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Howard Hawks
Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie
Writing Credits:
Abem Finkel, Harry Chandlee, Howard Koch, John Huston

A marksman is drafted in World War I and ends up becoming one of the most celebrated war heroes.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 10/13/2020

• Audio Commentary with Biographer Jeannine Basinger
• “Of God and Country” Documentary
Porky’s Preview Classic Cartoon
Lions for Sale Vintage Short
• Re-issue Trailer


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Sergeant York [Blu-Ray] (1941)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 29, 2020)

While 1939 gets all the attention for its huge crop of classics, 1941 offered an awful lot of hits as well. In fact, the Oscar Best Picture winner from that year - How Green Was My Valley - pales in comparison to some of the year’s other releases.

Citizen Kane remains the popular choice as the flick that should’ve won Best Picture. The terrific Maltese Falcon also hit the screens that year.

For another of the year’s Best Picture nominees, we visit Sergeant York. (Note that the Academy still picked 10 nominees back in 1941 and wouldn’t go down to five until 1944’s films.)

Set in a remote Tennessee valley circa 1916, we meet Alvin York (Gary Cooper), a rowdy, booze-swilling country boy. In an attempt to tame Alvin, his mother (Margaret Wycherly) sends the local preacher (Walter Brennan) to talk to him. Though the pastor tries to put the fear of God in Alvin, the junior York doesn’t seem too affected by the chat.

In the meantime, Alvin falls in love with local girl Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie). When she resists his charms, he believes it’s due to his economically challenged farming circumstances.

Because of that, Alvin sets out to buy himself a piece of “bottomland”. Although he works himself half to death, a disingenuous land seller leaves Alvin high and dry. In a drunken fury, Alvin plans to kill the man, but apparent divine intervention stops him and he ends up in church.

This leads to a religious awakening in Alvin, and he becomes a quiet, peaceable man. When the US goes to war and the draft accompanies it, Alvin tries to stay out of the military due to his pacifism. However, the government rejects his appeals and he gets inducted into the Army.

There Alvin rises through the ranks due to his excellent shooting skills, though he deals with his moral conundrum along the way. The movie follows his military activities and how he tries to remain true to himself while he serves his country.

York seems interesting mainly due to the era in which it appeared. With Europe in flames and the US on the brink of war, any form of military movie took on added impact. The story of a pacifist who distinguishes himself in combat seems fraught with meaning within a nation then reluctant to involve itself overseas.

Since I wasn’t alive in 1941, I can’t say if York swayed any isolationists and made them more willing to fight, but it sure feels like that was one of its goals. Any attempt to tell a character story seems incidental when compared to that overall mission. I won’t call York a propaganda piece, but it teeters on the verge of one.

I must admit York doesn’t do a lot for me, as I think it presents an inherently interesting true story but it fails to exploit the material in a particularly memorable way. Part of the problem stems from the pacing.

With a title like Sergeant York, we know that Alvin will end up in the military, but it takes the movie forever to get there. Yes, the preliminary moments help set up the character, but I think they’re moderately unnecessary, or at least the film draws them out too long. A little could go a long way, but the flick keeps us in Tennessee well past the point of impatience.

I like Cooper as an icon and he served movies well when he didn’t need to do much more than establish a stoic, manly presence. However, when Cooper was required to actually act, matters didn’t work as well.

Some may lambaste me for this thought, but I really see Cooper as the Keanu Reeves of his day: an attractive image with some charisma but not a whole lot of acting breadth or depth.

And that causes definite problems in York. Cooper doesn’t handle the country boy thing very well, as he really terrible southern accent and plays Alvin in a broad way that doesn’t work.

Cooper also seems awfully old for the role. He was 40 during production, or about 11 years older than the real Alvin at the time of the film’s start in 1916.

Sure, actors often play much younger than themselves, but Cooper looked every one of his 40 years at the time. I probably wouldn’t mind this if I bought into Cooper’s performance, but since he seems unconvincing, the age problems become more prominent.

Ultimately Sergeant York ends up as a strangely disaffecting picture. It abounds with opportunities to spark emotions but fails to adequately exploit any of them. In the end it delivers a message timely for its era and little else.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Sergeant York appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray disc. Expect a high-quality presentation.

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 well-defined elements most of the time. I suspect most of the “softness” came from technques used to “deage” Gary Cooper and hide the fact he was too old for the part.

Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and edge haloes remained absent. With natural grain, digital noise reduction seemed non-problematic, and print flaws failed to mar the proceedings.

Blacks were nice and deep, while shadows were clear. Overall, the film presented an attractive image that held up nicely over nearly 80 years.

Once I factored in the flick’s age, I noticed no significant issues with the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Sergeant York. Speech seemed a little reedy at times, but I didn’t think the lines were problematic, as dialogue seemed easily intelligible and without concerns.

Music appeared clear, though the score lacked heft, as 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.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 2006? The lossless audio seemed a bit warmer and clearer, while visuals looked better defined, tighter and smoother. Especially in terms of picture quality, the Blu-ray became a nice upgrade.

As we move to the extras, we open with an audio commentary from film historian Jeannine Basinger. She offers a running, screen-specific discussion that brings a solid overview of necessary issues.

Basinger 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.

Next we find a couple of vintage shorts that include Porky’s Preview (6:50) and Lions for Sale (9:00). The first delivers a Porky Pig cartoon during which he runs his own movie theater that screens a “self-animated” reel. 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.

In addition to a re-issue trailer, the disc ends with Sergeant York: Of God and Country. Narrated by Liam Neeson, it runs 38 minutes, 59 seconds as it offers notes 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, so 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.

Note that the Blu-ray drops a documentary called “Gary Cooper: American Legend” as well as trailers for a bunch of Cooper movies. Though “Legend” seemed mediocre, it’s still too bad it doesn’t reappear here.

Sergeant York 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 Blu-ray presents solid picture, era-appropriate audio and bonus materials highlighted by an excellent commentary. This turns into a pretty nice package for a surprisingly ineffective movie.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of SERGEANT YORK