Posts Tagged ‘Harold Russell’

Harold Russell in “The Best Years of Our Lives”

It’s Memorial Day weekend and every year at this time, TCM shows films with  military themes as a way of honoring the holiday.  I see that tonight they’re showing The Best Years of Our Lives from 1946.  It’s a movie I have watched a number of times and am always reminded of one of its stars, Harold Russell.

Harold Russell was not an actor.  He had been an Army instructor during World War II when he lost both hands in an accident while handling explosives.  Near the war’s end, he was the focus of a film about the rehabilitation of disabled vets which is where director William Wyler first saw him and decided to cast him as Homer Parrish, a sailor who loses both hands in the war.

Though not a trained actor, Russell gives a spectacular performance as Homer.  There are many memorable scenes with Homer that linger with you long after the film ends.  One that stands out for me is one in which Homer is in the garage and his young sister and a friend are watching from outside and Homer, tired and frustrated at the stares and pointed fingers from the curious, smashes his hooks through the window at the girls.  The visual impact of the scene is brilliant.

There are many other scenes  that shine as well and they came together to bring Russell the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the film.  He holds a unique distinction as the only actor to have two Oscars for the same performance.  You see, the Oscar board thought Russell had no chance at winning and wanted to honor his performance for bringing attention to the plight of disabled vets so they chose to honor him with a special Oscar.

The Best Years of Our Lives is a compelling film.  Sure, there are moments of sentimentality.  How could there not be?  But this is no rosy view of the world in any way.  It has a dark grim tone and shows the damage the war has inflicted on the returning vets, both physically and emotionally.  It has an honesty about the subject of the effects of war that you didn’t often see in contemporary films of the time.  The vets returned to a world that was changed from that which they remembered and they were often forced to deal with indifference and sometimes scorn from a public that soon forgot their sacrifice.   It seems to me to be the jumping off point for the dark realism of  many films from the next decade.

So, if you get a chance tonight take a look.  It’s a great film and you’ll be reminded why we honor the sacrifice of those who served.  Here’s a great scene with Harold Russell as Homer and his girlfriend, who he has felt alienated from because of his disability. He’s trying to show her what she will face in the reality of  a life with him.

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Hoagy CarmichaelIt’s Saturday morning and I just had a thought about Hoagy Carmichael, the great composer of some of the most recorded songs of the last century.   Classics like Stardust, Georgia on My Mind, Am I Blue, Up a Lazy River and on and on.  He also appeared in a number of films in parts that allowed him to showcase his piano playing and song skills, most memorably in as the bar-owner uncle to the Harold Russell character in the great The Best Years of Our Lives .

My favorite was from the Humphrey Bogart/ Lauren Bacall classic  To Have and Have Not where he was the piano player in the island dive.  He does a version of his Hong Kong Blues which has a real funky sound, very reminiscent of something Tom Waits might do forty or fifty years later.  I couldn’t find that version but I found a later one from the Rosemary Clooney Show in the 50’s that’s still pretty good.

For  my money he was a pretty cool customer.  I may not have agreed with all of his views ( he once got into a fistfight with Bogart over Bogart’s pinko leanings) but how can you not like a gut who write songs with titles like I’m a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with my Honolulu Mama Doin’ Those Beat-o, Beat-o Flat-On-My-Seat-o, Hirohito Blues ?

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