SERGEANT YORK (1941)
Gary Cooper's career-making star-turn as Alvin York, an Appalachian pacifist drafted into World War I, earned him the first of the two Best-Actor Oscars that graced his long career. In Howard Hawks' acclaimed war drama, Sgt. York single-handedly seizes an enemy platoon in the heat of battle, becoming a national hero. Based on the story of a real-life war hero, Sergeant York was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.
The cast includes: Gary
Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Stanley Ridges, Margaret Wycherly, Ward Bond,
Dickie Moore, June Lockhart, Charles Trowbridge, Harvey Stephens, David
Bruce, and Noah Beery Jr.
Nominated for Best Picture and Best Director for Howard Hawks. Cooper won his first Best
Actor Oscar and Walter Brennan received a Best Supporting Actor
nomination for Sergeant York.
Howard Hawks' "Sergeant York"
explores the life and times of Alvin York, and tells the true experiences
of this WWI war hero, who was a God-centered, Bible-living farmer
from Tennessee, drafted into the army. Despite his pacifist feelings,
he rises to the occasion to capture a whole German division, holding
his unit's position, and saving lives.
This 1941 classic film starts off by showing the audience York's close-knit,
faith-based Tennessee country community, which is located in the old
stomping grounds of Davie Crockett, and by exploring how Alvin became
who he was before he was drafted. We see that Alvin York (Gary Cooper)
was a poor farmer, trying to eke out a living by plowing and planting
a rocky, poor-soiled hillside farm to support his widowed mother,
Mother York (Margaret Wycherly), his brother, George (Dickie Moore)
and his sister, Rosie (June Lockhart). To blow off his frustration,
he would sometimes drink too much on the weekend, and sometimes disturb
the evening church meetings, shooting up the trees around the church
with his friends.
Then, Alvin falls head over heels for the pretty Gracie Williams (Joan
Leslie) a daughter of a bottomland farmer, after rudely chasing away
her other suitor, Zeek (Clem Bevans). Alvin decides to try to scrape
together enough money to buy a rich-soiled bottomland farm, so he
could offer Gracie a life she was accustomed to, as his wife. The
land owner selling this coveted plot of land gives Alvin a month to
come up with the money. So Alvin, along with his regular farm chores,
does a bunch of various, back-breaking jobs, often working into the
night, in order to earn some cash.
To win the rest of the money, he enters the area shooting contest,
and puts his unique gift of marksmanship to good use, winning both
sections. When he goes to buy the land a few days past the due date,
the owner had already sold it to Zeek, who bought the land just to
spite Alvin. Alvin York goes to the local mountain bar, drinks a lot
of booze, and decides to go and kill his foe. On the way down the
mountain trail, in the middle of a storm, Alvin meets his God, in
the form a lightening bolt, which melts his gun, and throws him from
his mule. From that moment on, Alvin becomes a transformed man of
faith, apologizing to Zeek for his former behavior, and wiping out
the bad feelings between them. Under the leadership of the Pastor
Rosier Pile (Walter Brennan) Alvin starts living his life according
to Biblical teachings, growing his faith in God and His word.
Despite petitioning the draft board, he was denied exemption from
service because of his religious beliefs. Thus, he enters the army
with a conscientious objector label on his record, which causes some
trouble for him. However, the officers are willing to forget about
his conscientious objector status, when York's expert marksmanship
is exhibited on the shooting range, much to the utter amazement of
his critical superior officer. But is Alvin willing to drop it? The
film then explores how one man who is against killing reconciles his
religious beliefs with serving his country in a war.
The film transports the audience to a foxhole in France. Now a corporal,
Alvin and his unit are ordered to take a German position, defended
by machine guns, and hold it. Many are killed. After many twists and
turns, his Superior officer is badly hurt, and Alvin becomes the leader
of the few men left. By using his sharp-shooting skills, he single
handedly picks off about 20 Germans, which causes the Germans to surrender;
a whole division!!
When he comes home to a ticker tape parade, he is offered money and
fame, which he refuses as it doesn't seem right. He isn't proud of
having to kill others, and many soldiers won't be coming home, including
his dear friend, 'Pusher' Ross (George Tobias). He can't wait to go
home to his friends, family, and his girl, to start sharecropping
Zeek's land, in order to earn money to buy the bottomland farm. Boy,
was he in for a big surprise, in this terrifically happy ending.
The casting, direction, screenplay, and cinematography is top notch
for a 1941 black and white film. The timing, the mixing of drama &
humor, and the pacing of the film flows pretty well, under the expert
direction of Howard Hawks, who also directed such film classics as
"Bringing Up Baby," "The Big Sleep," "Gentleman
Prefer Blondes," and "Rio Bravo."
Due to both great direction and personal talent, Gary Cooper and fellow
cast members do great ensemble work together, as well as individually.
Gary Cooper excels in his role as Alvin York, and won the Best Actor
Award for his performance, that shows convincingly how one man changes
in reaction to events he experiences, that impact his life. How his
growing spirituality and personal convictions evolve to new realizations,
as he is led by his faith is fascinating to watch.
Margaret Wycherly is best known for her outstanding performance as
Mother York, and was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress.
Walter Brennan convinces as Pastor Rosier Pile, and portrays a country
preacher without flaw. Sixteen year old Joan Leslie plays Gracie Williams,
and has great screen chemistry with Gary Cooper.
George Tobias, a character actor who specialized in playing New York
ethnic types, does a great job as 'Pusher' Ross, York's closest Army
Screenplay: Harry Chandlee &
This wonderful classic period piece should be enjoyable to most members
of the family.
If you enjoyed SERGEANT YORK you may like FRIENDLY PERSUASION, MAN OF THE WEST, HIGH NOON, THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, FORREST GUMP.