Predictable, a trifle slow, but ultimately winning. Gary Cooper won his first Oscar for his strong portrayal here of WWI hero Alvin C. York, who single-handedly captured 132 German soldiers during the Meuse-Argonne offensive and became one of America's most decorated and beloved heroes.
Beginning in 1916, Howard Hawks' masterfully directed film follows the man from the hills of East Tennessee as he falls in love with Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie) and struggles to hold onto his land. When lightning strikes his rifle, York views it a sign from God and, becoming a pacifist, tries to
avoid service in WWI. Eventually he does fight in France, however, and the rest is spectacular military history. Hawks brings the life of this incredible hero to the screen with forceful integrity, and Cooper is wonderful as the country fellow who gets religion and holds onto it, even through the
nightmare of war. Technically, the film is faultless, with Hawks keeping his cameras fluid and employing Sol Polito's magnificent photographic skills at every turn.
Jesse Lasky, who saw York in the 1919 Armistice Day Parade, spent years trying to convince the modest Tennessean to allow his story to be filmed, finally winning York's approval provided that the proceeds go to charity and that Gary Cooper play him. At first Cooper refused, but he changed his mind
after visiting York. Warner Bros. had hoped to have Michael Curtiz direct SERGEANT YORK, but Cooper wouldn't work with him, and when several others couldn't take the job, Hawks was hired, to the lasting pleasure of all who see this magnificent film. That's Robert Porterfield as Zeb Andrews; he
established Barter Theater, Virginia's state theater, the oldest repertory still running in the United States.
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