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Films >> Sergeant York (1941) >>

1) There were seven other Americans present at the fight, but it was York’s battle and only York’s. (George Pattullo)

2) "Sergeant York" is a clarion film that reaches the public at a moment when its stirring and patriotic message is probably most needed. (Variety)

3) So later I sure received a card that said report to your local board. So I went to Jamestown and reported to the local board, and I stayed all night that night at Dr. Alexander's. I knew now I was in it. I was bothered a plenty as to whether it was right or wrong. I knew that if it was right, everything would be all right. And I also knew that if it was wrong and we were only fighting for a bunch of foreigners, it would be all wrong. (Alvin York)

4) One of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, instrument of propaganda is the movies. (Gerald Nye)

5) If we are to have patriotic movies--and the times indicate that we are in for many of them--let them be like Sergeant York—inspiring, sincere, unpretentious and without maudlinism. (Commonweal)

6) And I prayed and prayed. I prayed two whole days and a night out on the mountainside. And I received my assurance that it was all right, that I should go, and that I would come back without a scratch. I received this assurance direct from God. And I have always been led to believe that He always keeps his promise. (Alvin York)

7) So much of the film is given to the painstaking development of his character that his heroic feat, when it comes, is merely and extension of the every day heroism of a dignified, impoverished mountain people. (Time)

8) One comes away from Sergeant York with the feeling that the army with the majority of conscientious objectors is virtually invincible. (Euphemia Van Rensselaer Wyatt)

9) I didn't want to go and fight and kill. But I had to answer the call of my country, and I did. And I believed it was right. I have got no hatred toward the Germans and I never had. (Alvin York)

10) The reasons for the acclamation of Sergeant York in 1941 are obvious: its hero, a real-life figure who had captured or killed hundreds of Germans in the First World War while retaining his naïve idealism and remaining at heart a pacifist, seemed to reconcile the most contradictory moral impulses. (Robin Wood)

11) Embodying both an American and biblical mythos, Boone of Kentucky and Saul of Tarsus, York can serve country and church -- until America’s entry into World War I. (Thomas Doherty)

12) So there they put me by some Greeks and Italians to sleep. I couldn't understand them and they couldn't understand me, and I was the homesickest boy you have ever seen. Ho ho. (Alvin York)

13) Sergeant York served as a powerful metaphor, showing how one young man’s experience could represent a model for a nation struggling to decide what it should do about a serious international problem. (Robert Toplin)

14) I certify that I personally counted the prisoners reported to the P.C. of the 2d Battalion, 328th Inf., by Corp. Alvin C. York,-Company G, 328th Inf., on Oct. 8, 1918, and found them to be 132 in number. (Jos. A. Woods, 1st Lieut., Asst. Div. Inspector)

15) In our shooting matches at home we shot at a turkey's head. We tied the turkey behind a log, and every time it bobbed up its head we let fly with those old muzzle loaders of ours. We paid ten cents a shot and if we hit the turkey's head we got to keep the whole turkey. This way we learn to shoot from about sixty yards. Or we would tie the turkey out in the open at 150 yards, and if you hit it above the knee or below the gills you got it. I think we had just about the best shots that ever squinted down a barrel. (Alvin York)

16) This is childish reasoning. But the Government of Great Britain is trying for its own reasons to get us into its war. It is our business and our intention to stay out of that war. To stay out of it, we must oppose those who desire us in that war, and continue this opposition at every turn. The Government of Britain, unblushingly and without reservation, does want us in that war. Our cause today, get it clear, is America's cause, and America's only. Today we must think of, act for, and if necessary fight and die for America—but America only. (Gerald Nye)

17) There are a great many naive souls who think that speech is free so long as political authority, particularly the Government, does not shackle it. They overlook the fact that there can be such a thing, particularly in our day, as the denial of speech when one individual or small collection of individuals can band together and get control of the instruments of speech and deny them to everybody but themselves. (Senator Clark)

18) Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett used to shoot at these matches long ago. And Andrew Jackson used to recruit his Tennessee sharpshooters from among our mountain shooters. (Alvin York)

19) The appeal of the movie lay in its representation of southern Appalachia as isolated yet pure and its portrayal of York as the prototypical mountaineer who, although ignorant both of war and the modern world in general, rose to the occasion when his American patriotism overcame his cultural isolation and isolationism. (Daniel Varat)

20) In my estimation it stands out as the greatest individual feat of the war, not only because of the amazing things he did that day but because of the man’s deep religious conviction and scruples. (George Pattullo)

21) Shooting at squirrels is good, but busting a turkey at 150 yards--ho ho. So the army shooting was tolerably easy for me. (Alvin York)

22) Here is a film that extols American virtues with the ringing, robust voice of Walt Whitman. Here is a moving and dramatic film that deserves praise for its insight into a man. (Commonweal)

23) Curiosly enough these factual scenes are the ones which seem to have the least reality. Truth is often so strangely incredible. (Euphemia Van Rensselaer Wyatt)

24) So I got a pass after while for ten days. I went home, and while I was home I had several services at Greers Chapel, and the Lord blessed us and we had a fine little meeting. Rev. R. C. Pile and others were helping, and there were a number of people saved during this little meeting. So the Lord was with us. Bless His Holy Name. I went home by train and then got a lift part of the way and hiked the last twelve miles over the mountains. And I had to carry my suitcase, Ho, ho. (Alvin York)

25) In the end, York’s choice would be vindicated, and Sergeant York became one of the most important calls for arms in World War II. (Michael Birdwell)

26) Sergeant York contributed to the extraordinary transformation in public attitudes that took place between the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and American commitment to the fighting in December 1941. (Robert Toplin)

27) So I had to start back to my company, and that was a heartbreaking time for me, as I knew I had to go to France. But I went back to my company trusting in God and asking Him to keep me although I had many trials and much hardship and temptation. (Alvin York)

28) Only a few days ago, Mr. Will Hays warned the movie moguls himself, telling them that their great industry is an instrument of entertainment and not of propaganda. But the movies have ceased to be instruments of entertainment. They have become the most gigantic engines of propaganda in existence to rouse the war fever in America and plunge this Nation to her destruction. (Gerald Nye)

29) And not one word on the side of the argument against war is heard. . . . Unless they are restrained, unless the people of this country are warned about them, they will plunge the country into war. (Senator Clark)

30) Captain Danforth came around and asked every man in the company if he objected to going across to fight, and if he did what his objections were. He came to me, and I told him I didn't object to fighting, but the only thing that bothered me was, were we in the right or wrong? He and I had a short conversation. Then he asked me again if I objected and I told him I did not. He quoted, "Blessed are the peacemakers," and I replied that if a man can make peace by fighting he is a peacemaker. We thought when we got over there, it would not be very long before peace was made, and it was not very long after we got there that there was peace. (Alvin York)

31) [York] won glory not because he single-handedly captured hundreds of Germans. Historians over the years uncovered many similar feats that remained unrecognized for decades. He grew into an American legend because he actually defeated the stereotype of his own region, that of the isolated, feuding bumpkin with no attachment to his nation or American culture. (Daniel Varat)

32) He could not reconcile killing his fellowmen with the teachings of the savior. (George Pattullo)

33) A few words on Christian witness in war and why a Christian does worry. Yet there is no use worrying about anything except the worry of so many souls who have passed out into the Deep of an unknown world and have left no testimony as to the welfare of their souls. There is no use of worrying about shells, for you can't keep them from busting in your trench, nor you can't stop the rain or prevent a light from agoing up jest as you are half-way over the parapet. (Alvin York)

34) You know that this, as in the last war, has been a propaganda job. To carry on propaganda you must have money. But you also must have the instruments of propaganda. And one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, instrument of propaganda is the movies. In Germany, Italy, and in Russia—the dictator countries—the government either owns or completely controls and directs the movies. And they are used as instruments of government propaganda. In this country the movies are owned by private individuals. But, it so happens that these movie companies have been operating as war propaganda machines almost as if they were being directed from a single central bureau. We all go to the movies. We know how, for too long now, the silver screen has been flooded with picture after picture designed to rouse us to a state of war hysteria. Pictures glorifying war. Pictures telling about the grandeur and the heavenly justice of the British Empire. Pictures depicting the courage, the passion for democracy, the love of humanity, the tender solicitude for other people, by the generals and trade agents and the proconsuls of Great Britain, while all the peoples who are opposed to her, including even courageous little Finland now, are drawn as coarse, bestial brutal scoundrels. (Gerald Nye)

35) It is about the army and arming in a time when people damn well have to think about the army. (Otis Ferguson)

36) I carried a Testament with me. I have the Testament I carried with me during all my fighting at home now. I read it through five times during my stay in the army. I read it everywhere. I read it in dugouts, in fox holes, and on the front line. It was my rock to cling to. It and my diary. I didn't do any cursing, no, not even in the front line. I cut all of that out long ago, at the time I was saved. (Alvin York)

37) The film’s story provided justification for Americans who sought a rationale to move away from the isolationist and noninterventionist sentiments that had been fashionable in the United States for two decades. (Robert Toplin)

38) For Hollywood, the decision to lend its talents and enormous influence to the administration propaganda was marked a departure from established policy on controversial issues. America’s filmmakers viewed their products as commodities whose justification lay in the profits they realized. In the 1930s the industry had identified "message" films in general, and any production identifiable as propaganda in particular, as poison at the box office. (Richard Steele)

39) I had the assurance before I left home. And never did doubt it. I had the assurance and I have always been taught that all of God's promises are true. (Alvin York)

40) Sergeant York is a factual portrait of the life of one of the great heroes of the last war. If that is propaganda, we plead guilty. Confessions of a Nazi Spy is a factual portrayal of a Nazi spy ring that actually operated in New York City. If that is propaganda, we plead guilty. (Harry Warner)

41) The nature and context of York's story are best seen through the myriad commercial offers he received upon his return home. The New York Herald offered ten thousand dollars for one article on his wartime experiences. Another newspaper offered him fifteen hundred dollars a week for 104 weeks. Vaudeville offered him one thousand dollars a week, and one Hollywood company offered two hundred thousand dollars for exclusive rights to his story. A coal company, a gun manufacturer, and various others offered him astounding sums for endorsements, often for only one. His commercial appeal verified his cultural appeal. York ascended in a society in which consumption reigned as the new civil religion, but his deity sprang from his previous innocence, untainted by modernity, which allowed his supernatural feat. (Daniel Varat)

42) We jumped them right smart and covered them, and told them to throw up their hands and to keep them up. And they did. I guess they thought the whole American army was in their rear. And we didn't stop to tell them anything different. No shots were fired, and there was no talking between us except when we told them to "put them up." (Alvin York)

43) Like Daniel Boone, he hunts in the Tennessee valley; like Abraham Lincoln, the tall, lanky westerner splits rails; like the Jefferson yeoman, he stands proud behind his plow, and like Ben Franklin he records his pennies earned and saved on a daily calendar. (Thomas Doherty)

44) You have seen these pictures—Convoy, Escape, Flight Command, That Hamilton Woman, Man Hunt, Sergeant York, The Great Dictator, I Married a Nazi. At least 20 pictures have been produced in the last year -- all designed to drug the reason of the American people, set aflame their emotions, turn their hatred into a blaze, fill them with fear that Hitler will come over here and capture them, that he will steal their trade, that America must go into this war—to rouse them to a war hysteria. You do not have to take my word for this. The President himself after he had forced Congress to pass the lend-lease bill, in a speech to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts complimented the industry on their help in "explaining" the bill. In fact, only day before yesterday, he had Sergeant York at the White House and told him that the new picture would do much to rouse our people. "Only," the President said, he "didn't like so much killing in the picture." He doesn't like so much killing. Yet he is glad to see that picture and a score of others rousing the American people to get into the killing and to be killed on a real battlefield, not a movie lot, and on a scale which will make that killing seem mild." (Gerald Nye)

45) Uncle Sam’s uniform, it ain’t for sale. (Alvin York, qtd. by Toplin)

46) Roosevelt saw noninterventionism, or isolationism, as he preferred to think of it, as a species of pernicious nonsense espoused by people of suspect notices, sense, or loyalty. (Richard Steele)

47) In truth, the only sin of which Warner Bros. is guilty is that of accurately recording on the screen the world as it is or as it has been. (Harry Warner)

48) Then he said, "If you won't shoot any more I will make them give up." I had killed over twenty before the German major said he would make them give up. I covered him with my automatic and told him if he didn't make them stop firing I would take off his head next. And he knew I meant it. He told me if I didn't kill him, and if I stopped shooting the others in the trench, he would make them surrender. (Alvin York)

49) When the last war ended and men began to look around at the sinister means that had been used to lure the United States into that terrible and futile war, when they saw how they had been tricked and lied to, they became angry. They began to ask, Who did this to America? Books were written, magazine articles by the score were published and finally a great investigation was held nearly 20 years later to find out who it was and why America had been pushed into the last war. And we did find out. The accusing finger of history all through the years will be pointed at the great American and European bankers and the powerful international munition makers who committed that crime against the American people. But it was too late when all this became known. Our boys were dead and buried beneath the soil of France. Our veterans' hospitals were filled with twisted, suffocated, blinded men. All the terrible costs of that war are still upon us. (Gerald Nye)

50) As the ghosts of Americans past cast their shadow on York, so does the religious fervor of the Great Awakening. (Thomas Doherty)

51) There was considerably over a hundred prisoners now. It was a problem to get them back safely to our own lines. There was so many of them there was danger of our own artillery mistaking us for a German counter-attack and opening up on us. I sure was relieved when we run into the relief squads that had been sent forward through the brush to help us. (Alvin York)

52) Remember, this is the worst kind of propaganda because it is the most insidious. When you come to an America First meeting you come expecting to hear an argument in favor of America and if you don't happen to be in favor of America, or if you think more of Britain or Greece or Russia than you do of America, why naturally you steel yourself against what we have to say. If you go to one of these Fight for Freedom Committee meetings, designed to get us into war, well, you know what to expect there—your mind is on guard. Or better still, you don't go at all—they never get a chance at you. But when you go to the movies, you go there to be entertained. You are not figuring on listening to a debate about the war. You settle yourself in your seat with your mind wide open. And then the picture starts—goes to work on you, all done by trained actors, full of drama, cunningly devised, and soft passionate music underscoring it. Before you know where you are you have actually listened to a speech designed to make you believe that Hitler is going to get you if you don't watch out. And, of course, it's a very much better speech than just an ordinary speech at a mass meeting. And you pay for it. The truth is that in 20,000 theatres in the United States tonight they are holding war mass meetings, and the people lay down the money at the box office before they get in. (Gerald Nye)

53) What was needed, and produced, was a dull, steady, pervasive drum of preparedness information emanating from every popular source of public education. (Richard Steele)

54) My religion and my experience . . . told me not to go to war, and the memory of my ancestors...told me to get my gun and go fight. [The American Civil War had ended fifty-two years earlier.] I didn't know what to do. I'm telling you there was a war going on inside me, and I didn't know which side to lean to. I was a heap bothered. It is a most awful thing when the wishes of your God and your country . . . get mixed up and go against each other. One moment I would make up my mind to follow God, and the next I would hesitate and almost make up my mind to follow Uncle Sam. Then I wouldn't know which to follow or what to do. I wanted to follow both but I couldn't. They were opposite. I wanted to be a good Christian and a good American too. (Alvin York)

55) It was York’s second conversion, the conversion to interventionism that Americans needed in 19040-41. (Michael Birdwell)

56) They [Sergeant York producers] recognized that the symbolism in York’s story carried messages relevant to foreign policy issues of the day. (Robert Toplin)

57) Long as the records remain I will be officially known as a conscientious objector. I was. I joined the church. I had taken its creed, and I had taken it without what you might call reservations. I was not a Sunday Christian. I believed in the Bible, and I tried in my own way to live up to it. (Alvin York)

58) In such times, and in less capable hands, the story of the conscientious objector whom General Pershing was to call “the greatest civilian soldier of all time: might have been a jingoistic, flag-waving cross between Billy the Kid and The Fighting Sixty-Ninth. Instead, it is an engrossing and humorous record of the American way of life in a backwoods community, as well as a timely drama of the inner struggle of a simple, deeply religious man who weighs his horror of killing against what he feels is the greater necessity to stop all killing. (Newsweek)

59) It is our business and our intention to stay out of that war. To stay out of it, we must oppose those who desire us in that war, and continue this opposition at every turn. (Gerald Nye)

60) Heartbreaking time for me, as I knew I had to go to France. But I went back to my company trusting in God and asking Him to keep me, although I had many trials and much hardship and temptation, but then the Lord would bless me and I almost felt sure of coming back home, for the Lord was with me. (Alvin York)

61) At this time when a great many people are thinking deep and sober thoughts about the possible involvement of our country in an other deadly world war, Warner Brothers and a bewildering multiplicity of collaborative producers and writers have reflected propitiously upon the motives and influences which inspired America’s No. 1 hero in the last war. (Bosley Crowther)

62) The keynote is patriotism, but they’ve been trying to get York to let the picture be made since the end of the last war, and I hardly think the effect is any different from that of a parade, with colors and a band: it is stirring and it is too long; there are too many hold-ups and too many people out of step, and your residue of opinion on the matter is that it will be nice to get home and get your shoes off. (Otis Ferguson)

63) God would never be cruel enough to create a cyclone as terrible as that Argonne battle. Only man would ever think of doing an awful thing like that. It looked like "the abomination of desolation" must look like. And all through the long night those big guns flashed and growled just like the lightning and the thunder when it storms in the mountains at home. (Alvin York)

64) [Sergeant York] capped an evolution in American motion pictures, that took them from being fearful of political subjects to being aggressively interventionist. (Koppes and Black)

65) Sergeant York appealed to Americans because the story of his life restated a common belief that all Americans are potential heroes because of the strength of their religious and political heritage. (Michael Birdwell)

66) It was, nonetheless, propaganda in that its intent and probable effect was to build public confidence in the collective national effort by providing evidence of America’s growing military strength. (Richard Steele)

67) While I am opposed to nazi-ism, I deny that the pictures produced by my company are "propaganda," as has been alleged. Senator Nye has said that our picture Sergeant York is designed to create war hysteria. . . . These witnesses have not seen these pictures, so I cannot imagine how they can judge them. On the other hand, millions of average citizens have paid to see these pictures. They have enjoyed wide popularity and have been profitable to our company. In short, these pictures have been judged by the public and the judgment has been favorable. (Harry Warner)

68) Brought forth a simple and dignified screen biography of that famous Tennessee mountaineer who put aside his religious scruples against killing for what he felt was the better good of his country and the lasting benefit of mankind. (Bosley Crowther)

69) Sergeant York is about: York’s religion forbids him to kill, and by making American deaths horrible and German deaths perfunctory or funny, Hawks cheats outrageously. (Robin Wood)

70) Motion pictures, radio, and the press in varying degrees and for various reasons, brought the administration’s defense story to the public, supported the president’s interpretation of events, and on the whole, effectively minimized the public’s access to the nonterventionist perspective. (Richard Steele)

71) So it is with each of our pictures dealing with the world situation or with the national defense. These pictures are prepared on the basis of factual happenings and they were not twisted to serve any ulterior purpose. (Harry Warner)

72) The suggestion of deliberate propaganda that is readily detected here would contribute to "national unity in this hour of danger," adding that 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. (Bosley Crowther)

73) The creation of a new mythos for the Second World War began with the de-mythologizing of the First World War. Hollywood had to recast the Great War as a reasonable national enterprise, not as the crazy slaughterhouse depicted in literature and film for the previous twenty years. Despair, meaningless, pacifism-the dominant legacy of the suicide of Europe-had to be erased, rejected, or revamped. (Thomas Doherty)

74) I cannot tell the whole story here. But you have a right to know that story. You have a right to know why it is that patriotic Americans are attacked at every turn as they rise to speak for America, denied halls and stadiums, while these can use 20,000 movie theatres every day to talk to eighty millions of people. But these movie moguls and directors are patriots—these men who only a few years ago filled their pictures with so much immorality and filth that the great Christian churches had to rise up in protest against it and organize the League of Decency to stop it. You have a right to know all about this sordid story of war propaganda in the film and Senator Bennett Clark and I have today called on the United States Senate to investigate it. We want to know what part the Government has played in this—and whether the Government here, like the governments in Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, is using the films to poison the minds of the American people against most of Europe in order to plunge us into the bloodiest war in history. And for what reason? To make the world safe for British imperialism and Russian communism? (Gerald Nye)

75) It is an honest saga if a plain American who believed in fundamentals and acted with clean simplicity. (Bosley Crowther)

76) We only wish that Daniel Boone could take a look at Sergeant York. Perhaps he has. (Euphemia Van Rensselaer Wyatt)

77) I wish to emphasize that this is in no sense a war picture . . . [it] will be a document for fundamental Americanism. (Jesse Lasky, qtd. in Birdwell)

78) The immensely popular Warner Bros. bio-pic of the Great War’s most famous American hero, rehabilitated the war movie. (Thomas Doherty)

79) I had no time nohow to do nothing but watch them-there German machine gunners and give them the best I had. Every time I seed a German I jes teched him off. At first I was shooting from a prone position; that is lying down; jes like we often shoot at the targets in the shooting matches in the mountains of Tennessee; and it was jes about the same distance. But the targets here were bigger. I jes couldn't miss a German's head or body at that distance. And I didn't. Besides, it weren't no time to miss nohow. (Alvin York)