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PopGap #34: Sergeant York (1941)

PopGap #34: Sergeant York (1941)

Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by dorrk
26 November 2017

God... Country.... God... Country.... God... Country.... God... Country....

I understand and even appreciate the need for inspirational propaganda during times of war, but Sergeant York is far too single-minded in its intent to sustain over two hours of simplistic rah-rah sanctimony. There's no arguing that Howard Hawks' film is endowed with the highest possible production quality, but did there have to be so much of it? I suppose that I might have been happier to endure this long-winded tale of a rascally-ne'er-do-well-turned-saint-turned-perfect-war-hero if star Gary Cooper were credible in a single moment of its interminable set-up. Watching an actor who is at least a decade too old for the role, and at his best as a stoic sufferer of fools, dressed up in a hillbilly Halloween costume, raising fake hell, and awkwardly delivering cornpone dialog like "The corn is thicker than fur on a squirrel!" and "I ain'ta goin'ta war. War is killin' and The Book is ag'in' killin'!" with the utmost sincerity is painful. How Cooper, who is a fine actor in other roles, won an Oscar for this trainwreck of miscasting can only be explained as an act of communal pity. It's not just Cooper — pretty Joan Leslie is just as bad or even worse with less screen time, thanks to an unspeakable script from five writers, all of whom must have thought they were writing a comedy. Once Alvin York gets to the French battlefields of WWI, the cringeworthy hicksploitation is put on hold long enough for York to waltz with minimal effort through the entire enemy line. Even if York's heroism actually happened this way, there is nothing in Hawk's film that makes it seem plausible. The war zone is as full of cliches as it is bomb craters, including the ridiculous sight of every other soldier performing some kind of pirouette at their moment of death; this is a z-movie in blockbuster clothing and stretched out to epic length. Even though Sergeant York was produced and released during the year preceding America's involvement in World War II, its creaky pie-eyed wholesomeness made it a massive hit throughout the war; now, under better circumstances, it's barely watchable. Walter Brennan is, as usual, fun in a supporting role, and makes everyone else look worse in comparison.

Sergeant York was brought to the Potluck Film Fest by Ryan Hope. He ranks it on his Flickchart at #123 / 3019 (96%), where it's his 9th favorite Movie Based-on-a-True-Story out of 155 on his Flickchart. It ranked on my Flickchart at #2811 (30%), making it #157 on my chart of 192 Movies Based-on-a-True-Story.

PopGap #34: Sergeant York (1941)

Trailer for Sergeant York (1941)