What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Sergeant York (1941)

Now we’ve got a movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing again for a long time, that classic 1941 movie Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper! Of course, we’ve got a pair of theatrical shorts to start with (both of which are included as extras on the recent Blu-ray release from Warner Archive Collection), and then we can get right to the movie itself!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Lions For Sale (1941)

(Length: 9 minutes)

This short shows how lions used to be trained for circuses. It’s interesting stuff to watch the lions go from being cubs to full grown within the types of training they undergo. The commentary by Knox Manning manages to be quite amusing, as he describes some of the action going on. Like I said, an interesting short, although one I probably won’t be revisiting much.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Porky’s Preview (1941)

(Length: 6 minutes, 50 seconds)

Porky hosts a showing of a cartoon that he drew himself. This was a fun little black-and-white cartoon, with a brief appearance from Porky himself (shorter than one would think, considering the cartoon’s title). Still, I enjoyed the gags, and the drawings for Porky’s “cartoon” certainly look like what one might expect a little child to draw. A very fun cartoon, although it does have one very dated moment, where part of Porky’s “cartoon” is fairly obviously making a reference to Al Jolson, with the character wearing blackface. But, that is the only drawback, and I enjoyed seeing an unfamiliar (to me) Looney Tunes short!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Our story starts in the state of Tennessee, in the year 1916. In the Valley of the Three Forks, Alvin York (Gary Cooper) works hard on his family’s farm, but he is also prone to drinking and getting into fights. One day, while out hunting with his brother George (Dickie Moore), Alvin meets and falls for Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie). While she is interested in him, she is less than thrilled with his fighting habit, particularly when he chases off a rival suitor, Zeb Andrews (Robert Porterfield). Alvin believes she turns down his proposal because he is poor, and sets out to buy a better piece of land. He makes a deal with Nate Tompkins (Erville Alderson) for some land, and promises to pay him the full price within sixty days. He works hard, but comes just short at the deadline. He convinces Nate to give him an extension of a few days so that he can win a turkey shoot to get the rest of the money. Alvin is successful at the turkey shoot, but Nate had already sold the land to Zeb, which makes Alvin angry. After doing a bit of drinking with his buddies, Alvin sets out to kill Nate and Zeb, but is stopped by a bolt of lightning. He finds himself near a church, and comes in, where he is received with great rejoicing by his friend, Pastor Rosier Pile (Walter Brennan). Now a Christian believer, Alvin sets out to make things right and apologize to Nate and Zeb.

Then, war arrives (World War I, that is), and with it, the draft. Alvin, who believes that the Bible is against killing, hopes to get an exemption as a conscientious objector. However, Alvin’s request for exemption is denied, on the basis that his denomination has no formal creed against its members going to war, so he is drafted. Alvin’s shooting skills impress some of his superior officers, but he is wary about a possible promotion, still worried about having to kill. Major Buxton (Stanley Ridges) tells him briefly about the history of the United States, and of the sacrifices required of his fellow countrymen to maintain their freedom. Alvin is given a ten day furlough to think the matter over, and comes back declaring he is willing to stay in the army. Once training is over, he is sent over to Europe, where he is part of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. But, will he survive and be able to put his skills to good use?

Sergeant York is based on the life of the real Alvin York, a man who (spoiler alert!) lived to the age of 76, dying in 1964. Upon his return from war, he was immediately hit with many offers from Hollywood to have his story told on the big screen, but he turned them down. Producer Jesse Lasky tried to make an offer multiple times over the years (and was rejected), but with the threat of another war in Europe, he tried again to convince Alvin to allow a movie to be made about him. Alvin finally consented, with some conditions. Among those conditions, Alvin wanted Gary Cooper (and only Gary Cooper) to portray him, he wanted somebody who wasn’t a cigarette smoking actress to portray his wife Gracie, and he wanted his share of the profits to go towards a Bible School he was trying to build. With those conditions met, the movie was made, with great care taken to portray everything accurately (outside of a few changes here and there). The movie would prove to be very popular at the box office, and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning two (including Gary Cooper’s first win as Best Actor).

I was introduced to Sergeant York most of a decade ago. I think I caught it on the Turner Classic Movies channel and recorded it. The main thing I do remember for sure is that the movie had my attention the entire time, and I really enjoyed watching it! So getting to see it again via the recent Blu-ray (more on that in a moment) was a real treat! For me, this IS Gary Cooper’s best movie (at least, from those I’ve seen so far). I like his portrayal of the real Sergeant York’s journey from his wilder lifestyle through his conversion and his wartime dilemma. Of course, the rest of the cast is no slouch either, with Margaret Wycherly as Mother York, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias as his army buddy “Pusher” Ross or the many others who helped make this a great movie! The wartime scenes are impressive, and it’s fun seeing Alvin use his skills from back home to help out in wartime. For some, the religious element may turn them off from the movie, but, to the best of my knowledge about the real Alvin York, that was very much a part of him, and the movie really wouldn’t be complete without it. But for my money, this movie is absolutely fantastic, and well worth seeing!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection sporting a 4K scan of the best surviving nitrate elements, which in this case is a second generation nitrate fine grain made off the camera negative, since, according to the Warner Archive podcast, the original camera negative was gone by the time that Warner sold their pre-1949 library back in 1956. A lot of work was put into restoring this film, and it looks fantastic! But don’t take my word for it! They’ve got a video up on YouTube to show their restoration compared to what it looked like before, as I have linked at the bottom of this page! Again, this movie looks fantastic, and this new Blu-ray release IS the best way to see this absolutely wonderful classic!

Film Length: 2 hours, 14 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #1 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020

**ranked #3 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2020

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938) – Gary Cooper – Casanova Brown (1944)

Nice Girl? (1941) – Walter Brennan – To Have And Have Not (1944)

Joan Leslie – Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Music In My Heart (1940) – George Tobias – Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

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