Senior Thesis

For my senior thesis (History 485) I analyzed the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives. This thesis explores the relationship of working class women and post-war cinema as they were both expected to mend the traumas of World War II.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Abstract: Production of the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives took place over the mobilization of World War II, while it was released during demobilization.  The film sees three returning GI’s and their experiences readjusting to civilian life and relationships.  The women of the film are Milly, Peggy, Marie, and Wilma and all represent different expectations of post-war American women.  This paper aims to explore the ways in which this film would compare to others made both during and after the war and how the distinct uncertainty of 1946 is manifested in its storyline.  The first section explores the production of The Best Years of Our Lives, as producer Sam Goldwyn felt this film was important to helping ease American audiences, servicemen and civilian.  In doing so Goldwyn implored various methods to ensure this film was done correctly including hiring many veterans for the cast.  Goldwyn was working within a strict set of parameters which is explained in the next section.  The discussion of censorship and propaganda illustrates how Hollywood promoted ideals to support the war effort and built a relationship with the Roosevelt Administration.  Following this is an analysis of women’s roles in the war and how those roles are represented through film.  The female characters of The Best Years are explored and compared to women in films later in the decade to illustrate the beginnings of the World War II myth.  Exaggerations in femininity and sexuality reflect the anxieties of postwar and pre-Cold War attitudes as well as place greater significance on men in the war and machoism.  The conclusion is a discussion of World War II in the American memory as the Good War and how a film like The Best Years contributed to the myth.  America’s insistence to retreat from wartime internationalism and the emergence of the Cold War is the final discussion as The Best Years would find itself blacklisted for being communist propaganda until the beginning of the Korean War.

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