Sergeant York is one of the films that is credited with boosting the recruitment drive for WWII, and the film played in theaters during the Pearl Harbor attack, which probably did quite a spell for the efforts. Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Gary Cooper, this is yet another simple little film that manages to be more than the sum of its parts. These films seem to be found aplenty on the list, and Howard Hawks seems to be one of those directors that is able to consistently pull this off. Of course, it helps to have Gary Cooper in the lead, who gives a simple-minded yet strong performance in the film that made him a star.
Sergeant York is the story of the titular Alvin York, the most decorated American soldier to come out of World War I. The story actually starts earlier, with York in his ne’er-do-well days, before he has a religious epiphany, changes his ways, and is reluctantly conscripted into service. The film gets a bit melodramatic in the first act, as we spend all of the time with York working to pay off his contracted bit of land and wooing the Southern belle Gracie Williams, not all of which goes according to his plans. The camera and the script spend this time setting up some very dramatic situations, hence the melodrama aspect, and it might seem a bit cheesy to some, but I found it endearing, and it helped me to like the main character a lot more than I otherwise would have.
The one problem I had with the film was the narrative. The storytelling is very back and forth; the actual story sen in the film is very methodically paced, and doesn’t move forward chronologically very much, but then the film jumps the narrative forward to the next non-event. Especially when the war portion of the film starts, the action suddenly gets very frantic, as if the film suddenly realized it had this portion of the story to tell. It’s a very disjointed storytelling method, and while the film was entertaining the whole way through, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I wasn’t being told the story as it should’ve been told. The film spends a great deal of time on what made York the man he is, rather than his actual wartime exploits, which are only covered in the last half hour, so if his deeds in the war are what you’re expecting from this film, you’ll walk away a bit disappointed. Otherwise, it’s a very inspirational tale of a man who just wanted to do good, and ended up doing some of the greatest good of all.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10