THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – Hugo Friedhofer
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Famous producer Samuel Goldwyn became inspired to make a film that spoke to challenges facing our returning servicemen after reading an article in Time magazine, which described the difficulty experienced by Marines returning to civilian life. He hired war correspondent MacKinlay Kanto to write the story; a novella titled “Glory for Me”, and then brought in director William Wyler and Robert Sherwood, his go to playwright, to adapt it for the big screen. They assembled a first class ensemble of actors, which included Fredric March (Al Stephenson), Myrna Loy (Milly Stephenson), Dana Andrews (Fred Derry), Virginia Mayo (Marie Derry), Cathy O’Donnell (Wilma Cameron), and for authenticity, newcomer Harold Russell (Homer Parrish), a real life serviceman who had lost both his hands in the war. The story follows the reintegration struggles of Homer and two fellow soldiers into civilian life. Each of them comes from a different walk of life and each has a different family situation. The film proved to be a huge commercial and critical success, earning eight Academy Award nominations and winning seven among them, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best supporting actor and best Film Score. Two additional Oscars were awarded by the Academy; a honorary Oscar to serviceman Harold Russell for “bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance”, and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award to director William Wyler, whose body of work reflected a consistently high quality of motion picture production.
Goldwyn and Wyler made it very clear to Friedhofer that they did not want the classic melodrama of the European Hollywood sound, instead preferring traditional ‘native’ Americana. As such he provided a warm and nostalgic score, under whose idealized veneer ran undercurrents of anxiety born from the struggles of her returning veterans. While he followed his instructions to not employ the traditional European Hollywood sound, he never the less utilized the traditional Hollywood leitmotif method to express his music. Note worthy is his splendid use of the triad, the chord which forms the foundation of several of his themes. Because of their shared triadic structure, these themes are kindred in construct and so interplay well within the fabric of the score. For the film, Friedhoffer provided a multiplicity of themes including; the multi-phasic Main Theme, whose A Phrase horn fare informs us of the finest of America’s military tradition, while the B Phrase ostinato misterioso figure suggest the uncertainty in which the returning servicemen find themselves.
Next we have the spirited Copelandnesque Boone City Theme, which abounds with a wondrous joie de vivre. We have the woodwind rich Neighbors Theme is filled with the optimism sought by the men’s return home. Wilma’s Theme serves as the score’s primary Love Theme. It offers a soft, tender and lyrical flowing statement carried by gentile woodwinds or strings, which perfectly captures her inner beauty. The tender and romantic Peggy’s Theme speaks to Fred and Peggy’s romance and offers the score’s second love theme. Then there is the Jazz Theme, a bluesy-jazz construct carried by alto saxophone, which the reminds us of Gershwin. Lastly, we have Louella’s Theme, which emotes with a wondrous child like innocence, and the Chorale Theme, a majestic military statement carried by French horns nobile. Two final points, Wyler never warmed to Friedhofer’s score and was alleged to have despised it. Also, this was the first film to be produced using the new stereophonic Westrex Recording system, a milestone in the history of film score art.
Folks this heartfelt and evocative score secured Friedhofer his place in the Pantheon of film score gods. He created a multiplicity of themes, which often join in beautiful interplay. The film tells the story of three men returning from war and struggling to rejoin life. Friedhofer was tasked with speaking to each of these narratives and succeeded brilliantly! This score stands as Friedhofer’s finest achievement and takes its place in the hallowed halls as one of the finest of the Golden Age. I highly recommend this score as an essential member of your collection.
For those of you unfamiliar with the score I provide a Youtube link for a fine suite; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MjTDzQLOQg
A comprehensive review of this score may be accessed at https://moviemusicuk.us/2015/03/16/the-best-years-of-our-lives-hugo-friedhofer/
Buy the Best Years of Our Lives soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title (1:26)
- Homecoming (6:17)
- The Elevator/Boone City/Peggy (4:12)
- Fred and Peggy (2:22)
- The Nightmare (6:12)
- Fred Asleep (2:19)
- Neighbours/Wilma/Homer’s Anger (7:31)
- Homer Goes Upstairs (5:49)
- The Citation/Graveyard and Bombers (4:21)
- End Title and End Cast [Wilma] (1:58)
- Exit Music (1:54)
Running Time: 46 minutes 09 seconds
Label X LXCD-14 (1946/2000)
Music composed by Hugo Friedhofer. Conducted by Franco Collura. Performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestrations by Jerome Moross, Edward Powell, Leo Shuken and Sid Cutner. Score produced by Hugo Friedhofer. Album produced by John Lasher.