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Drunken hillbilly Gary Cooper (as Alvin C. York) is the sharpest
shooter in his Tennessee town, but he doesn't want to fight, after
World War I breaks out. With bushy-eyebrowed parson Walter Brennan (as
Rosier Pile) as a sponsor, Mr. Cooper seeks to become a "conscientious
objector". Older man Cooper has a hankerin' for nubile young Joan
Leslie (as Gracie Williams); he wants to buy some land and settle down
with her, but is drafted. In the United States Army, a sobered and
saved Cooper is reluctant to kill nasty Germans, due to his strong
Christian beliefs. Can "Uncle Sam" make Cooper a real warrior?
Proximity resulted in this film being elevated far above its ration. When Cooper and his hound dog go to a mountaintop, God helps him reconcile Christianity and killing. At least, Cooper's performance is earnest. Staid Margaret Wycherly (as Mother York), Dickie Moore (as George York), and June Lockhart (as Rosie York) keep the home fires burning. She has relatively little to do, but lovely Ms. Lockhart essays the film's most natural performance. Expressive George Tobias (as Pusher Ross), later "Abner Kravitz " on TV's "Bewitched", provides "comic relief" during wartime.
***** Sergeant York (7/2/41) Howard Hawks ~ Gary Cooper, Joan Leslie, Walter Brennan, Margaret Wycherly
The lives of folks in the back-hills of Tennessee are authentically portrayed in perhaps Hollywood's best-ever war movie. Rich in patriotism, religion, morality --- all the things that made America great --- the story concentrates mostly on Sergeant York as a young man and gives viewers an idea how the South has provided the backbone of US military, and not a trace of Hollywood's usual hatred for all things Southern. Rarely seen today, this 1941 film circulated in theaters for years. Too bad these days young audiences never receive reinforcement of traditional American values but instead are fed tripe such as Pearl Harbor --- which justified the Japanese attack on America within the first 60 seconds of the film; or Saving Private Ryan --- wherein the Veterans of D-Day and the Normandy Invasion were trashed by Steven Spielberg, a man who would not recognize patriotism or moral backbone if he tripped over it on his way to the toy store. Please do seek this out at video specialty outlets or eBay. Watching it might just make your day.
Gary Cooper and an otherwise undistinguished cast take a simple plot
(based on a real-life character) and imbue it with enough charm, humor
and mild drama to be well worth the watch. Die-hard fans of war films
might be disappointed if they're expecting a lot of shooting and
bombing, as the film doesn't enter the war until about 90 minutes is
gone, and the war action is sparse, but this doesn't detract from its
Cooper isn't at his best in this film (I imagine it's hard to give much depth to such a simple role), but he definitely stamps it with his trademark integrity, determination and old-school approach to life. The film does drag in spots; some aggressive editing could have reduced this to two hours and improved the more tedious scenes, but overall this is a fine project and very well deserving of the three stars it received.
Story about an ordinary man who did extraordinary action in
extraordinary times of war. Alvin York (Gary Cooper) was a hillbilly
from Tennessee who was a moral objector of war. But when he engaged the
Germans in WWI, he succeeded in capturing 132 men on his sharp shooting
First 2/3 of the movie is rather slow, and all the actions are concentrated in the last part of the movie. The beginning part tells the story of York's up bringing, or lack of it as not so disciplined young man. But his heart is righteous, and during the battle of Argonne, he single handedly took down the entire German machine gun positions with his marksmanship. Maybe they could have shortened the movie a bit and it would have had a better focus. I'm sure the movie is a highly stylized version of Sgt. York's career to help the war effort during WWII.
It's a mediocre movie by today's standard, but a good story none the less. Joan Leslie who played York's love interest looked like American version of Brigitte Bardot, and was stunning in her role. Gary Cooper was his usual self, as the reliable front man.
*** 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.
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.
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.
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.
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").
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