Tuesday, February 23, 2010

review: Sergaent York

This movie is wonderful! A fitting tribute to a true American hero, Alvin York, WWI hero and recipient of the Medal of Honor. It's not just about the hero - it is about his ideas. Something I think everyone should think about before going to war. I would rather have an army of consciencous objectors that an army of thoughtless, mindless killers. Of course, there is the middle ground, but you get the idea.
Apparently, the real Alvin York denied having a movie made of his life until WWII came around, and he was adament that Gary Cooper portray him. I would love to know his reasons for that. On the surface, his denial of a movie being made of his life seems like modesty, at least, that is what the romantic in me was thinking. This is partly true, because he did not like the idea of making money from his exploits in the war. It is said that he wrestled with these emotions, even to his death, wondering if God would forgive him for killing the German soldiers. But watching the "making of" special on the dvd also provided a different story. Apparently, the church he belonged to was against movies - and he was skeptical about working with Jews at the time. He was finally convinced on both points, and strangely enough he became good friends with Jack Warner who was a very devote Jew - it seems fitting that York would ultimately respect a man for his beliefs. This also led to York's strong sympathy for the Jews.
The backstory is really interesting. York insisted on Cooper, but Cooper was not up to it at the time. At first, the story was not supposed to do with the war, it was supposed to focus on York's life after the war. Cooper did not like this because he thought it would send the wrong message at a time when Americans needed to be convinced that we needed to support the war in our own time (WWII). However, eventually, York changed his mind - became a supporter of our involvement in the war, and allowed the movie to be rewritten. Cooper wanted to be sure of York's blessing, and so they met, hit is off, and we had the makings of a movie. Apparently the reason Joan Leslie was chosen was because York wanted someone who didn't drink, smoke, or swear to play his wife. Imagine that in 1940s Hollywood. I'm glad they picked her though.
It's almost unbelievable, his success and his accomplishments. I don't like to think that God takes sides in a war, a war IS man's business, but if that is the case, then just plain Luck was on his side. I can't imagine how he must have felt, though, after having killed his first "enemy" That must have been hard.
All the aspects of this movie work together. The camera work, the direction (Howard Hawks), the design, the acting - its all wonderful! Gary Cooper is amazing - his portrayal is so layered - he plays the many different sides of a man and plays them all so well and he is also very real. The way it is described is that he doesn't speak lines, he has thoughts. This is true, and his work is fabulous. But for me, the real show stopper is Walter Brennan. I love Walter Brennan, and I have seen him in a number of films, and I have like him in every one. He is, by far, at his best in this movie. I don't know how he did not win the Oscar for his performance. It is the scene in the church, when York comes to religion that really gets me. Brennan's enthusiasm is so catching. You have to see it! Joan Leslie is also quite wonderful in her role as well. Margaret Wycherly's performance is slow, but very steady and subtly beautiful. You also see June Lockart as York's sister - its not a very big role, and she doesn't make a big impact, but she is adequate and its interesting to see he in this role. Pretty much everyone is incredibly apt to their role.
This movie is very acclaimed. It was nominated for a ton of Oscars. Gary Cooper won for his work, and it won for Best Film editing as well. It is recognized by AFI on 2 of its lists - one for Inspirtational Films, and the other for the top 50 Heros.
I very enthusiastically reccommend this movie!
5 out of 5 stars!

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