Movie Review by Debbie Winkler
Starring: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Stanley Ridges
Director: Howard Hawks
Release Date: 27 September 1941
Length: 134 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 4/5 stars
“In a career-defining performance that earned him his first Academy Award, Gary Cooper stars as Alvin York, a poor Appalachian pacifist drafted into World War I. Placed in an impossible position, York single-handedly captures an entire enemy platoon and becomes a national hero. This World War II-era Hollywood classic based on the real-life war hero received 11 Academy Award nominations, including one for director Howard Hawks. ” — Netflix.com
This is a well-made, interesting look at one of the great World War I heroes, Sergeant Alvin York (Gary Cooper). The first hour or so of the movie is spent on York’s life in America before he joined the army. He grew up in the backwoods of Tennessee and was a hard-drinking, hardworking rabblerouser until he became converted to Christianity and turned his life around. This part of the movie did not capture my interest at first, but, after a bit, I got into the rhythm and the pacing of the movie and found myself curious to see what was going to happen in his life that changed him so much. York had a few bad breaks in his life, but then a few miracles happened that made him believe that God really was looking out for him and cared about him personally. I did not realize that this movie would have so much to do with religion and was pleasantly surprised that York was a devout believer in God and tried very hard to follow his teachings in his life from there on.
York did not want to join the military and tried to get out of serving by listing himself as a conscientious objector, but he ended up drafted anyway. Due to the help of his superior officer (Stanley Ridges), he came to understand that the Bible not only taught about peace, but about defending their families and the land around them. Then York determined to serve in the best way he could and ended up capturing 100s of German soldiers singlehandedly. When he came back to the states, he had no idea why people counted him as a hero and was actually a little embarrassed that he had to kill 20 men to save the lives of 100s or 1000s of Allied soldiers. He was still the same modest, God-fearing man, however, and refused to become a celebrity or cash in on his situation by becoming something he was not. The battle sequences that York participated in did not take up much time in the movie, but it was almost like watching a fairy tale to see what he was able to accomplish, it was really that unbelievable! They spent a nice length of time on the aftermath and I enjoyed this quite a bit. It was refreshing to see that York did not let the circumstances around him change him and that he kept his needs simple and his wants small.
All in all, I thought this was a very good movie to watch on Memorial Day as it reminded me of the sacrifices so many men made to serve in the war – even when they did not wholeheartedly believe that it was the right thing to do. The acting is very good in this movie and Gary Cooper offers a tour-de-force performance that really stands out. He is definitely the star of the film, even with his gentle demeanor and aw-shucks attitude. I am not sure how similar he is to the real Sergeant York, but this movie is based on his diary entries so hopefully he was able to pick up on his mannerisms and get the character right, as well. The other actors perform admirably in this black-and-white classic and there is a lot to recommend this movie. I will warn you that this film is quite a bit slower paced than what we are used to seeing today, but this is not a bad thing and really suits the feel and attitude of the subject matter. Definitely worth your time to watch if you are a classic movie fan or enjoy old war movies.
This movie is about World War I so it does show some battle sequences and some death. There is also quite a bit of information about God, Christianity and the Bible. The Tennessee people are shown drinking, shooting, fighting and more, but the violence is pretty mild. There are some scenes that show York being teased for his lack of education and ignorance, but not in a really mean way. Appropriate for viewers of all ages, recommended for ages 8 and up.