SERGEANT YORK, 1941
Cast: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Stanley Ridges, Margaret Wycherly
A hillbilly sharpshooter becomes one of the most celebrated American heroes of WWI when he single-handedly attacks and captures a German position using the same strategy as in turkey shoot.
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Biopics have the been the back bone of filmmaking since films started to be made. There have been countless films about actual people dating back to the silent era with films like The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and going through recent years with films like The Aviator (2004) and Walk the Line (2005). We've seen everyone's life displayed on the big screen, from sports stars to musicians to political figures to biblical characters. Howard Hawk uses this genre to show the life of a military hero in Sergeant York (1941).
This biopic proved to be a hit, earning 11 Academy Award nominations and it couldnít have come at a better time. World War II was right around the corner and America was swelling with national pride. So, what better way to honor our fighting soldiers than to show us a film about one of the most famous and award winning soldiers of World War I, Alvin York. The real Alvin York handpicked Gary Cooper to play himself, knowing he was the only actor who could give him justice. Hawks was hesitant to make this biopic, having never ventured into that genre, but jumped at the chance to work with Gary Cooper. All the cards fell into place, and the production began, ending with one of the most well known war movies in film history.
However, his troop finds themselves in a bit of a pickle when the enemy kills a large portion of their company and backs the remaining ones into a corner. York sees the light and decides itís time to show the enemy what heís really got. He fires back at the Germans and his incredible marksmanship frightens them all into surrendering. He proudly marches all 132 German soldiers back to his base, much to the surprise of his superiors. When he returns home, he returns a national hero and is given the Medal of Honor. His newfound recognition convinces Gracie that York is the man she wants and the two live happily ever after.
Hawks plays this movie pretty safe. Itís a wholesome, prideful tale, released at a time when war was glorified. It completely shelters us from the reality of the situation but for the sake of what film audiences wanted to see in 1941, it works. In todayís world, it would be interpreted a bit differently. Todayís audiences seek more realism and the truth as opposed to obvious sugar coated falsehoods. This is still not always given to us, but with more modern war films like Platoon, The Thin Red Line, and Saving Private Ryan, Hollywood attempts to recognize the maturity growth of audiences of this genre.