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Alvin Cullom York (1887-1964), a modest American and Christian hero of
World War I, is the subject of this biographical picture which goes
beyond the mere telling of the tale how he won all the medals he did
for bravery during the Meuse Argonne Offensive. It's the inner struggle
of a man whose pacifist Christian beliefs came into conflict with his
patriotism. It's the heart and soul of this film, beautifully crafted
by director Howard Hawks.
The real Sergeant York eschewed all money making ventures that would have capitalized on his heroics in World War I and had resisted giving the rights to his story to Hollywood. He relented because in 1941 he became concerned with the danger fascism posed for the world and advocated preparedness. Part of what brought him out was the speechmaking of that other American hero Charles A. Lindbergh who was an appeasement advocate.
York even called the shots on who was to play him. So Jack Warner made a call to Adolph Zukor over at Paramount and probably paid one hefty sum for Gary Cooper's services. It was worth every penny of it as Cooper got his first Oscar for Best Actor.
Alvin York is a poor farmer supporting a widowed mother and a brother and sister. And he likes to cut loose every so often with a jug and a rifle. But he gets converted and gets involved in Walter Brennan's church which is a strict fundamentalist sort with pacifist tenets. When America gets into World War I, his very soul is tormented by the tenets of his church and the volunteer tradition of his state. Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State and that nickname is no lie. It bothers him more than other men because as Pastor Walter Brennan tells him he's "got the using kind of religion."
These people may be fundamentalists and somewhat backward, but they're not phonies. No high hog living preachers here, just simple people trying to get through life the best they can. Howard Hawks did a masterful job in casting this film with some actors very used to playing rustics. Ward Bond, Noah Beery, Jr. Howard DaSilva, Clem Bevans and most of all Walter Brennan as Pastor Rosier Pyle, tripling as preacher, postmaster, and owner of the general store. Brennan got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but since he'd already won three of them, the Academy voters gave Donald Crisp a break that year for How Green Was My Valley.
The York family is played by Margaret Wycherly, June Lockhart and Dickie Moore as mother, brother, and sister. Wycherly is one you'll remember also. Hard to believe this is the same woman who is also James Cagney's Ma in White Heat. Come to think of it, maybe not, Ma York and Ma Jarrett are both tough survivors.
As for the action that won him decorations from all the Allied powers including the Congressional Medal of Honor, you'll just have to see the film for that. But while some liberties are taken with York's pre-war story, what happened in the Argonne is actually what happened.
We could use a whole lot more Sergeant Yorks, those with the using kind of religion.
Perhaps when this comes out on DVD later in the year (2006), I'll enjoy
this as I did when I first saw it on tape. Subsequent VHS viewings were
nowhere as appealing at that first look, unfortunately. As most people
know, this is the story of World War I hero Alvin York, who went from
drunken good-for-nothing to solid Christian man and war hero.
Gary Cooper certainly was a great choice for the role. Few people in his era were better at playing modest, soft-spoken-but-manly heroes like "Coop." When "York" makes no apology for his 100 percent belief in the Bible, no one challenges him because he's earned the respect from all, believers and non- believers. Cooper's status as an actor helps make that all the more "believable." Sgt. York also gives one of the best examples of forgiveness I've ever seen on film.
Another nice feature of this movie is seeing Joan Leslie in the female lead. She was one of the most pretty and wholesome-looking ladies of her day. She's always a treat to see. Walter Brennan also is interesting, as usual, and in here plays a minister, which also was a surprise.
Much of this film was a surprise because I'm just not used to seeing on film things like true forgiveness, the hero citing Scripture, military officers shown in a compassionate light (letting York, with his pacifistic views, decide what he anted to do) etc. What a shame so few films in the last 50 years have had similar values.
Heartfelt, involving saga of Tennessee's WWI hero Sgt. York. The first half of the story, almost a movie in itself, shows York in his native valley as he tries to get a nice plot of "bottom land", finds God, and learns that killing is wrong. In the second, York trains to become a soldier and decides that it's OK to die, or even kill, to preserve his freedom. Cooper carries the film's weight with conviction, painting the figure of a likeable, naive but intelligent, American hero. Hawks weaves the story's many threads together believably and with good humor.
How does one define a classic film? It has been over 50 years since Sergeant York was made and It is still a joy to watch. Gary Cooper is, well, Gary Cooper. A Hollywood Icon and arguably one of the best actors ever. He gives a memorable, true to life portrayal of this simple back woods man thrust into a situation seemingly beyond his ability to comprehend. Alvin York was not an educated man, not a worldly man and not a great student of philosophy. Armed only with his dog-eared Bible and his own beliefs of right and wrong he must somehow balance his religious faith, his patriotic duty and his duty to his comrades. The script is well written. The performances are superb. This movie has action and humor and a warmth that touches one and all. Sergeant York stands the test of time. Whatever your definition, this is a classic.
The authentic portrayal of mountain life, an honorable protagonist portrayed by a great actor in his finest role, hard decisions in the time of war mixed with a healthy dose of levity, not to mention an outstanding supporting cast are just a few of the reasons why this film has always been my favorite movie. I am aware that this was a WWII propaganda film but I'm just idealistic enough that I buy the whole package.
Gary Cooper turned in an incredible performance in this movie. Although I've
been familiar with his name for as long as I can remember, I was a little
unsure as to why he was so highly regarded as an actor. Now I know. Just
watch his face throughout this movie - he's incredibly expressive in
communicating York's confusion and emotions during the changes he goes
That said, it's somewhat unfortunate that the movie simplified York's life (eg. in reality, he was stuck with a hefty mortgage on that nice house). The lightning-bolt incident didn't happen, either. But these are minor complaints, as the movie stays true to the key events of York's amazing story.
"Sergeant York" is my favorite classic movie. Gary Cooper stars as Sergeant
Alvin York one of the most revered hero's in World War I. The movie takes
you through his life from the days when he was a lot less responsible. When
he drank a lot and had a short fuse, but ends when he become a hero of the
war. The black and white picture enhances the beautiful cinematography in
the film. Keep in mind most of the film revolves around his life before the
war and so you get to see a lot of the fantastic scenery.
Gary Cooper won himself a well deserved Oscar for the film, but there were some other fine performances in the film. Walter Brennan, the star of almost 200 other films, plays York's small town Pastor, Rosier Pile. Young Joan Leslie plays the part of Gracie Williams who later marries York. Then there is Ward Bond in one of his many films (Over 250 of them I believe). Now a little for the trivia books. Cooper was 41 when he made this film and Leslie was only 16, but this is fairly consistent with the true ages of York and Gracie when they were beginning their relationship. So the film tries to be very accurate and honest. You won't find that in a modern film.
If you have not seen "Sergeant York" then you have yet to see one of the most touching films of all time. It is as much an attention holder today as it was back in 1941 and makes an excellent Memorial Day film which is in fact the best time to try and catch it if you happen to have cable and some of those classic film channels.
I love this movie! It is a heartwarming story of a man coming to terms with entering a war right after he receives his new found pacifist ideas. It also shows how a mother's love is everlasting no matter how her child acts. We were required to watch this movie in a history class, and I admit I thought it was going to be dumb. I ended up being drawn into the story, so I recommended it to my family. I watch this movie any time I get a chance. My entire family ends up walking around using their backwood mountain accent for days after we watch the movie. If I could find it on DVD or video, I would definitely purchase this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When you hear it said that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction,
it's the story of "Sergeant York" that might have been the inspiration.
I'd been on the lookout for this film for some time when it appeared
today on Turner Classic Movies as part of a Veteran's Day tribute. I
tried to picture the real life hero Alvin York on the battlefield amid
enemy fire pulling off the ruse that led to the capture of one hundred
thirty two enemy soldiers, and all because a superior officer ordered
him to take charge. Perhaps he should have been ordered to win the war.
I would like to have seen the real Alvin York, he must have been quite the extraordinary person. Not in a celebrity fashion, but in a deep spiritual sense, to have integrated his pacifist background with a sense of loyalty and brotherhood with his fellow soldiers. I can think of no other man you would want more in your corner when the chips are down and it's a matter of life or death.
Gary Cooper's Best Actor Oscar was well deserved for his portrayal of Sergeant York. He's convincing throughout as he transforms York from a rabble rousing back woods country hick to a principled man of values and ideals. The scenes where he records his meager earnings in hopes of buying some fertile downland is nearly heartbreaking, made even more poignant when he later makes amends with the men who essentially betrayed him.
Cooper is backed up with a fine supporting cast, but I have to admit I wound up chuckling a time or two when Walter Brennan's pastor character appeared. For some reason, those bushy black eyebrows called to mind an image of Groucho Marx that I just couldn't shake. Margaret Wycherly brings a matriarch's knowing instincts to the part of Mother York, somehow knowing that her son would eventually get his own patch of land someday, even when her own husband's experience seemed to suggest otherwise.
It was somewhat surprising yet gratifying at the same time to learn that the real Alvin York shunned all attempts to cash in on his name and hero status in order to get back to his home and family responsibilities. When he finally relented to numerous requests to make a film of his war time achievements, he had only two conditions - that all of the proceeds go to religious charities, and that the actor to portray him would be Gary Cooper. I'd say he cut a square deal.
The worst war movies were made during the war, but the best ones too. This
seems to be a paradoxity but if we think a little bit about this statement
we find that this is obvious. If we compare the bad war films with the good
ones we find only one difference, but this difference is fundamental: the
matter of the actors. And Gary Cooper is a great actor. His personality
guarantees the standard high quality all over the movie. He plays a farmer
from Tennessee who wants to guarantee a comfortable life for himself and his
love (beautiful: Joan Leslie) but the United States declares war to Germany
and he has to enlist to the army. The first half of the movie is full of
eye-popping black-and-white sceneries and great, laughable characters and
situations. I love the character of George York (Alvin York's younger
brother, played by Dickie Gibson) the most. That scene is so cool where he
finds Alvin at the bar, which is settled on the border of Tennessee and
Kentucky, and forces his brother to go home. He has a big gun in his hands
for safety sake. These people are simple farmers, they live in peace and
harmony, don't care much about the rest of the world (they don't even heard
about the World War), they live by the rules of the Bible.
There is a great battle scene at the second half of the movie. Alvin realizes that the war is similar to the turkey hunting, kills lot of German soldiers and becomes a national hero and the most decorated American soldier of the WWI. This film is great because it's lack of unnecessary patriotism and heroism. It's about the duty we have to fulfill because there are situations in life when our personal happiness is less important than the freedom of others. Alvin C. York realizes this and goes to a war against a country which he has never heard of and protects people whom he has never met. That's why he is a great man. And when he fulfilled his duty he goes home to the well-earned peace and comfort. And when Gary Cooper fulfilled his duty and gave a superb performance as Alvin York, he got the well-earned Academy Award for the Best Actor.
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