Considered his finest role, Gary Cooper won the Academy Award for his portrayal of one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I, Sergeant Alvin York. Based on the diary of the real Sergeant York and directed by Howard Hawks, this 1941 classic remains one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
Struck by lightning to a religious awakening, York (Cooper), a formally raucous hillbilly in Tennessee, changes his life and vows to “Never get angry at anyone ever again.” Having met the woman he loves, he works hard to provide and win her hand. As WWI is raging in Europe, York (Cooper) struggles with his religious beliefs, declaring himself as a conscientious objector, but is drafted nonetheless. Discovering his remarkable marksmen skills, the Army tries to convince York of his obligation to his country by citing sacrifices made throughout the history of the United States. Still not persuaded, a sympathetic officer grants York leave to go home and contemplate his objection. The officer will exempt him as a conscientious objector if York remains unconvinced. As York is fasting and asking God for guidance, the wind suddenly blows open to a phrase in his Bible: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Deciding to leave matters in God’s hands, York returns back to the Army and tells his superiors he is now willing to serve.
His unit is shipped out to Europe and participates in an attack during the Argonne Offensive in 1918. York’s doubts are put to the test when confronted with his comrades being shot down all around him and his actions lead him to become a national hero and a Medal of Honor recipient. When the politicians of the day offer him a opportunity to capitalize on his fame after receiving the key to New York city and a ticket tape parade, York declines explaining that all he had done was try to save the lives of his fellow soldiers (It is said the real Sergeant York had declined many times to authorize a film version of his life but finally agreed in order to finance the creation of an interdenominational Bible school).
With an outstanding cast including Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie and Ward Bond, “Sergeant York” reminds us of the morals, values and American patriotism seldom seen in Hollywood war films today (or any film for that matter). I highly recommend seeing it again or suggesting it to someone who has not as a reminder of American pride in country and pride in being a Christian.
Scene from: Sergeant York with Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan: