Harold Russell won his only Oscar from his only nomination for portraying Homer Parish in The Best Years of Our Lives.
As with Haing S. Ngor's terrific performance Russell's own personal connection does seem to give emotional truth to his performance. The part of Homer Parish is most certainly a sad one having lost his hands, and having to deal with people, and particularly his family's own difficulty with coping with what has happened to him. Russell realistically underplays his role, and at first basically tries to avoid the idea that he really has any real problems with his prosthetic hands, and Russell even shows Homer attempts to ignore it almost through some small bits of humor. In his early moments before going home Russell is terrific in just his small subtle indications of his dread, and pain he is trying to hide over his his hands. What is great about Russell though is the fact that he never does let a single emotion override the rest. It actually would have been easy to just have Homer constantly sulking over what happened to him in the war, bur Russell feels far more genuine showing a gambit of emotions that come to him from returning home.
It is the combination of feelings that Russell brings to life so well, which is so exceedingly moving. In his scene where he returns home, Russell does not convey just one emotion of sadness or fear over his family's reaction, but rather he has a more honest showing of happiness, to earnestness, to uneasiness, and even some pride actually since an undercurrent in Russell's performance seems to be is that he is proud to have served his country, but it is all of the emotions together that feels the way Homer's homecoming should be. Russell after the opening scenes comes in and out of the story where it shows his coping with his families own coping with his problem. Russell underplays these scenes to great effect. Russell is terrific in these moments because he actually shows most of Homer's troubles do actually come from within. Russell authentically portrays feelings of doubt over that anyone his family, or his girlfriend Wilma could get over the hooks, and truly accept him as he use to be.
Russell pivotal scene is his final moment where Homer almost tries to convince Wilma that he is not worth the trouble as he shows her his arms without the hooks on. It is an absolute heartbreaking scene which Russell only infuses with a completely genuine sadness in Homer, and shows just brings out the vulnerability of Homer in this scene absolutely to life. His final scenes though where Homer has finally overcome his fear is just as well realized by Russell, since he does not show the fear to be absolutely forgotten or Homer to be a changed man, but Russell presents Homer finding the strength that was in him all along. This is a terrific performance that is almost perfect if I were to have any complaints is that in a few moments you can perhaps see a slight inexperience in his performance, but never in a fashion that it becomes distracting and certainly never in which it takes away any of the impact of his great performance.