"Sergeant York" Is Released
Sergeant York is a 1941 biographical film about the life of Alvin York, the most-decorated American soldier of World War I. It was directed by Howard Hawks and was the highest-grossing film of the year.
The movie was adapted by Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Howard Koch, and Sam Cowan (uncredited) from the diary of Alvin York as edited by Tom Skeyhill. The real York was originally against the idea of making a movie of his experiences, but relented when World War II broke out, on the condition that Gary Cooper play him.
When World War I hero Alvin York agreed to sell the movie rights to his life story to Warner Bros., it was on three conditions: (1) That the film contains no phony heroics, (2) that Mrs.York not be played by a Hollywood "glamour girl" and (3) That Gary Cooper portray York on screen. All three conditions were met, and the result is one of the finest and most inspirational biographies ever committed to celluloid. When the audience first meets young farmer Alvin York (Cooper), he's the cussin'est, hell-raisin'est critter in the entire Tennessee Valley. All of this changes when York is struck by lighting during a late-night rainstorm. Chalking up the bolt from the blue as a message from God, York does a complete about-face and finds Religion, much to the delight of local preacher Rosier Pile (Walter Brennan). Despite plenty of provocation, York vows never to get angry at anyone ever again, determining to be a good husband and provider for his sweetheart Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie). When America goes to war in 1917, York elects not to answer the call when drafted, declaring himself a conscientious objector. Forced to go to boot camp, he proves himself a born leader, yet still he balks at the thought of killing anyone. York's understanding commanding officer Major Buxton (Stanley Ridges) slowly convinces the young pacifist that violence is sometimes the only way to defend Democracy. Later on, while serving with the AEF in the Argonne Forest, Sergeant York sees several of his buddies, including his Bronxite best pal Pusher Ross (George Tobias), killed in an enemy ambush. His anger aroused, York personally kills 25 German soldiers, then single-handedly captures 132 prisoners. As a result, York becomes the most decorated hero of WW1, celebrated by no less than General John J. Pershing as "the greatest civilian soldier" of the war. The film won Gary Cooper his first Academy Award, and also picked up an Oscar for Best Film Editing. Not surprisingly, it ended up as the highest-grossing film of 1941. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide