The top grossing film of 1941, Sergeant York was playing in theaters on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The film was credited with helping to recruit soldiers. Sergeant York was nominated for eleven Oscars including three acting awards as well as Best Picture, and Best Director for Howard Hawks. Gary Cooper won the first of his two Oscars for the title role.
Circa 1916 in a remote Tennessee valley, we meet Alvin York (Cooper), a rowdy, booze-swilling country boy. His mother (Margaret Wycherly) ruled her brood with an iron hand. In an attempt to tame Alvin, she sends him to a local preacher (Walter Brennan) who attempts to put the fear of God in him. While that proves unsuccessful, things begin to change when Alvin meets and falls in love with Gracie (Joan Leslie). In a bid to impress her, Alvin attempts to buy some land, only to learn it’s already been purchased by a rival for her affections. In a drunken fury, Alvin plans to kill the man. However, divine intervention in the form of a lightning bolt, leads him to church instead.
From there, Alvin quits drinking and his hell raising ways. When the war comes, Alvin tries to stay out of the military because of his pacifism, declaring himself a conscientious objector. Denied C.O status, he gets drafted into the Army. Alvin rises through the ranks due to his excellent shooting skills, though he must deal with his moral conundrum along the way. During the war, he captures 132 German soldiers, almost singlehandedly. As the movie ends, he receives many awards for his bravery including the Distinguished Service Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
There is a pivotal scene where Alvin York reconciles his pacifist beliefs with his service to country, “Well I’m as much agin’ killin’ as ever, sir. But it was this way, Colonel. When I started out, I felt just like you said, but when I hear them machine guns a-goin’, and all them fellas are droppin’ around me… I figured them guns was killin’ hundreds, maybe thousands, and there weren’t nothin’ anybody could do, but to stop them guns. And that’s what I done.”
Director Howard Hawks keeps things moving pretty well, but at just over two hours, some might wish the runtime reduced for a slightly tighter narrative. Gary Cooper is excellent as a man who morphs from drunken country bumpkin to national idol. He exudes a sense of decency. Some will see Sergeant York as a propaganda piece. As such, it does its job well. It’s little wonder that men of the era left theaters eager to serve.
Presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Warner Archive’s 4K restoration is superb. Sharpness is impressive throughout, with just a few shots appearing slightly soft. I suspect any softness comes from camera angles and techniques of the era, rather than the transfer itself. Given the natural grain, DNR isn’t a problem and no print flaws mar the proceedings. Blacks are nice and deep, while shadows are clear.
Given the film’s age, the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack is solid. Music is clear, though it lacks any real heft. Effects are concise. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Film Historian Jeannine Basinger: In this running, screen-specific commentary, a detailed overview of the film is provided. Basinger discusses the era when the film was released, cast, crew and the technical side of filmmaking.
- Porky’s Preview (HD, 6:50) An animated short from 1941.
- Lions for Sale (HD, 9:00) Another animated short from 1941.
- Sergeant York: Of God and Country (HD, 38:59) Narrated by Liam Neeson, this features comments from Joan Leslie, film historian Robert Osborne, and more.
- Reissue Trailer (HD)
Sergeant York (1941)
Movie title: Sergeant York
Duration: 134 min
Director(s): Howard Hawks
Actor(s): Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Noah Beery Jr. , Ward Bond
Genre: War, Biography, Drama, History