Alvin Cullom York (1887-1964), a modest American and Christian hero of World War I, is the subject of this biographical picture which goes beyond the mere telling of the tale how he won all the medals he did for bravery during the Meuse Argonne Offensive. It's the inner struggle of a man whose pacifist Christian beliefs came into conflict with his patriotism. It's the heart and soul of this film, beautifully crafted by director Howard Hawks.The real Sergeant York eschewed all money making ventures that would have capitalized on his heroics in World War I and had resisted giving the rights to his story to Hollywood. He relented because in 1941 he became concerned with the danger fascism posed for the world and advocated preparedness. Part of what brought him out was the speechmaking of that other American hero Charles A. Lindbergh who was an appeasement advocate. York even called the shots on who was to play him. So Jack Warner made a call to Adolph Zukor over at Paramount and probably paid one hefty sum for Gary Cooper's services. It was worth every penny of it as Cooper got his first Oscar for Best Actor.Alvin York is a poor farmer supporting a widowed mother and a brother and sister. And he likes to cut loose every so often with a jug and a rifle. But he gets converted and gets involved in Walter Brennan's church which is a strict fundamentalist sort with pacifist tenets. When America gets into World War I, his very soul is tormented by the tenets of his church and the volunteer tradition of his state. Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State and that nickname is no lie. It bothers him more than other men because as Pastor Walter Brennan tells him he's "got the using kind of religion."These people may be fundamentalists and somewhat backward, but they're not phonies. No high hog living preachers here, just simple people trying to get through life the best they can. Howard Hawks did a masterful job in casting this film with some actors very used to playing rustics. Ward Bond, Noah Beery, Jr. Howard DaSilva, Clem Bevans and most of all Walter Brennan as Pastor Rosier Pyle, tripling as preacher, postmaster, and owner of the general store. Brennan got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but since he'd already won three of them, the Academy voters gave Donald Crisp a break that year for How Green Was My Valley.The York family is played by Margaret Wycherly, June Lockhart and Dickie Moore as mother, brother, and sister. Wycherly is one you'll remember also. Hard to believe this is the same woman who is also James Cagney's Ma in White Heat. Come to think of it, maybe not, Ma York and Ma Jarrett are both tough survivors.As for the action that won him decorations from all the Allied powers including the Congressional Medal of Honor, you'll just have to see the film for that. But while some liberties are taken with York's pre-war story, what happened in the Argonne is actually what happened.We could use a whole lot more Sergeant Yorks, those with the using kind of religion.
How does one define a classic film? It has been over 50 years since Sergeant York was made and It is still a joy to watch. Gary Cooper is, well, Gary Cooper. A Hollywood Icon and arguably one of the best actors ever. He gives a memorable, true to life portrayal of this simple back woods man thrust into a situation seemingly beyond his ability to comprehend. Alvin York was not an educated man, not a worldly man and not a great student of philosophy. Armed only with his dog-eared Bible and his own beliefs of right and wrong he must somehow balance his religious faith, his patriotic duty and his duty to his comrades. The script is well written. The performances are superb. This movie has action and humor and a warmth that touches one and all. Sergeant York stands the test of time. Whatever your definition, this is a classic.
Heartfelt, involving saga of Tennessee's WWI hero Sgt. York. The first half of the story, almost a movie in itself, shows York in his native valley as he tries to get a nice plot of "bottom land", finds God, and learns that killing is wrong. In the second, York trains to become a soldier and decides that it's OK to die, or even kill, to preserve his freedom. Cooper carries the film's weight with conviction, painting the figure of a likeable, naive but intelligent, American hero. Hawks weaves the story's many threads together believably and with good humor.
Perhaps when this comes out on DVD later in the year (2006), I'll enjoy this as I did when I first saw it on tape. Subsequent VHS viewings were nowhere as appealing at that first look, unfortunately. As most people know, this is the story of World War I hero Alvin York, who went from drunken good-for-nothing to solid Christian man and war hero.Gary Cooper certainly was a great choice for the role. Few people in his era were better at playing modest, soft-spoken-but-manly heroes like "Coop." When "York" makes no apology for his 100 percent belief in the Bible, no one challenges him because he's earned the respect from all, believers and non- believers. Cooper's status as an actor helps make that all the more "believable." Sgt. York also gives one of the best examples of forgiveness I've ever seen on film.Another nice feature of this movie is seeing Joan Leslie in the female lead. She was one of the most pretty and wholesome-looking ladies of her day. She's always a treat to see. Walter Brennan also is interesting, as usual, and in here plays a minister, which also was a surprise.Much of this film was a surprise because I'm just not used to seeing on film things like true forgiveness, the hero citing Scripture, military officers shown in a compassionate light (letting York, with his pacifistic views, decide what he anted to do) etc. What a shame so few films in the last 50 years have had similar values.
Gary Cooper turned in an incredible performance in this movie. Although I've been familiar with his name for as long as I can remember, I was a little unsure as to why he was so highly regarded as an actor. Now I know. Just watch his face throughout this movie - he's incredibly expressive in communicating York's confusion and emotions during the changes he goes through.That said, it's somewhat unfortunate that the movie simplified York's life (eg. in reality, he was stuck with a hefty mortgage on that nice house). The lightning-bolt incident didn't happen, either. But these are minor complaints, as the movie stays true to the key events of York's amazing story.