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Gary Cooper (the real Sergeant York's choice) is "Sergeant York" in
this classic 1941 Howard Hawks film, also starring Walter Brennan,
George Tobias, Joan Leslie, Margaret Wycherly, Ward Bond, and Noah
The real York, as in the film, wasn't a man who used his fame for money. He agreed to this film because of his concerns over the war in Europe. (When America entered the war, he tried to enlist but was denied because of his age.) This is a story about patriotism and spirituality after all.
The film depicts York as a drunken slob who lived in Tennessee and got into a lot of fights, and that's just who he was. In real life, a friend's death shook him up and caused him to embrace religion, as his mother had wanted him to do. It's a little more dramatic in the film, and one of the best scenes in the movie. When it comes time to register for the draft, York planned on being a conscientious objector. However, his religious sect was deemed ineligible. In the movie, his expertise with a shotgun is discovered during training, and he's given time to go home and think about whether or not he wants to be a conscientious objector (in real life, it was just denied). He finds his answer in the Bible, and comes back to fight.
The film is done in an old-fashioned way - big, dramatic music, hokey accents and lots of "I reckons," but it touches the heart in a very profound way.
Gary Cooper gives a noble performance as a simple man with simple goals who becomes a hero by being fearless and drawing on what he learned living in the country. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, right down to June Lockhart and Dickie Moore, who play York's siblings. York actually came from a family of 11 children, and he and his wife Gracie, whom Leslie plays, had seven.
A very stirring, beautiful film, a true no-miss.
This was one solid- as well as an enjoyable war movie, made during WW
II but about WW I.
The movie is obviously a patriotic one with its themes, and it got made at the time of WW II to support the American war effort and to boost morals of the soldiers. Actor Gary Cooper considered his part in this movie as his contribution to the war cause. But it's not all too bad. Because the story is such a fine one and it got told so nicely in the movie you sort of tend to forget the movie its patriotic motivations. The movie is simply to good for that!
Luckily the movie isn't a too heavy one to watch. The movie never forgets about its entertainment value and the movie even features some real comical moments and characters in it. It doesn't mean that this entire movie is not one to take too seriously but it helps to make the movie are more light and better watchable movie to view.
Especially the first halve of the movie can be seen as entertainment. You can actually wonder if the movie doesn't concentrate too much on Alvin Cullum York's pre-war life and not enough on the actual WW I moments. The war moments toward the end of the movie progress rapidly and it basically only shows York's heroics, for which he got acclaimed so much. For the movie is based on a real life war hero, for which he even received the congressional medal of honor. The movie perhaps, for its understandable reasons, only mainly show the 'good' sides of war and what it means to be a hero to your family and men. You could say that the movie is a bit a pro-war one and is also the reason why this movie sometimes gets criticized by some.
But well, simple fact is that I enjoyed watching this movie, which was thanks to its real great story. No doubt a lot of it differs from the truth but as long as it's done to make a movie and its story work out better I never have any objections to it. After all, if you truly want fact and history you should watch the Discovery Channel, or read a book.
The movie got professionally and effectively directed by Howard Hawks. He always keep the story interesting and going. He picked the right approach for it and provided the movie with a nice pleasant atmosphere, despite its serious subject.
This is the movie that won Gary Cooper his very first Oscar. He plays a good role that is more consistent with Cooper's earlier more light and comical movie roles. Also the supporting cast within this movie was real fine. Joan Leslie was only 16 at the time of this movie but she already plays a young woman very convincingly. No big surprises, since she had also already worked on many big classic movie production before prior to shooting this movie.
The movie got nominated for a total of 11 Oscars, including best director and best picture of the year but it only won in 2 categories. But that's no great shame when you're nominated in the same year as "Citizen Kane" and "The Maltese Falcon" for instance.
A real great- and fine made movie to watch, even after all those years and despite its flaws.
Of course behind the blatant war propaganda and shameless
just-converted preacher's talk, in the end, what the producers wanted
was making money.
Hence the hodge-podge of other things they throw into their concoction: romance, a strong-minded matriarch (but not even close to Ma Joad from "The Grapes of Wrath") rivalry, et al - which made them end up with a movie which might as well have been two or three different ones (talk about bad editing!)and, as I mentioned on the title, it ends up not achieving one of them skillfully enough to be taken seriously.
After all, I dare even the most hard-core fan/advocate of this movie not to admit even they were wondering by the end of its second third, whether they were watching the right movie or not or when the war bit was actually going to start and how! The question "When is the sergeant finally taking over?" was constantly at the back of my mind by then.
To mention a few flaws, and as much as I am a huge fan of, say Screwball comedy and the odd romance threw in, and still a great admirer of Hawks's, I fail to understand how on earth it could amass so many academy awards in spite of the gigantic competition that year (Citizen Kane et al).
Maybe Gary Cooper, as usual, deserved his statuette in the end, as the truly convincing redneck simpleton who always goes about life with a naive look on his face (Mr. Deeds, anyone?).
Also (and this is still the huge Howard Hawks fan speaking) the director/writers were just trying to be faithful to the book. As I can't vouch for it simply because I didn't read it, I'll have to quote someone else's review when they say this was a blatant case of an autobiography in which the author seemed to give more emphasis to promoting his deeds and achievements than actually worrying about whether his book would be a pleasant read or not. I very much doubt that Rambo-like scene actually happened that way! As far as my weak war tactics knowledge go, they threw it all through the window in that particular scene!
But the film editing award!? Come on! Does the war effort really put people so out of their minds!? Do they suddenly start awarding people for simply saying what they want the population to hear and ignoring the great minds who don't comply to all that brain washing!?
Finally, making war look like a turkey shooting (and fun!) wasn't IMHO a wise move.
After watching this faux-pas I'm in desperate need of watching more sober films such as "Citizen Kane"; "All Quiet in The Western Front" for what a real WWI movie should look like, or even Hawks's sublime Screwball masterpiece "Bringing Up Baby" for laughs only, not an all-in- one concoction of a movie!
PS: For Christ's sake, sharpshooters are meant to do just that in the trenches, not just chatting about between ducking here and there!
Biography of WWI hero won Cooper his first Oscar although the limited actor played essentially the same role in all his movies. The scene where York instantly finds religion is over-the-top. Hawks usually displayed better judgment. The early parts of the film are the best. After York discovers the good book, the film becomes less interesting and goes on a bit too long. Brennan, who won an Oscar the previous year for "The Westerner" with Cooper, is good as a pastor and Wycherly, with her bug eyes, is an interesting presence as York's mother. Leslie provides the love interest, as she did with Bogart in "High Sierra" the same year.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tensions in Europe in the middle 1930's were a pretty good indication
that a terrible spectre of another great conflict, another "War to end
all Wars," was perched above the World, ready to spring. Using
hindsight, we can see how the declaration of 'good intentions' does
indeed, provide pavement of the road to Hell.
The actual start of World War II is September 1, 1939*. On that date, Nazi Germany invaded its eastern neighbor, Poland; delivering the first application of "Blitz Kreig" or "Lightening War". As if things weren't bad enough for the beleaguered Polish People, they were then attacked from the East at the behest of The "Mad Georgian" himself, Soviet Dictator, Joseph Stalin.** Anyay, the United States stayed neutral in this conflict until over two years later, when on December 7, 1941, our country was attacked by the Naval and Air Forces of Imperial Japan. All of these dates are important to any student of History, but they meant little in Hollywood. Allow me to explain.
Whereas to Our World and its History, such dates as those previously mentioned,are very important. We must know just when this or that happened and just how these events affect us to this very day.
Well no matter what the situation in the 'Real World', it did not count in Hollywood. Warner Brothers in particular, seemed to be decidedly 'Hawkish' to the idea of a Second World War and Uncle Sam's getting involved in same.
Studio Chief, Jack Warner seemed to have declared war as early as 1938 around the time of the "Anshluz" or the "Union" of independent Austria with the German Third Reich. One only need examine some of the Motion Picture output from Warners during this early time to support these assertions.
Take the ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD(1938) as an example. "What does Errol Flynn as the rebellious Baron of Locksley/Duke of Huntington have to do with World War II ?", I hear you ask. Well nothing directly, but consider this. This was portrayal of troubles in the 'Merry Old England' of the 10th Century, which are caused by a conflict's occurring in the Holy Land. That is of course just a tad outside of the Continental Lands of Europe. See the similarity?
How about THE SEA HAWK(1940), which has poor old, dear mother England in the person of Queen Elizabeth I(Flora Robson),daughter of Henry VIII, facing off against a powerful, despotic Ruler of Continental Europe in Spain's King Phillip II(Montague Love). His desires to conquer all of Europe by first destroying the English people by using of his "Armada", a highly equipped and heavily armed fleet of new, big warships.
The defense of the British Isles was provided by many of the "Sea Hawks",Led by Captain Thorpe(Errol Flynn,himself!). The Sea Hawks were basically Pirates who were now doing their plunder in the name of their Queen. So, the message to one's subconscious reads "Civilian Volunteers"! (See also "Privateers".)
And as our date with destiny in Dec.,'41 drew closer, we saw some more 'modern' War Pictures from Warner Brothers, still prior to official U.S. involvement. In those days Warners' Productions of THE FIGHTING 69th(1940) and SERGEANT YORK(1941) were prime examples of a less subtle lobbying America for our commitment to the Allied Cause. The former is a fictionalized account of the old 69th New York Regiment's service in General John "Black Jack" Pershing's Rainbow Division of the AEF(American Expeditionary Force)in France in 1917-18.
The latter, SERGEANT YORK(1941) was a Biopic which told the story of a simple, man of the Hills of Tennessee, who in spite of Pacifist Beliefs, rises up to the occasion of battle in the Argone Forest in October of 1918, did such unbelievable acts of Heroism that defy belief.(like the single handed capture of first 20 German Soldiers and the again solo, 112 of the enemy!)**
As for the movie of SERGEANT YORK, it is both informative and exciting. The story keeps one on the edge of his seat, both with the pre-Army scenes and the in-uniform parts of the story. From the troubles encountered in basic training with the training Sergeant(Joe Sawyer, of course!)to the baptism of fire in the trenches.
Among the most satisfying parts of this story to me is that it is basically true. And in addition to the War scenes with unbelievable valor, in the end, Sgt. Alvin York stuck to his belief in himself. He was enticed with all sorts of financial offers to endorse different products, and even had offers to appear in film. All Alvin York did was return to rural Tennesee, to the farm that the citizen's of 'the Volunteer State' gave to him as a present. He always maintained that his Army Uniform and War Record were not for sale.
What a ballsy guy! And what fine film is this SERGEANT YORK! Why not go out and rent it. Or better yet, buy a copy for your household!
* The German-Soviet (secret)Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 made Hitler & Stalin partners in butchering up Poland.
** Yes, this charmer was not Russian. He was born in Georgia with the name Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. He took "Stalin" as a last name, not because it fit more easily on a Marquis, but because it meant "Man of Steel", kinda like "Hard Guy".
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.
To truly appreciate this film one must have an understanding of the period in which the film was made and of the events depicted in the movie itself. That being said, let me say that I find the film worthy of its acclaim and a true Hollywood classic.
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.
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