Howard Hampton at Artforum:
BY AN INTERESTING COINCIDENCE, Warner Bros. is releasing its new Blu-ray of the 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives at the same time as a box set of all three of James Dean’s films: Rebel Without a Cause (1955), East of Eden (1955), and Giant (1956). Most everyone who is serious about cinema has seen Dean’s movies (Giant maybe not so much), but I can’t help wondering how many people under fifty-five have ever watched The Best Years of Our Lives. It was the sort of picture you’d expect the parents in Rebel Without a Cause to relate to—meticulously designed to speak to the people who lived through World War II, valorizing their sacrifices and aspirations. Dean, film noir, and the artifice-baring melodramas of Douglas Sirk—with their collective angst, upfront neuroses, and unsettled entanglements—came along as rebellions against, or subversions of, precisely that type of big, square, ultra-schematic exercise in civic-minded drama and social duty. Where they have the cachet of the perpetually hip, The Best Years of Our Lives is weighed down by its ambitions toward universality (American-style), not to mention its seven Academy Awards: Almost by definition, anything Hollywood embraced so wholeheartedly must be suspect.