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|Index||83 reviews in total|
Audiences loved this biopic about good 'ol boy Alvin York, fresh from
the hills of Tennessee, who entered World War I despite his pacifist
beliefs and then carried out an almost unbelievable act of bravery. It
probably helped that the film came out just as America was entering
WWII, and a message about someone devoting himself to God and country
was just the rallying cry needed.
Seen all these years later, the film is virtually intolerable. It's got the "Forrest Gump" factor. Gary Cooper plays York as such a simpleton that his bravery seems to come more from a general state of oblivion rather than courage. York and the movie spend most of their time reconciling a belief in the Bible and its pacifist teachings with the necessity of killing during wartime, and the countless sanctimonious speeches and aw-shucks American downhome-ness made me want to gag after a while.
Cooper won one of his two Oscars for this, and Walter Brennan and Margaret Wycherly were nominated for playing the town preacher and York's salt-of-the-earth mom, respectively.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Superb biography of Alvin York, a drunkard in old Tennessee, who
experiences a revelation and becomes a Lord fearing individual. His
religious beliefs are put to the test when he drafted into the army
with the outbreak of World War 1. He faces a moral dilemma with his
conscientious objector's beliefs, only to go to the military and become
quite a war hero at the Battle of the Argonne Forest.
No wonder that Gary Cooper received the best actor Oscar award for his genuine performance in totally capturing the spirit of Alvin York.
Though ably supported by a wonderful cast, Cooper is literally a one-man show here. Am very surprised that Walter Brennan and Margaret Wycherly received Oscar nominations here. Their performances were not Oscar-worthy and in the case of Brennan, Donald Crisp was far better in his winning performance of "How Green Was My Valley."
Otherwise, this is a superb film capturing the human spirit. As for Gary Cooper, aw shucks, he was never better.
Perhaps because my grandfather was born  in the same part of Tennessee as Alvin York I have always enjoyed this movie. As a boy I discovered a book in my grandfather's library about Alvin York and therefore I knew his story long before I saw the movie. Several years ago when I lived in California I bought the movie. However, I am now living in China and my copy of the movie is buried somewhere in storage. I recently enjoyed seeing this wonderful movie here in Beijing on TCM. I have also always enjoyed watching the performances of Gary Cooper. He must have had to spend many hours trying to sound like the movie makers must have thought Alvin York sounded like. I particularly enjoyed listening to the actress who played Ma York who sounded just like my grandmother. I also thought Joan Leslie was beautiful and I enjoyed her performance very much. I also enjoyed Walter Brennan, Harry Caray and Ward Bond. This is not a movie about a sophisticated man. I don't have a positive view of the sort of fundamentalist religion portrayed in this movie and hope that the real Alvin York later learned in his life what a load of crap "old time religion" really is. Neverthelesss, I very much enjoyed this movie and recommend it as a view of history many people have forgotten.
Oddly enough, it was while watching this movie I finally had to admit that
Gary Cooper was a poor actor. Cooper's Oscar for his role in Sergeant York
is proof that the Academy Members were as bad at picking Oscars in the 40's
as they are today. As is often the case, the Oscar here seems to have been
awarded for the ROLE and not the PERFORMANCE. And it is after all a very
Hollywood of course adjusted the facts. The bolt of lightning in particular is one of the worst fabrications ever seen in a biographical movie.
Otherwise, it is an often fun movie with some fine supporting performances.
Baffling, bizarre war flick, from some time and place completely devoid of
irony. There's a lot of laughs to be had from the hokey corn planted knee
deep throughout, but it never goes over the top.
Besides the wonderful first half, which sets up every hillbilly cliche in the book, the breathtaking propagandizing rationalization of "killing in the name of" is awe-inspiring. In making his decision to go to war, York's Bible is Providentially blown open to the passage "give unto God the things of God and give unto Caesar the things of Caesar." And indeed, we soon enough see Sgt. York rendering unto Caesar with a vengeance, with a cold stare and maniac grin. "Just like shootin' turkeys," York muses (in a weirdly looped in line) as he mows down more German soldiers in a key Hollywood backlot battle of WWI. Jesus'd be proud, son.
Alvin York (Gary Cooper) lives in a small farming community and doesn't
bother with things like going to church. He works hard and likes to
wind down by getting drunk and fighting. One day, after a talk with
Pastor Pile (Walter Brennan), he gets his hallelujah moment and becomes
religious. But what a time to discover God....he's needed to join the
army and go killing people. We see Alvin brooding over the matter
before he goes to war and becomes a hero. This is a true story.
This film is way too long and the first hour is boring and unnecessary. I'm afraid that Alvin's life is just not very interesting and the characters that live in his world are stupid and slow. A special mention for annoying goes to Margaret Wycherly who plays his mother. Every time she appears, we get this patronizingly wholesome and dull music accompanying her as she plays her part with a slowness and deliberation that will have you cringing. Unless you are a moron.
Gary Cooper is watchable, as always, but he is way too old for the part. It is completely unbelievable that he has a younger brother "George" as played by Dickie Moore who is so young. Walter Brennan is good as the preacher man despite his crazy eyebrows. Both these actors give the film a touch of humour here and there, eg, when they are discussing how to get out of the draft via immunity but the whole film is annoyingly underplayed by Cooper and he comes across as a simpleton. I understand that the war scenes did actually occur and that is to the real Sergeant York's credit. This needs to be understood before seeing the film or you will just dismiss his actions as Hollywood sensationalism as Cooper pretty much wins the war single-handedly.
The music for this film is terrible - imagine playing the dreary English National Anthem.....repeatedly.....on purpose. The guy in the music department was obviously mental. Despite having a dull, goody-two shoes script, the performance of Cooper keeps you watching and the name "Alvin York" now takes a new significance when it comes to famous "Alvins". To an Englishman, he's up there in the top 3, just ahead of Alvin and the Chipmunks but just behind Alvin Martin the West Ham defender, although he is still way behind the legendary 1970's singer Alvin Stardust (won't you be my "Coo Ca Choo").
SERGEANT YORK really hasn't aged too well as a film. The whole first
half with York's upbringing in a Tennessee family ruled by ma (MARGARET
WYCHERLY) is examined in too much detail. It's the hillbilly aspect of
all the rural scenes that is dominant in the first half of the movie
before WWI breaks out. These scenes are all a heavy-handed depiction of
the simple rural folk, although Cooper's sincerity as Alvin York is
But it's the second half of the film that really picks up steam, as the religious conscientious objector is drafted into the army and not quite willing to accept the idea that a soldier must be willing to kill. This half of the film is much more persuasive in the telling, with excellent performances from STANLEY RIDGES, GEORGE TOBIAS, David BRUCE and others in the large Warner stock company.
The highlight of the story are the scenes showing how York manages to capture and/or kill over a hundred German soldiers, becoming the nation's most honored war hero in the process.
JOAN LESLIE is a picture of youthful radiance as his childhood sweetheart but her accent is not always too credible. The other chief drawback is that too many of the scenes on York's farm look as though they were shot on a studio sound-stage with fake clouds adorning the low-key lighting for the sky. As good as the cinematography is, it can't hide the artificiality of the sets--too many of the outdoor scenes look as though they were filmed under controlled studio stage lighting.
So, in this respect, time hasn't been kind to SERGEANT YORK. But Cooper's performance is excellent and deserved the Best Actor Oscar. I found nothing special about Max Steiner's score, which is a surprise since he's usually dominating the proceedings with his vibrant themes.
More than anything, what I saw in "Sergeant York" is that competent
people ran WWI, as opposed to what we see today. But as for the movie
itself, no one can deny that Gary Cooper did quite an impressive job as
simple Alvin C. York, suddenly thrust into a situation against his
religious principles and ironically becoming one of the war's biggest
Still, I have to say that the religious stuff comes across as sort of silly; following a "sinful" streak, he found Jesus (how many people make that sort of claim?). Moreover, he claims that he knows certain things to be true because the Bible says so (so everything started with Adam and Eve, and humans didn't evolve from apes?). I guess that at this point in time, we were trying to get out of the Depression by imagining the whole country as a bunch of ultra-nice small town folk. But in response to "Give me that old-time religion", I say "Give me that Einstein-level science, Hollywood-style depravity, and full-scale world knowledge".
As for the pro-war aspect, it fits into the USA's impending entry into WWII. I try to wonder what Alvin York would think about things were he alive today. Overall, I recommend the movie. At the very least, it remains an indelible part of cinema history. Also starring Joan Leslie and Walter Brennan.
Oh, and the links to "Bewitched"? Playing Pusher is George Tobias, better known as clueless old Abner Kravitz. Gary Cooper later starred in "The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell" (also about a WWI hero), co-starring Elizabeth Montgomery. Finally, "Jeopardy!" once had a category called "Sargent/York", in reference to Dick York and Dick Sargent.
That says it all. I must have seen this movie when I was very young. I can remember playing the game WAR during recess at play-school with the other kids. After growing up I almost joined the Marines once I finished High School. Thank goodness I didn't do that. I just watched this last night on AMC and was blown away at the unbelievable amount of complete brainwashing represented in this film. The decision to fight for God & Country. The fact that this movie was released in the summer/fall of 1941 and the fact the Roosevelt knew that the US was headed into war despite what the country was being told made this movie a complete wash for me. There should be a 0 rating available for movies like this.
unlike Casablanca and King Kong and the Wizard of Oz, Sergeant York has simply not withstood the test of time. Cinematically, the film is average at best and carries no replay value whatsoever. The extreme level of patriotism injected into the storyline almost guarantees that lame clichés are coming around every corner. And who cares about the man's bleak existence in backwoods Tennessee?!?! Sure, I love a good biopic (Capote, Chariots of Fire, Michael Collins...) but there has to be SOME drama or suspense or black comedy somewhere in the plot. Instead, we get a stiff Gary Cooper and a bunch of sugarcoated G-rated bull crap. I'll give it a 6/10 because that last scene where York snipes a billion Germans is okay, but the rest of this project gets a 4. Not recommended viewing for people who like to stay awake while watching TV
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