Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sergeant York, The Movie

Did you know that Avenue A in Mid Manhattan on up was renamed to York Avenue because of York's heroics? About the film (notice LES boy George Tobias plays a NYC soldier)
Sergeant York is a 1941 biographical film about the life of Sergeant Alvin York, the most decorated American soldier of World War I. It stars Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Stanley Ridges, Margaret Wycherly, Ward Bond, Noah Beery, Jr., June Lockhart and Dickie Moore. It was directed by Howard Hawks, and was the highest-grossing film of the year.

The movie was adapted by Harry Chandlee, Sam Cowan (uncredited), Abem Finkel, John Huston and Howard Koch from the diary of Alvin York as edited by Tom Skeyhill. Alvin York was originally against the idea of making a movie of his experiences. When World War II broke out, York allowed the government to produce his biography on the condition that Gary Cooper played him.

It won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gary Cooper) and Best Film Editing and was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Walter Brennan), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Margaret Wycherly), Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Director, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Best Picture, Best Sound, Recording and Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

The American Film Institute ranked Alvin York #35 in its list of the top 50 heroes in American cinema and the film #57 in the top 100 inspirational movies in American cinema.

Alvin York (Gary Cooper), a poor Tennessee hillbilly, is an exceptional marksman, but a ne'er-do-well prone to drinking and fighting, which doesn't make things any easier for his patient mother (Margaret Wycherly). He undergoes a religious awakening and turns his life around, assisted by Pastor Rossier Pile (Walter Brennan).

When York is drafted into the army for World War I, he tries to get out as a conscientious objector due to his religious beliefs, but a sympathetic commanding officer persuades him to stay. York decides to leave it in God's hands, but still doubts he can kill someone who has not done him any harm. During basic training, his superiors find out that he is a phenomenal marksman and promote him to corporal.

His unit is shipped out to Europe and participates in an attack. Pinned down by murderous German fire and seeing his friends being shot down all around him, his self-doubt disappears. Owing to the large number of casualties, York suddenly finds himself placed in charge. He works his way around behind German lines and shoots with such deadly effect that the Germans surrender. Then, York forces a captured German officer (Charles Esmond) at gunpoint to order the Germans still fighting to surrender. He and the handful of other survivors end up with 132 prisoners. York becomes a national hero and is awarded the Medal of Honor.

York later explains that he did what he did to hasten the end of the war and minimize the killing.

* Gary Cooper as Alvin York. Henry Fonda, James Stewart, and even Ronald Reagan were all considered for the role, but York insisted that Cooper play him.
* Walter Brennan as Pastor Rossier Pile
* Joan Leslie as Gracie Williams, York's girlfriend
* George Tobias as "Pusher" Ross, a soldier from New York City; Alvin's friend
* Stanley Ridges as Major Buxton, the officer who convinces York to stay in the army
* Margaret Wycherly as Mother York

The actual firearm used by York to dispose of a line of seven Germans was not a Luger as depicted in the film, but rather a 1911 .45 ACP automatic. The Luger was preferred for the filmmaking, however, purely on the basis that they couldn't get the .45 to fire blanks. Also, the movie utilizes a Springfield 1903 rifle whereas York actually used an M1917 Enfield rifle to capture the Germans.

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