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Films >> Sergeant York (1941) >>

One man's valor shall forever remain unsurpassed.

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Premiering at New York’s Astor Theatre July 1, 1941, only five months before Pearl Harbor triggered America’s entrance into World War II, appeared Howard Hawks’ acclaimed Sergeant York, a film biography of America’s greatest hero of World War I. Backwoods Tennessean Alvin C. York begins life as a fun-loving, likable, but shiftless drunk. But in the war, York’s Daniel Boone-like sharpshooting enables him to kill 28 German soldiers and almost singlehandedly capture 132 more, a feat so unparalleled that he was awarded, among others, the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Légion d'honneur, and the Italian Croce di Guerra before he returns home, sheds the limelight, and marries his hometown sweetheart. Literally struck by lightning, Gary Cooper’s good-for-nothing York recognizes God’s Hand, finds religion, takes the Bible to heart, and is transformed into a model working man. When the war comes, however, this scrupulous scripturalist takes “thou shall not kill” as his guiding principle and becomes a pacifist, a conscientious objector when drafted into the Army. Given the chance to mull his decision by supportive commanding officers, York retreats to the mountaintop with his Bible and a United States History book for resources, where God acts again through the divine admonition to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” Converted a second time, transformed again, York becomes a formidable American warrior and leader of men. No doubt exploiting York for patriotic purposes -- the film was part of pre-war Congressional hearings on the validity and necessity of intervention in foreign conflict -- the film Sergeant York sent the message to all young men that anyone -- the religious boy, the farm boy, the boy who likes his liquor -- can be a hero. All it takes is the bravery to serve one’s country. The film reincarnated a past war hero who fought for a safer world in order to inspire the present generation to actively combat the present dangers to democratic ideals.