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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was intended as WW2 propaganda, and director Hawks supposedly didn't give two hoots about it, yet SERGEANT YORK is certainly a well-crafted and meaningful film, a classic of American film-making. Gary Cooper gives one of his best performance as York, and the supporting cast is also terrific. I challenge the statement that Hawks couldn't care less about this film. Yes, it doesn't fit into the Hawks cannon (as any auteur theorist would say), but it is so well-made that I think Hawks must have felt something about it. His great feat as a director is to make York's simple, "backwoods" life just as compelling as his career as a soldier.
This movie is a beautiful celebration of sense of duty, Homeland's loyalty and respect for life. The main scene (the one in which York ruminates on the Holy Bible) should be seen by all the new young generations and never forget. Sergeant York is naturally a propaganda movie produced to support the war effort of the World War II, showing to all the Americans a true hero that fights for his country and for freedom but never forgets his Christian values. Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan and all the other principal actors give a deep interpretation of their characters. The superstitious act of touching with the thumb the gun sight is one of the most famous movie's icons.
I was 9 when I saw Sergeant York on the big screen and was so filled with patriotic pride when I saw that huge line of German prisoners coming over the hill, incredibly, captured by one man, Alvin York. His reluctance to go to war and his commitment once he had to is perfectly portrayed by Gary Cooper. His desire to just go home and not cash in on his wartime exploits is heartwarmingly so American. And when he sees the home built for him by the state with his 16-year-old sweetheart (Joan Leslie was actually 16 too) the handkerchiefs came out. What a lump-in-the-throat ending. Tragic that two months after the film was premiered war started all over again.
This movie was made in 1941. The US had not entered WWII yet, and until
Pearl Harbor in December 1941, a lot of people still remembered WWI.
Unlike today, Hollywood was at the head of the line churning out
pro-war propaganda. It was aided by British private and public funding,
as well as private American money. What's surprising about this movie
is that despite the story behind how and why this movie was made, this
is a great film. For those who want a lot of action, it may disappoint.
My favorite part of the movie is the beginning, showing how York turned
from rascal, to Sunday school pacifist and how he reacted to the draft.
I came of age during the Viet-Nam draft, and I know from personal
experience of the angst that causes. This inner struggle between the
moral questions about being a soldier when it goes against your
personal beliefs was a struggle that millions of young men have to face
every time your country goes to war.
The best part of the movie, and probably why Gary Cooper won the Academy award is his depiction of this inner struggle. That's the part of the story that the public didn't know. York's combat record was real and had to part of the story. Without the story of how he became a soldier, this would have been a run of the mill movie.
Despite some of the negative remarks about the cast; this film has a great supporting cast, including some who won Oscars themselves. The screen play allegedly was based on York's diary, with the usual liberal interpretations. What is surprising is that it seems like a committee wrote what ended up being a good yarn. The only thing that bothers me about this movie was when York "wetted" his sights. I don't believe York ever did that in real life, and basic training would have ended that practice.
This movie just reinforces the spirit of patriotism that has gripped this country. It should be re-released on DVD. It is very hard to find it, even as a rental. I think this is one of the best movies ever made. The message is one of patriotism, morality, and true soul-searching to determine what is the RIGHT thing to do. This is an exercise everyone would do well to implement.
If you allow for the era, Sgt. York stands the test of time. Way better than any John Wayne war movie. Another example of the film-making skills of Howard Hawks. It was one of the first war films to address difficult issues such how a pacifist can reconcile his religious beliefs with serving his country. Even though sentiment was running against Germany, this movie couldn't have been a propaganda flick because we wouldn't get into the war until the very end of 1941, and only because Germany declared war on the United States.
First of all, who are some of these people? Joan Leslie too old???? She
looks young enough to be Coop's daughter (the first of a few onscreen
paramours to be a little mismatched agewise for Cooper) and, according to
someone else on these boards was the same age as her character,
But enough of that, while I'm not nearly as cynical about it as Lemmy Caution, this film brings up more questions than it answers. Howard Hawks was quoted as saying that he saw the film as something of a tragedy, since York gave up his fondest beliefs -- but the film doesn't really seem to see things that way. There's an odd mixture of bloodthirsty humor mixed with what seems to me lipservice to the idea of nonviolence -- but of course it's only nonviolence in a world that has moved beyond violence, i.e., when it's convenient, which means never. Not quite Gandhi's idea of the concept.
As a bit of a lefty peacenik, though not a pacifist, myself, I'm bothered by the way this film, like many of the prewar propanda films designed to get reluctants to consider fighting the Axis powers, confabulates World War I with the war that was about to explode across Europe. I'm one of those who argue against pacifists that WWII could not be avoided, that Hitler and the other powers had to be fought to prevent what undoubtedly would have been the greatest calamity in the history of mankind. World War I was another story completely -- a cynical maneuver bereft of heroes or morality on any side, which resulted in untold deaths and through the vindictive treaty of Versailles essentially "created" Hitler.
Still, that's hindsight and it's easy to get high and mighty about all this. As I said, more questions than answers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Smoothly directed by Howard Hawks along Hollywood lines, the film is
the biography -- or maybe "biography" -- of Alvin York, a hillbilly who
engineered the survival of his unit and the capture of a massive number
of Germans, winning the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Historically it serves as an inoculation, giving the American audience of early 1941 just a touch of what it's like for the country to be at war, so that we can all get used to the idea.
The country was full of isolationists at the time, Lucky Lindbergh, an American hero, among them. Few people wanted to "pull England's chestnuts out of the fire" again in 1941. Besides, while war waged in Europe, where it had been going on for a couple of years, American business was doing rather well in producing weapons. They'd pulled that off for a full three years during World War I.
But many people, including President Roosevelt, saw war as ultimately inevitable and it looks like the Warner Brothers did too. This film reminded us that, although war may be hell, we win in the end, as usual.
But it's not a stupid movie by any means. The conflict between living peacefully and making war is presented starkly. Gary Cooper, as York, shows us a man who can be either dissolute and bitter or dedicated and honorable. (He's born again when lightning strikes his rifle and mule in Tennessee.) He's a conscientious objector who does everything possible to avoid the draft because killing is against his religion. The Army gives him an American history book and sends him back home to think things over. He jest studies hisself right up to the dead edge of yonder. Then a breeze ruffles the pages of his Bible and opens it to, "Render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's, and unto God those things that are God's." Bingo. He goes to war, excels with the Springfield '03 "rifle gun", and avenges the deaths of his friends by daring and marksmanship -- played partly for laughs, although the shootings would be funny most to boys under the age of fourteen. His behavior under fire and the capture of that horde of Germans is historically accurate though, and it was an astounding feat.
Back home they offer Cooper all kinds of rewards for endorsing products that will cure jock itch, dandruff, hangnails, or whatever, but he refuses to sell his name because he is not proud of the killing he did in France. He prefers to settle down quietly as a farmer in the hills with his family. This is also accurate. The guy must have been a demon of virtues. Joan Leslie provides the requisite love interest but I ain't so sartain she war necessary to thet there a-plot. He winds up happily with his sweetheart in a cottage covered with flowers and surrounded by a white picket fence in the idyllic hills, the kind of place that only exists in fantasies.
It's a rather long movie, and some parts are a little sketchy, especially those dealing with his initial introduction to the Army. But it doesn't drag. Hawks evokes the poverty of the Upland South in the early years of the last century without seeming to strain while doing so. Cooper's disappointment when his Herculean efforts to acquire bottom land fail is almost palpable. Cooper's varying moods are helped along by Max Steiner's sprightly song, which dips into a minor key while we witness misery on the screen.
Given its theme, its obviously pedantic intent, it ought to be dated and boring but it's not. It's a pretty good job.
Great WW1 drama.
The story of the making of an American military legend. A quiet, unassuming man becomes a hero on the battlefields of World War 1.
My first reaction was that the plot was a bit far-fetched, then I discovered that it was a true story! Pretty amazing stuff.
Takes a while to get going though, and the dialogue can be irritatingly folksy, and these detract from what is otherwise a good movie. Once it gets going though, it is well worth the watch.
Gary Cooper gives a superb performance in the lead role, well deserving his Best Actor Oscar. I actually can't imagine anyone else in the role, it is so perfect for him.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sergeant York is a true story based on the life and times of a simple Tennessee farmer with an affinity for hard work, whiskey and a natural ability to shoot a gun. Alvin C York played by Gary Cooper is the town hell raiser who works like a dog to support his mom, Mother York played by Margaret Wycherly and two siblings while spending his weekends drinking and fighting at the local watering hole that sits on the Tennessee and Kentucky state line due to the fact that one was a dry state and you had to walk across the bar to get a bottle. . Alvin is a poor farmer by trade making his meager living by farming the top land, which is poor in comparison the nutrient rich and more fertile bottom land. This is a film depicting a man's greatest struggle, doing what's right and what you believe in or not. Alvin is for the most part a violent alcoholic with tendencies for violence. This all starts to change when he runs across Gracie Williams played By Joan Leslie while chasing a red fox. Alvin spends his every waking moment in pursuit of the money to by his land. With the deadline coming due he concocts a plan to win the turkey shoot and also win the "Beef Critter" which he does in the end only to have the land sold out from under him to Nate Thompkins Played by Erville Alderson. Flying into a murderous rage he heads to the Bar, where he utters his last truly hateful words "I'm a drinkin agin Nate Thompkins". Leaving the bar he is struck by lightning and he has an epiphany and turns his life completely around. With the onset of WWI and the draft, Alvin files for Conscience Objector status only to be turned down and sent to boot camp. He faces dilemma after dilemma whether it be from the Drill instructors giving him grief or his fellow soldiers razzing him for being so backward. He pursues his religious objections while serving, but with a lot of soul searching and reading the book given to him by the major. He comes to the realization sometimes the right things don't seem right at first. You could give something of a comparison between Alvin C. York and Audie Murphy. They are two great American Hero's from two different World Wars. They were both from poor backgrounds in the south and came out of their respective wars as highly decorated Hero's. Two items that stand out are the lighting and the dialogue. The lighting in this movie really sets apart the roles and moods that each character is portraying at the time whether it's the over illumination of Gracie's face the first time she see Alvin or the dark shadows that seem to roll across his face as he is charging the machine gunners in the trenches. I feel the dialogue was very fluidic in the movie, going between the different characters was seamless it did not seem forced or uneasy. Once Alvin turned his life around in the movie he saw that the fruits of his labors and struggles had come to light, he survived by doing what had to be done in order to protect his soldier whatever the cost. He finally got the girl and with the help of the great state of Tennessee he got his bottom land.
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