Sergeant York appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the transfer wasn’t stellar, it usually looked good.
Sharpness was pretty solid. Occasional shots came across as a bit soft and indistinct, but those instances didn’t present frequent problems. Instead, the movie offered reasonably well-defined elements. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and only a little edge enhancement appeared.
Print flaws caused periodic distractions. I noticed examples of specks, blotches, marks, nicks and lines. These didn’t mar much of the movie, though, as the majority of the flick appeared acceptably clean. Blacks were nice and deep, while shadows were fairly clear. A few low-light shots seemed a little murky, but most came across with good definition. Overall, the film presented an attractive image.
Once I factored in the flick’s age, I noticed no significant issues with the monaural soundtrack of Sergeant York. Speech showed a little edginess at times, but I didn’t think the lines were problematic. Dialogue seemed easily intelligible and without concerns.
Music appeared clear, though it lacked heft. Effects were clean and concise. They also failed to demonstrate much range, but they were acceptably accurate and lacked distortion. A few military scenes boasted pretty nice bass within explosions, though. No problems with source flaws marred the presentation. Again, the track wasn’t special, but it was fine for a product of its era.
As we move to the extras for this two-disc special edition, we open with an audio commentary from film historian Jeannine Basinger. She offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Basinger offers a solid overview of necessary issues. She chats about the era in which York was made and historical elements in the film, realism and research, cast and crew, various filmmaking nuts and bolts, challenges related to the biographical side of things, the project’s development, and some story interpretation.
Across the board, Basinger provides a terrific chat. She provides a rich discussion of the movie’s production and the historical elements, and she manages to mesh these elements together well. Basinger manages to give us a very useful commentary that consistently informs and entertains.
Also on DVD One, we find a couple of vintage shorts. These include Porky’s Preview (5:55) and Lions for Sale (9:00). The first is a Porky Pig cartoon during which he runs his own animated feature. It’s amusing in its intentional crudeness. Sale spotlights the beasts at a California “lion farm”. It attempts comedy via its commentary but doesn’t succeed. At least it offers an interesting glimpse of lion training, though I feel bad for the critters since they spend so much time in tiny cages.
Finally, DVD One includes a Gary Cooper Trailer Gallery. This includes promos for York, The Fountainhead, Springfield Rifle, Friendly Persuasion, Love in the Afternoon and The Wreck of the Mary Deare.
Over on Disc Two, we find two components. Narrated by Liam Neeson, Sergeant York: Of God and Country runs 38 minutes and 55 seconds as it mixes movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from authors Michael Birdwell and MZ Ribalow, actors June Lockhart and Joan Leslie, Gary Cooper’s daughter Maria, and film historian Robert Osborne.
The show offers a quick biography of Alvin York but quickly gets into all the complications related to attempts to bring his story to the screen; we hear lots about York’s restrictions and requirements. From there we go through casting, war-related issues of the era and script development, performances, characters and realism, shooting topics and production problems. After that we learn about Alvin York’s anti-Nazi campaign and its impact, other political controversies, the movie’s themes and storytelling elements, and post-release reactions to the film.
“Country” gets a little goopy in its middle portions as it ladles praise on folks involved. However, it manages to create a fairly provocative and informative piece nonetheless. It repeats some info from Basinger's commentary but not much, as it throws in plenty of new notes. We find a nice overview of the production with a good emphasis on connected controversies in this solid little program.
For the second documentary, we get the 46-minute and 10-second Gary Cooper: American Life, American Legend. Hosted by Clint Eastwood, it covers Cooper’s career. We learn of the actor’s youth and upbringing, how he moved into acting, his career and personal life, some of his most prominent roles, and other aspects of his life.
This overview makes “Legend” sound like a good biography of Cooper, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. In truth, details are few and far between, as the program emphasizes movie clips over everything else. As a montage of Cooper’s work, “Legend” becomes useful, especially since we see some interesting TV snippets from later in his life. As a biography, though, “Legend” comes up short and doesn’t give us much depth.
At least that makes the documentary on a par with Sergeant York. The film takes an interesting story and character but fails to move them to the screen with much heart or flair. Marred by an awkward performance from Gary Cooper, the flick never manages to turn into anything particularly memorable. The DVD presents adequate to good picture and audio along with extras highlighted by an excellent audio commentary. This turns into a pretty nice package for a less than stellar movie.
Pursestrings footnote: Sergeant York can be purchased in its own or as part of a five-movie “Gary Cooper Signature Collection”. The latter also includes The Fountainhead, Dallas, Springfield Rifle, and The Wreck of the Mary Deare. Since this set’s $49.98 retail price is only $23 more than York on its own, this is a great deal for Cooper fans.