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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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I'm a patriotic American............but this tripe with it's phony hillbilly accents and contrived plots is about as bad as it gets. The only saving grace in this farce are the battle scenes with fine acting by Joe Sawer as the Sergeant, Stanley Ridges as the major and Carl Esmond as the German major Ah hair an you haint... oh brother!
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