Starring: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan,
Joan Leslie, George Tobias,
Stanley Ridges, Margaret
Wycherly, Ward Bond, Noah
Berry, Jr., Dickie Moore, June
Lockheart, Howard Da Silva
Runtime: 134 minutes
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Played by Gary Cooper, Alvin York is a good-hearted, but hard-drinking farmer in the back woods of Tennessee. His claim to fame is his astounding marksmanship. He falls in love with Gracie (Joan Leslie) and tries diligently to purchase some bottomland to provide a home for her. When he’s cheated out of some property for which he worked, he drunkenly prepares to go kill the man who cheated him. On the way, lightning knocks him off his horse and his rifle is split down the middle. Alvin takes this as a confirmation from God of some lessons taught him earlier by the local pastor. He immediately goes to get saved, to the wonderful, joyful strains of “Give Me That Old Time Religion.”
As a result of his conversion, York forgives those who mistreated him, becomes an active church member and teaches Bible lessons to children. As he prepares to marry Gracie, however, he gets drafted. When three conscientious objection appeals fail, he goes to serve. His officers worry about his objections but are astounded by his marksmanship.
Alvin and his commanding officer get into a Scripture-quoting contest about justified killing. He’s sent home on leave with a book about American history and encouraged to sort out his beliefs. After reading the passage “Render unto Caesar” in the New Testament, Alvin returns to boot camp prepared to fight.
What happens next is profoundly unexpected and tremendously uplifting. It shows Sergeant York brilliantly melding the need to fight evil and serve one’s country with the desire for peaceful Christian service unto God. Alvin’s solution in the final climactic battle that won him his medals is a sublime mixture of Hollywood art, craftsmanship and communication that also manages to honor both Christian faith and American patriotism at the same time.
Released in 1941 by Warner Bros. and directed by Howard Hawks, SERGEANT YORK is one of several movies at that time period making the case for a just war. There are other Biblical arguments for a just war than were presented in the movie, but the movie is one of the most unabashed Christian conversion movies ever made by Hollywood. York’s conversion is clearly shown to have a very positive impact on his life. He gives up drinking, forgives people who have truly wronged him and has peace in his heart rather than anger.
Gary Cooper won a well-deserved Academy Award for his role as Alvin York. His performance earlier that year in MEET JOHN DOE was just as good, but how can you compare perfection?
SERGEANT YORK was the highest grossing movie of 1941. It was playing in theaters when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Reportedly, some young men went directly from the theater to a recruiting office. Be that as it may, SERGEANT YORK is one of the greatest Christian movies ever made, as well as one of the greatest, most uplifting patriotic war movies ever. It’s a must-see masterpiece.