Sergeant York
Sergeant York (1941 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHoward Hawks
Screenplay by
Based onSergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary
by Tom Skeyhill
Alvin York
Produced by
Starring
CinematographySol Polito
Edited byWilliam Holmes
Music byMax Steiner
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
Running time
134 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1.7 million[1]
Box office$8.3 million[1]

Sergeant York is a 1941 American biographical film about the life of Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I. Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Gary Cooper in the title role, the film was a critical and commercial success, and became the highest-grossing film of 1941.

The film was based on York's diary, as edited by Tom Skeyhill,[2] and adapted by Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Howard E. Koch, and Sam Cowan (uncredited). York refused, several times, to authorize a film version of his life story, but finally yielded to persistent efforts to finance the creation of an interdenominational Bible school. The story that York insisted on Cooper for the title role comes from a telegram that producer Jesse L. Lasky wrote to Cooper pleading with him to accept the part, to which he signed York's name.[3]

Cooper went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, while the film also won Best Film Editing and was nominated in nine other categories, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Walter Brennan), and Supporting Actress (Margaret Wycherly). The American Film Institute ranked the film 57th in the its 100 most inspirational American movies. It also rated Alvin York 35th in its list of the top 50 heroes in American cinema.

In 2008, Sergeant York was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4][5]

Plot

Before America's entry into World War I, Alvin York is a poor, young farmer in rural Tennessee, living with his widowed mother, sister, and younger brother. Alvin's leisure time is spent fighting and getting drunk with friends. Alvin's goal is to purchase a piece of farmland, fertile "bottomland". Alvin works hard to acquire the price for the land, and is given an extension by the owner. Alvin's sharpshooting skills enable him to raise the money needed, but the owner reneges, making Alvin angry and bitter. En route to seek revenge, Alvin and his mule are struck by lightning. The incident prompts Alvin's conversion to Christianity.

When the U.S. enters World War I, Alvin seeks exemption as a conscientious objector, which is denied. Alvin is torn between fighting for his country and the biblical prohibition against killing. His sympathetic commanding officer gives him leave to go home and come to a decision. Alvin reconciles his moral conflict after reading the biblical injunction to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."

During the Meuse–Argonne offensive, York's qualms vanish when he sees his friends and comrades being killed as they assault a strong German position. With his superiors dead or incapacitated, he takes charge. He infiltrates the German lines by himself and finds a position that lets him enfilade the main German defensive trench. He kills so many German soldiers that they eventually surrender to him en masse. One of the prisoners of war treacherously grenades Alvin's good friend, "Pusher" Ross, and is gunned down by York. He and the handful of survivors from his unit lead their many captives behind their lines, but have a hard time finding anyone to take the Germans off their hands. The officer who finally does is astonished to learn that so few men captured so many of the enemy.

York is decorated and hailed as a national hero, but desires to return home. He rejects commercial offers that would make him wealthy, explaining that he could not take money for doing his duty. York returns home to marry his fiancée, Gracie. To his surprise, the state has purchased the bottomland farm and built a house for Gracie and him.

Cast

Reception

Sergeant York was a success at the box office and became the highest-grossing film of 1941. This was influenced by the attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred while the film was still playing in theaters. The film's patriotic theme helped recruit soldiers; young men sometimes went directly from the movie theater to military enlistment offices.[6]: 156–157  After its initial release, the film was frequently reshown at theaters all over America during the war as a quick replacement for box-office flops and as a theme program for bond sales and scrap drives.

According to Warner Bros. records, the film earned $6,075,000 domestically and $2,184,000 internationally.[1]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 88% rating based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10.[7]

Accolades

Gary Cooper, with his Academy Award for the film, and Joan Fontaine, 1942
Gary Cooper, with his Academy Award for the film, and Joan Fontaine, 1942
Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[8][9] Outstanding Motion Picture Hal B. Wallis and Jesse L. Lasky Nominated
Best Director Howard Hawks Nominated
Best Actor Gary Cooper Won
Best Supporting Actor Walter Brennan Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Margaret Wycherly Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston and Howard Koch Nominated
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration – Black-and-White John Hughes and Fred M. MacLean Nominated
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Sol Polito Nominated
Best Film Editing William Holmes Won
Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture Max Steiner Nominated
Best Sound Recording Nathan Levinson Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[10] Best Acting Gary Cooper Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[11] Best Film Nominated
Best Actor Gary Cooper Won

References

  1. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1–31 p 22 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. ^ "Sergeant York Review". AllMovie. Retrieved 2008-07-25.
  3. ^ Lee, David D. (1985). Sergeant York: An American Hero. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. p. 105ff. ISBN 978-0813190280.
  4. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  5. ^ "Cinematic Classics, Legendary Stars, Comedic Legends and Novice Filmmakers Showcase the 2008 Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  6. ^ Kennett, Lee (1985). For the duration... : the United States goes to war, Pearl Harbor-1942. New York City: Scribner's. ISBN 0-684-18239-4.
  7. ^ "Sergeant York (1941)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 28, 2020.
  8. ^ "The 14th Academy Awards (1942) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  9. ^ "NY Times: Sergeant York". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
  10. ^ "1941 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  11. ^ "1941 Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 23, 2016.

Further reading