State College of Florida The Best Year of Our Lives by William Wyler Discussion


The paper will be done based upon the film “The Best Year of Our Lives” in 4-5 paragraphs; which include 5 time stamps from the film. All of the major details are in the documents down below including a example paper for further referencing. I just want to insure I am correctly stating everything needed to improve my sense of writing film.

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Student Name
Professor Spelleri
Magic Kid Reaction Paper
The film Magic Kid was produced in 1954. This groundbreaking American film was
directed by Mark Greinz and it starred some of the leading celebrities of the day, William
Holden and Virginia Mayo. This film is black and white has a grainy “rough” appearance, which
turns out to be a good look for this depressing story.
Kid is a crime and romance drama that shows the struggles of a nightclub performer, a
magician, who has moved to Las Vegas to try to build his career. Jerry wants to break into the
Las Vegas nightclub circuit, but gets in trouble when he doesn’t play along with the gangsters
that controlled Las Vegas in the 1950s. This film depicts what was considered adult content in
1952. It shows the seamy side of Las Vegas, its drugs, alcoholism, prostitution, and fixed
gambling. It also shows that in real life, the good guy doesn’t always win, which was not a
common message in Hollywood films prior to the 1950s. Jerry’s struggles result in one big make
or break performance, where he is a huge success, only to be gunned down by the mob after the
show. I think going through World War II taught Americans the lesson that even though they
won the war, many bad people had victories along the way and many good people died. It’s a
dark theme, but the truth is sometimes bad guys win. Another lesser theme might be that love
can help you reach your goal, since Jerry’s love interest, Anita, keeps him motivated throughout.
The actor William Holden is very believable as Jerry. He is not too good-looking but more
like an average guy who is relatable. In the scene where Jerry gets drunk and angry (0:54),
Holden is the perfect “ugly drunk”, stumbling around and wiping his mouth with the back of his
hand, and in the scene where he shares his dreams with Anita (0:41), he seems younger and
more innocent. His whole face changes and looks softer.
The music in this film really adds to the production. All the scenes of Las Vegas have a jazzy
background music, (0:35) mostly saxophone I think, which was probably considered cool at the
time. It gives the atmosphere of “adult” but also a little dangerous and dark. When Jerry is alone
with Anita though, the music turns soft and romantic (1:02). The two kinds of music really
contrast the two forces in Jerry’s life- the man he wants to be personally with Anita, and the man
he has to be to get ahead in Vegas and get top billing for his magic act.
Location scenes are also interesting in this film. Some of the scenes are filmed on location on
the Las Vegas strip. The night scenes with all the lights and noise of the strip at first seem
exciting, but then we can make out women standing in dark corners and tough looking guys
talking in cars and it becomes obvious that the lights and noise are a superficial distraction
(1:11). Because it is black and white, the contrasts of dark and bright lights is very strong and
almost like film noir. In contrast, there are some scenes set in Anita’s tiny apartment. The set is
very feminine and also pretty simple because she doesn’t have much money. This makes her
seem like a sweet “girl next door.” The couch is flowery; there are knickknacks on the shelf, and
it is full of sunlight (0:19). Jerry is literally “in the light” when he is there vs. the strip when he
is “in the dark.”
In conclusion, Magic Kid was pretty interesting. I had never seen a film with William Holden
before, and I enjoyed his acting. I think the theme of this film was expressed well in black and
white. Color would have been a distraction. Keeping Las Vegas in shades of gray was like the
shades of gray of Jerry’s character. He’s not all good or all bad. Even though the film got a little
slow sometimes, the jazz score helped to speed up the parts that needed to be speeded. Even
though WWII was never mentioned in this film, I think the film could be an example of the
struggle men had trying to build lives after the war. It also showed that there are plenty of
“enemies” to people trying to lead a good life right here in America.
Writing Assignment #1
Analyze and React: A Mid-Century American Film
After World War II, several forces impacted American films. First, the studio system
began to break down, which also coincided with the rise in the number of televisions in
households. The Big 5 production studios lost a lot of their power, while at the same
time, TV drew a chunk of the audience away from the theaters. Additionally, the ability of
the Production Code Association to monitor film content for forbidden topics, situations, and
language was constantly being challenged, and since the PCA didn’t operate on behalf of the
government or legal body, in the end its enforcement ability greatly weakened before
coming completely to an end in the 1960s.
Perhaps because of the traumatic experience of WWII, Americans also seemed to develop
a taste for more realism in the films, more stories about the societal issues and problems, as
well as more “adult” topics that had in the past only been hinted at in films. The taste for
realism had already happened in Europe, (Italian neo-realism) and film noir had already
provided a view of the grittier and darker side of America. Aside from noir, however, the
post-war era (1946-1961) marked the release of films that addressed topics on drug
use, PTSD, racism, and rape, to name some topics from our film choices for this
assignment. Of course, Hollywood continued to make purely entertaining, fun, and beautiful
films as well, such as big budget musicals, epics, and sparkling, colorful comedies without
discernible social messages.
For America as a whole, the mid-century period (we can say 1950s for short) are an
interesting time of transition, sandwiched between the 1940s World War II years of sacrifice
and patriotism where there was unity of spirit and goal in America, and the 1960s of civil
rights struggles, anti-war protests, hippie counterculture and political assassinations.
The 1950s was a time of increasing wealth and commercialism when Americans were
encouraged to Buy! Buy! Buy! in a booming post-war economy, and also a time when
conformity was encouraged. Veterans were encouraged to leave their trauma behind them;
women were encouraged to leave the factory and return to the kitchen; and AfricanAmericans were expected to return to a life of 2nd class citizenship after serving their
country in the war. But during the war women had been heads of the household,
children had grown up without fathers, minorities treated disrespectfully at
home were treated respectfully when they fought over in France and England, and America
had seen the result of Hitler’s concentration camps as well as America’s own hydrogen-bomb
annihilation of Japanese cities and civilians. How in the world could the pre-war mood and
mentality pick up again like nothing had ever happened? It was not possible.
Due to the Cold War with Russia and fear of the atomic bomb, there was also political
hysteria in America as Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Washington D.C. House UnAmerican Activities Committee spied on and tried to root out what he suspected were
hidden communists throughout the country- especially in the world of film, TV, and
authors. (Often, his committee lumped homosexuals and communists together, because they
suspected homosexuals could be easily blackmailed and used as communist spies by
Russia.) McCarthy tried to achieve his goals by getting Americans to spy on each other, “to
name names,” creating a climate of suspicion and fear. Several films of this era captured that
paranoia, that sense of being suspected or suspecting others even if their story had nothing at
all to do with McCarthy. (Recall the photo of actors Bogart, Bacall, and Henreid marching in
D.C. that you saw in an announcement after viewing Casablanca.)
The supposed conformity and prosperity, however, was both superficial and limited.
While some politicians and leaders, as well as some TV shows and films, tried to create or
portray an America that was carefree and untroubled, in fact beneath the surface social
problems were churning. Human rights were being denied for people of color and alternative
sexualities. People lost jobs due to political beliefs, real and imagined. Post-WWII prosperity
did not reach all classes of society. Unwritten social rules were being challenged as some
people’s attitudes toward sex and marriage, roles of men and women, treatment of minorities,
etc. were changing. There was a tension between the older, pre-World War II social
attitudes and the post-war, especially with the generation becoming teens and young adults
in the 1950s and the rise of youth rebellion.
Lastly, America was on an aggressive path internationally that would lead again to war in
Korea (1950-1954), a war that did not have the united support of the American people as
WWII did.
This atmosphere of encouraged conformity, a pressure to not “rock the boat,” was also
spiritually and emotionally stifling for many Americans, and some films of the time sought to
expose the hypocrisy found in middle-America while other films celebrated the weakening
of the Code so they could openly address adult topics head on.
Assignment: Choose one film from the options here that you haven’t seen before. You are
going to write a 600-800 word (approx. 2.5- 3.5 pages, double-spaced) reaction paper. Save
your paper in format doc, docx, or rtf only. You may quote from our textbook or any other
source from our class, but if you do, please provide a Works Cited at the end. This is not a
research paper and you should NOT be doing any research. If you cite something, it must
be from our class materials only! This paper is your reaction. The only thing you should look
up online is the spelling of an actor’s name!
As you view your film, try to see it through the eyes of the era, a time of social
change. Remember, Classical Hollywood and the studio/star system had been the norm but is
now more or less over. The Production Code Administration (PCA) had said what was
acceptable and what wasn’t, but film noir had weakened the PCA’s influence and tough
issues were now being dealt with directly instead of merely being hinted at. The films range
in years from 1947-1961, but they fit the changing post-war American era we are looking at
and generalizing as “1950s.”
Film choices are all linked on Canvas. We are so used to these topics and issues in our films
today, that we can forget that at one time they were new and daring. Sometimes the message
of the film is obvious and hits you hard, while other times the message is subtle and beneath
the surface- you have to pull it out. These films have different production qualities. Some
are lower budget and may seem not as polished, while others are big glossy color films with
A-list stars. All, however, are ground breaking films in the history of motion pictures.
Film Choice:
Post-war – late 1940’s
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Drama. Mental, physical, and personal issues of
returning veterans. Amazing how the issues are still relevant today. One of its stars was a
non-professional actor who was actually disabled in real life. Casting disabled actors is
starting to be more common today, but was remarkable for 1946. Featuring some of the big
stars of the year. Winner of 7 Academy awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best
Content of the Paper:
A reaction paper is not a summary. Follow an essay format using the guide for content
below. Always connect the paragraph topics to specific examples of your film. Although you
have to address the content of each paragraph, don’t feel like you need to “answer” every
question that might be posed below. They are there as a guide and example for you, to get
you thinking in the right direction. Some of your paragraphs will be obviously be longer
than others. Everything depends on your film choice.
Providing support from the film: Your will discuss various aspects of the film and provide
examples of each from the film. You need to use time stamps with all important supporting
details. Just put them at the end of the sentence and before the period, like this (1:15).
Failure to use at least 5 time stamps that come from throughout the film will result in an
automatic loss of some to all points for one rubric category.
In all these paragraphs, you are giving your opinion. You may use “I.” For example, while
describing the low-key lighting, you might comment that you sometimes felt it was too dark
to figure out what was happening. Or when discussing the music, you may comment that the
song by Elvis really adds to tone of youth and carefree fun. In this way you are pulling a fact
out of the film, and then giving your opinion as a comment on it.
Paragraph 1: Background. Particulars of the film like the name, director, top two or three
main actors, year made, color/black and white. Fit this film into a context, historically and/or
socially, and try to relate it in some way to something from our text book or other learning
materials in our class regarding films of the mid-century, 1946- 1961. “Fitting it into a
context, historically or socially” might be easier to do AFTER you have watched it. What is
the socially relevant issue that the film deals with directly or directly, as the primary plot or
as a secondary story? Finding the names of actors, directors is the ONLY time you could
have an excuse for using the Internet to research in this assignment!
Paragraph 2: Plot/Story and Theme. (Plot and story really aren’t the same thing, but for the
sake of this section, we will treat them that way.) In no more than 4-5 sentences, describe
the story or plot of the film, in other words, what happens. The story/plot will then lead you
to theme. Then in a few more sentences, discuss the theme or themes. What is the theme
(or what ARE the themes) of this film? The theme is the basic message or point, the deeper
meaning that us running beneath the surface of the film. In other words, the plot is on the
surface- what we all see, and the theme is the message behind the plot, the foundational
“message” of the film, for example, the triumph of true love, the impossibility of avoiding
destiny, pride leads to downfall, taking control of your own life, the loss of innocence, the
sweetness (or bitterness) of revenge, determination leads to success, the will to survive,
finding courage in adversity, conflict between love and duty, the ability of people to
transform, the possibility to redeem bad actions, and so many other possibilities. Notice that
the theme is not just one word. We follow the plot/story and usually afterwards, we realize
what the theme is. Most good films have multiple themes, though one is usually primary. (In
the Canvas Module “Course Resources” there is a link to help you understand theme.)
Paragraph 3: The Actors. Focus on one or two actors to critique. It doesn’t have to be the
main star. State the actor and the role the actor played. Discuss if you think the actor was
well-cast for that role and your opinion as to whether or not the actor did a good job in the
role. Do you notice any particular characteristic that actor gave to that character? Single out
at least one scene where you think the actor did a particularly effective job and explain why.
Paragraphs 4-5: Choose two of the bullets that you think are most noteworthy in your film
and devote one paragraph to each.

Discuss the location and setting of the film. Think of the external environment,
if any, in your film (a barren desert, the heart of a city, a lonely island, an idyllic
small town.) How does the location, natural or man-made, add to the film? How
does it add to the story, the theme, or the mood/tone of the film? Also, consider
the sets. (A set might be a compartment inside a moving train, or a lavish
bedroom, or inside a cheap bar, or in a farm kitchen.) What set really stood out to
you and why? How did the design of the set and the props in the set add to the
story or theme? Or help create the mood/tone of the film?
Discuss the sound and music of film: a) Consider any music that is “extra” or
background to the film. Was there anything notable that you think stood
out? How would you describe it? (It’s always hard to try to describe music, but
do your best!) Jazz, classical, rock, romantic, soft, sad, irritating, clashing, loud,
grating, sexy, etc. Don’t forget the opening and closing music! b) Also consider
any music that is part of the film, for example, a band playing in a club, or a child
playing the piano at home. How did the music that was part of the story add to
the story or theme? Perhaps it helped to develop a character? Finally, consider
non-musical sound in the film- a lonely train whistle, a body falling down the
stairs, a crashing storm. Was there any scene where sound was particularly
important and had an impact on the story or theme?
Lighting and/or color: With a black and white film, you’ll focus on lighting and
contrast, and with color, you can talk about both light and color. Discuss one or
two scenes where the lighting and/or color is noteworthy and has an important
impact on the story, theme, or overall tone/mood of the film. Different colors, as
well as intensity of light and dark, may serve as symbols for something or may
change with different parts of the story or a character’s development. (BTW,
don’t be too obvious. “The scene is dark because it is night.” No.)
Camera work: Consider the way the camera is used. Were there zoom-in closeups or zoom-out distance shots? Were there interesting canted (oblique) camera
angles, or birds eye shots or shots from below? Was the camera moving a lot,
following characters around or more stationary as characters walked in front of
it? Were there any point of view shots where you were seeing through a
character’s eyes? How about wide angle shots? Did the camera get right into the

middle of action or watch from a distance? How did these camera techniques
impact the story/theme, mood or tone of the film? Pick a few that stood out to
you. (For information on camera techniques and different kinds of shots, see
Course Resources.)
Something else: Was there something else in your film that you found
particularly interesting and doesn’t fit into any other section of this essay? Do it
here! However, start your paragraph with a clear topic sentence that states what
it is you are writing about. I don’t want to have to guess.
Paragraph 6: Conclusion. Overall, would you say this film was successful in its goal of telling
a story and imparting a theme? Base your judgement on some of the elements mentioned
above. Overall, did you enjoy the film? Why or why not? Conclude with the historical
context of the 1950s and refer to any hidden or not so hidden commentary on 1950s
American society.
Writing Tips: Please use standard English. Italicize the title of the films and be sure titles
and all names are spelled correctly. I will be grading strictly on work that does not capitalize
“I” or names. Double-space your paper and give it a title at the top. Upload it to Canvas in
the Writing Assignments module when you are done. You don’t need to fully mention a
film’s title every time; instead you will vary using a “nickname” and the full title. For
example, let’s say you are watching the film No Country for Old Men, and you need to say
the name of the film 9 times in your paper. The first time you will use the full name. For
times, 2-4 you can say No Country, for # 5 use the full title again, for 6-8 use the nickname,
and use the full title the last time.
How your paper is graded:
Paper includes at least 5 time stamps from different
parts of the film. Failure to include 5 will result in
some to full loss of points for this category. Paper
meets other assignment requirements: follows
instructions, word count, organization. Makes some
reference to the historical context of the film
(Failure to use time stamps is
automatic 0 in this category.
Fewer than 5 time stamps is
auto 10 points off. Below 14
points in this category is
regarding how films began to change after WWII.
Below 14 points in this category is unsatisfactory.
Has well developed content that addresses each
paragraph focus without empty generalities. Has
very specific examples and thoughtfully
develops the examples and points with own
observations and ideas.
Paper has been proofread for grammar, mechanics,
and spelling
(Below 28 is unsatisfactory)
0-10 (below 7 is unsatisfactory)

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William Wyler

Mayna Loy

Virginia Mayo

Harold Russekk

Teresa Wright

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