Sergeant York (1941)

134-135 mins | Drama | 27 September 1941

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HISTORY

The film opens with the following written statement: "We are proud to present this picture and are grateful to the many heroic figures still living, who have generously consented to be portrayed in its story. To their faith and ours that a day will come when man will live in peace on earth, this picture is humbly dedicated."
       During the battle of Argonne (8 Oct 1918) the real Alvin C. York (1887--1964) led a detachment in attack on a German machine gun nest and after the detachment was pinned down by enemy fire, he charged another machine gun nest and, though alone, captured ninety men. While marching with his prisoners, he captured forty-two more prisoners at a third machine gun nest. York explained his exploits by revealing that he used a strategy learned from shooting turkeys. In that strategy, he would shoot the last turkey first and thus was able to eliminate most of the turkeys before the ones in the front realized what was happening. (The film's Alvin York used the same technique.) York was promoted to sergeant and later was awarded the Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre. On his return to the United States, he received the gift of a farm in Tennessee and donated money to the York Foundation for support of an industrial school and a Bible school in Tennessee. Shortly before his death, York, whose only income was Social Security, disability and a small monthly stipend granted to Medal of Honor holders, was almost destitute and owed the U.S. government over $80,000 in taxes on the money he received for film rights. General John J. Pershing ... More Less

The film opens with the following written statement: "We are proud to present this picture and are grateful to the many heroic figures still living, who have generously consented to be portrayed in its story. To their faith and ours that a day will come when man will live in peace on earth, this picture is humbly dedicated."
       During the battle of Argonne (8 Oct 1918) the real Alvin C. York (1887--1964) led a detachment in attack on a German machine gun nest and after the detachment was pinned down by enemy fire, he charged another machine gun nest and, though alone, captured ninety men. While marching with his prisoners, he captured forty-two more prisoners at a third machine gun nest. York explained his exploits by revealing that he used a strategy learned from shooting turkeys. In that strategy, he would shoot the last turkey first and thus was able to eliminate most of the turkeys before the ones in the front realized what was happening. (The film's Alvin York used the same technique.) York was promoted to sergeant and later was awarded the Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre. On his return to the United States, he received the gift of a farm in Tennessee and donated money to the York Foundation for support of an industrial school and a Bible school in Tennessee. Shortly before his death, York, whose only income was Social Security, disability and a small monthly stipend granted to Medal of Honor holders, was almost destitute and owed the U.S. government over $80,000 in taxes on the money he received for film rights. General John J. Pershing called York "the greatest civilian soldier of the war," and Marshal Ferdinand Foch said to him, "What you did was the greatest thing acomplished by any private soldier of all the armies of Europe."
       The film's working title was The Amazing Life of Sergeant York . HR news items add the following information about the production: A minimum budget of $2,000,000 was allotted for the film. William Keighley was scheduled to direct, but when the starting date was postponed, he went on to another film. According to memos in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library, Jesse Lasky suggested Jane Russell for the part of "Gracie" and Helen Wood, Linda Hayes and Suzanne Carnahan tested for the role; Mary Nash tested for "Mother York," and Pat O'Brien and Ronald Reagan were tested for the role of "Sergeant York." Charles Root was also considered for a role in the film. According to the daily production reports included in the film's file at USC, Vincent Sherman directed some scenes while Howard Hawks went to a racetrack.
       A press release adds the following information: Technical advisor Donoho Hall was an author and authority on the dialects and customs of the Southern mountaineers. Eugene P. Walters was head military technical director and William Yetter, former Sergeant Major of the Imperial German Army, advised the filmmakers on the German military. A revolving mountain set was built on Warner Bros.' largest sound stage. The set represented a section of the Tennessee Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf, where Alvin York was born. The mountain, which was covered by cedar, pine and oak trees, and which included a 200 ft. stream, was designed to present sixteen different basic camera angles. Some of the battle scenes were filmed in the Simi Hills, forty miles from Hollywood. Additional location footage was shot in the Santa Susana Mountains and at the Warner Bros. Ranch. A contemporary source states that some of the mountain scenes were filmed in back of York's house in Pall Mall, TN. Because of the 1941 draft, the filmmakers had difficulty finding enough young male actors to play the soldiers and were forced to hire students from local universities. York had been approached by producer Jesse Lasky several times, beginning in 1919, to allow a movie to be made of his life, but had refused, believing that "This uniform ain't for sale." Lasky convinced York that, with war threatening in Europe, it was his patriotic duty to allow the film to proceed. Gary Cooper was York's own choice for the role.
       The NYT review notes that the premiere at the Astor Theater was attended by delegates from Tennessee, government and army officials, as well as Gary Cooper and Alvin York. York was greeted by Colonel George Buxton, the wartime commander of the 82nd division of the United States Army. Later York said, "Millions of Americans like myself must be facing the same questions, the same uncertainties which we faced and I believe resolved for the right some twenty-four years ago." A HR news item reports that in general release, the film showed at higher than usual admission prices that ranged from $.75 to $1.10.
       This highly regarded film was chosen as one of the FD Ten Best Pictures of the Year. It received numerous Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Sound Recording, Original Screenplay, Music, Black and White Art Direction, Interior Decoration and Black and White Cinematography. Walter Brennan and Margaret Wycherly were nominated as Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, and Howard Hawks was nominated for Best Director. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of Sergeant York, and William Holmes received an Academy Award for film editing. Cooper also was awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars Distinguished Citizenship medal for his portrayal.
       A 18 Feb 1941 HR news item notes that Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan recreated their roles on the Veterans of Foreign Wars tenth anniversary "Hello America" radio program on 2 Feb 1941 over the NBC Blue network. A press release dated 2 Jul 1941 states that Sergeant York was the first motion picture to be made into a stage play. The film was transcribed by Robert Porterfield, who made his debut in this film. No information about the play's production was found. The film was reissued in Apr 1949. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
12 Jun 1941.
---
Film Daily
3 Jul 41
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 1940.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 May 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 40
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 40
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jan 41
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jan 41
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 May 41
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jul 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 41
p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
9 Oct 1960.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
19 Apr 41
p. 111.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Sep 41
p. 250.
New York Times
3 Jul 41
p. 15.
Time
11 Sep 64
p. 26.
Variety
2 Jul 41
p. 12.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Charles Esmond
Joseph Sawyer
Donald Douglas
Arthur Aylsworth
Sigfried Tor
Theodor von Eltz
Byron Barr
Pat McVeigh
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Howard Hawks Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
Addl dir
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
Orig scr, Orig scr
Orig scr, Orig scr
Orig scr, Orig scr
Orig scr, Orig scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Battle seq photog
2d cam
Asst cam
Stills
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
Props
Asst props
Asst props
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orch arr
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup
Asst makeup
Asst makeup
2d hair
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Tech adv
Best boy
Unit mgr
Scr clerk
Loc mgr
Trainer of battle troops
STAND INS
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary by Alvin C. York, as edited by Tom Skeyhill (New York, 1928).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Amazing Life of Sergeant York
Release Date:
27 September 1941
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 2 July 1941
Production Date:
3 February--1 May 1941
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
27 September 1941
Copyright Number:
LP10720
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
134-135
Length(in feet):
12,056
Length(in reels):
14
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

The Valley of the 3 Forks of the Wolf, located in the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee, is the home of the Yorks, a family of poor mountain farmers. In the spring of 1916, a drunken Alvin C. York, the oldest son, interrupts a church service attended by his mother, sister Rosie and brother George, when he and two friends take potshots at a nearby tree. Later, at Mother York's request, Pastor Rossier Pile speaks to Alvin, but has little influence on the hell-raising young man. One day, while hunting, Alvin encounters Gracie Williams and instantly decides to marry her. When he tells this plan to Gracie, however, she turns him down cold. Convinced that Gracie's objections would be overcome if he had more money, Alvin determines to buy a rich piece of bottomland to farm. He works day and night to earn the money, collecting the final amount after winning a shooting contest, but when he brings the money to Nate Tompkins, the owner, he learns that Nate sold the land a few minutes earlier to Zeb Andrews, his rival for Gracie's hand. Alvin proceeds to get very drunk and then, on his way to kill Zeb, is hit by lightning. Taking this as a sign from God, Alvin starts to attend church and makes his peace with Zeb and Nate. Soon, a surprized Zeb offers to let Alvin sharecrop the land he just bought. When the United States enters World War I, Alvin refuses to register for the draft, believing that killing, even as a patriotic duty, is against the Bible. Pile convinces him to register as a conscientious ... +


The Valley of the 3 Forks of the Wolf, located in the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee, is the home of the Yorks, a family of poor mountain farmers. In the spring of 1916, a drunken Alvin C. York, the oldest son, interrupts a church service attended by his mother, sister Rosie and brother George, when he and two friends take potshots at a nearby tree. Later, at Mother York's request, Pastor Rossier Pile speaks to Alvin, but has little influence on the hell-raising young man. One day, while hunting, Alvin encounters Gracie Williams and instantly decides to marry her. When he tells this plan to Gracie, however, she turns him down cold. Convinced that Gracie's objections would be overcome if he had more money, Alvin determines to buy a rich piece of bottomland to farm. He works day and night to earn the money, collecting the final amount after winning a shooting contest, but when he brings the money to Nate Tompkins, the owner, he learns that Nate sold the land a few minutes earlier to Zeb Andrews, his rival for Gracie's hand. Alvin proceeds to get very drunk and then, on his way to kill Zeb, is hit by lightning. Taking this as a sign from God, Alvin starts to attend church and makes his peace with Zeb and Nate. Soon, a surprized Zeb offers to let Alvin sharecrop the land he just bought. When the United States enters World War I, Alvin refuses to register for the draft, believing that killing, even as a patriotic duty, is against the Bible. Pile convinces him to register as a conscientious objector, but Alvin's request for "C.O." status is denied and he is drafted. At Camp Gordon in Georgia, Alvin's shooting so impresses his superiors that they promote him to corporal and make him an instructor. Although he agrees to teach, Alvin turns down the promotion because of his religion. His superior officer, Major Buxton, counters by arguing the importance of defending freedom, and gives Alvin a furlough to think over the proposition. In the end, Alvin decides to accept the promotion, and later, his unit sails for France to fight in the Argonne offensive of 1918. As the men advance through an area surrounded by Germans, Alvin single-handedly kills twenty Germans and convinces 132 more to surrender. Together with the seven men remaining from his unit, Alvin brings the German prisoners back to headquarters. He is awarded a French medal, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. After returning to a hero's welcome in New York, Alvin wants nothing more than to go back to Tennessee. He refuses all the money offered to him, explaining that he did what he did because he had to and is not proud of what happened. Back in Tennessee, Alvin is reunited with his family, his beloved mother, and Gracie. Despite Alvin's wish not to gain by his actions, the people of Tennessee have purchased the bottomland farm and paid for a house to be built on the land where Gracie and Alvin will start their married life. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.