old capsule or writing a new one. On almost every occasion when this happened, I opted for the former — for my money, Dave was and is the best capsule reviewer in the business, bar none. But when it came to The Best Years of Our Lives, I eventually decided that I had to write a new one. Below are the two capsules in question:
Perceived in 1946 (to the tune of nine Academy Awards) as a sign that the movies had finally “grown up,” William Wyler’s study of a group of men returning to civilian life after the war was a tremendous commercial success and helped to create Hollywood’s postwar highbrow style of pseudorealism and social concern. The film is very proud of itself, exuding a stifling piety at times, but it works as well as this sort of thing can, thanks to accomplished performances by Fredric March, Myrna Loy, and Dana Andrews, who keep the human element afloat.… Read more »
This was originally published by the Viennale in 2004 as part of a catalogue (Die Früchte des Zorns und der Zärtlichkeit) accompanying a program of John Ford films selected by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet; it subsequently appeared online in Rouge no. 7 (2005). One can also access Kevin Lee’s two-part video featuring my commentary on both The Sun Shines Bright and Gertrud here and here. — J.R.
“The Doddering Relics of a Lost Cause”: John Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
My father helped to run a small chain of movie theaters in northwestern Alabama that were owned by my grandfather while I was growing up. He and my mother weren’t cinephiles, but on two separate occasions they took the trouble to travel to cities in different states to attend world premieres in the South while I was growing up. One was for a big Southern film from a big studio (M-G-M), Gone with the Wind, held in 1939 in Atlanta. The other was for a small Southern film from a small studio (Republic Pictures), The Sun Shines Bright, held in 1953 in what I believe was a city in Tennessee — most likely Nashville or Chattanooga, possibly Memphis or Knoxville.… Read more »