The Best Years of Our Lives/Friedhofer

July 18, 2008











In spite of a title that gives the wrong impression, an irritating predictable plot, and uneven acting at times, The Best Years of Our Lives won (7) Oscars for picture, directing (Wyler), screenplay (Sherwood), actor (March), supporting actor (Russell), editing (Mandell), and Hugo Friedhofer for original score. Adapted from the story Glory For Me by MacKinlay Kantor, well known for his Civil War writings, the 2+ million dollar film( a huge amount for 1946) starred Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, and Teresa Wright. It tells the story of (3) servicemen, bombardier (Andrews), infantry sergeant (March), and sailor (Russell) returning to Boone City to their former lives. The film was quite controversial at the time dealing with subjects of divorce, an extra-marital affair, and disability issues. Wyler used over 400,000 feet of film which was edited down to 16,000 feet for the 170+ minute picture using location photography in Cincinnati (home spun USA town shots) and the frightening graveyard of former planes in Chino Ca. for the bombadiers nightmare sequence. Mixed in with this predictable story and corny acting were some of the better performances this reviewer has ever seen making for a heart felt and thought provoking film worthy of the Oscars it achieved.

1946 also saw nominations for original score to Anna and the King of Siam (Herrmann), Henry V (William Walton), and The Killers (Rozsa), steep competition for Friedhofer who originally was not the choice of Wyler. Wyler wanted Aaron Copland or Alfred Newman but it was Newman who convinced Wyler that Friedhofer was the man for the assignment and the result is a warm, nostalgic, and Americana type score in the tradition of something Copland might have written. While it wasn’t orchestrated by Hugo his crew of Moross, Powell, Shuken, and Cutner transformed his work into the masterpiece it is.

Friedhofer used leitmotif writing for most of the key characters/situations in the film. In the “Main Title” in a span of 90 seconds he creates the basic mood of warmth, optimism, and the military setting of the film. The second track “Homecoming” introduces three themes Octave, Boone City, and Neighbors which will be used throughout the film in a variety of ways. “Fred and Peggy” features a nice blues theme on the alto saxophone performed by Bob Burns. The sequence relates the too much to drink on the part of Fred as well as the romantic attraction he feels for Peggy. “The Homer Goes Upstairs” track is one of the best tracks this reviewer has encountered in film music! It is a scene in the film where Homer, after talking to Wilma in the kitchen, takes her upstairs to show her the care that will be necessary for him. Hugo uses the Octave theme as Homer removes his hooks and then uses the Neighbor theme in a minor key. Next, surprisingly he immediately switches to the Wilma theme in a major key as she understands and offers to help him. The theme swells to a conclusion as Homer lays in bed in tears of joy. The music absolutely contributes to making the scene! Another scene that absolutely makes a difference is in the “Citation; Graveyard and Bombers”, a track musically which sums up the despair, hopelessness, and then a final closure in Fred’s life, allowing him to move on. The dissonant chords recalling the nightmare of the bombing raids depicts in music the feeling of Fred perfectly. Hugo also wrote an “Exit Music” track to be played to a blank screen (how things have changed) while people left the theater. While it was only used a few times and then abandoned, it was a good conclusion to the picture.

As is often the case, the original material was either lost or destroyed, leaving Tony Bremer the job of reconstructing the music from the piano-conductor score as best he could. Originally recorded pre digital era in 1979 this re-mastered version in 2000 used the current technology of 24 bit SBM to improve on the original inferior recording to try to bring it up to average standards. It is definitely on the bright side and by lowering your treble to compensate, you just flatten out the dynamic range. One can only hope that one day someone will take on the task of re-constructing and then re-recording all of the material in this Oscar winning score. In the meantime it is the only available recording and for any serious film score listener it is a must have in your collection.


Track Listing

1. Main Title (1:26)

2. Homecoming (6:17)

3. The Elevator; Boone City; Peggy (4:12)

4. Fred and Peggy (2:22)*

5. The Nightmare (6:12)

6. Fred Asleep (2:19)

7. Neighbours; Wilma; Homer’s Anger (7:31)

8. Homer Goes Upstairs (5:49)

9. The Citation; Graveyard and Bombers (4:21)

10. End Title and End Cast (Wilma) (1:58)

11. Exit Music (1:54)

Label: Label X LXCD 14

Produced by John Steven Lasher

Analogue Recording Engineer: Bob Auger

Recorded at Church of All Saints, Tooting, London on October 21 and 23, 1978

Performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra. Conducted by Franco Collura

* Bob Burns, alto sax

Golden Scores Rating *****

Total Time is 46:11


2 Responses to “The Best Years of Our Lives/Friedhofer”

  1. Nelson Gouge Says:

    I am seeking some information on Alto Saxaphones and I’ve just stumbled upon your blog! A good read which I have found to be of use. I will return to have more time to read more.

  2. mark kiryluk Says:

    I loved this score and could not hear enough of it. It blended so well with the theme of the movie. This is a classic and should never be forgotten. In the scene where the father is reading the citation the music builds to a wonderful conclusion. This is timeless.

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