Sergeant York(1941). Biographical film about the life of Alvin York, the most-decorated American soldier of World War I. It was directed by Howard Hawks. The film was adapted by Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Howard Koch, and Sam Cowan (uncredited) from the diary of Alvin York as edited by Tom Skeyhill. The real York was originally against the idea of making a movie of his experiences, but he needed money to finance a Bible school. The story that York insisted on Gary Cooper in the title role came from producer Jesse L. Lasky, who wanted Cooper for the role, he sent a telegram to Cooper asking him to accept the role and signing York's name.
Gary Cooper, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. The film also won for Best Film Editing and was nominated in nine other categories, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress.
The story begins in the Mountains of Tennessee, the home of the Yorks, a family of poor mountain farmers. In the spring of 1916, a drunken Alvin C. York, interrupts a church service while he and two friends shoot up a tree. Later, Pastor Rossier Pile speaks to Alvin, but has little influence on him. One day, while hunting, Alvin on a chance meeting runs into Gracie Williams and instantly decides to ask her to marry him, she turns him down. Believing that Gracie's turned him down because he is poor, Alvin decides to buy a rich piece of land to farm. He works very hard to earn the money, he wins the final amount in a shooting contest, but when he brings the money to the land owner, he learns that he sold the land to Zeb Andrews, who is also in love with Gracie. Alvin, who has a few too many drinks, is on his way to kill Zeb, but.. is hit by lightning. Taking this as a sign from God and he mends his ways. Soon after, the United States enters World War I, Alvin refuses to register for the draft, believing that killing, is against the Bible. Pile convinces him to register as a conscientious objector, but Alvin's request for "C.O." is denied and he is drafted. At Camp Gordon in Georgia, Alvin's shooting impresses his superiors and they decide to promote him to corporal and make him an instructor and before he knows it... he ends up becoming a war hero.
This is a amazing true story about forgiveness. I thought Gary Cooper, gave a wonderful performance that was very "believable."
Joan Leslie was 16 when she made this film, the same age as the real Gracie. Alvin C. York had made it clear that he didn't want any actress with any sort of notoriety connected with her portraying his wife. He specifically said, "No Ooomph Girls!", a clear reference to Warner Bros. contract player Ann Sheridan. Incredibly, Jane Russell was considered, but the wholesome Leslie was chosen.
Alvin C. York thought he should be portrayed on the screen by Gary Cooper. Samuel Goldwyn, who had Cooper under contract, wouldn't release him. Henry Fonda, James Stewart and even Ronald Reagan were considered. Goldwyn finally gave in when Warners agreed to lend him Bette Davis for the film, The Little Foxes (1941).
The scene where Alvin becomes converted because of the bolt of lightning was an invention of the screenwriters. In reality he was converted from his hard-drinking ways, to a Sunday-school teacher by his wife and it was a longer and less dramatic process.
The producer, Jesse Lasky suggested Jane Russell for the part of "Gracie" and Helen Wood, Linda Hayes and Susan Peters tested for the role; Mary Nash tested for "Mother York," and Pat O'Brien and Ronald Reagan were tested for the role of "Sergeant York." Charles Root was also considered for a role in the film.
According to the daily production reports included in the film's file at USC, Vincent Sherman directed some scenes while Howard Hawks went to a racetrack.
Because of the 1941 draft, the filmmakers had difficulty finding enough young male actors to play the soldiers and were forced to hire students from local universities.
Gary Cooper, unable to participate in WWII due to his age and an old injury to his hip, felt strongly that this film was his way of contributing to the cause. Cooper later said, "Sergeant York and I had quite a few things in common, even before I played him in screen. We both were raised in the mountains - Tennessee for him, Montana for me - and learned to ride and shoot as a natural part of growing up. 'Sergeant York' won me an Academy Award, but that's not why it's my favorite film. I liked the role because of the background of the picture, and because I was portraying a good, sound American character."
Gary Cooper's acceptance speech typified so many of the actor's performances when he said "It was Sergeant Alvin York who won this award; Shucks, I've been in this business sixteen years and sometimes dreamed I might get one of these things. That's all I can say! Funny, when I was dreaming, I always made a good speech." As he left the stage, he forgot the Oscar on the podium.
This was the first movie Clint Eastwood saw.
In 1941, Leslie landed her first major role in thefilm High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart, playing a crippled girl. She also performed in the films, Sergeant York and The Wagons Roll at Night. Later in 1942 she performed as James Cagney's wife in in the film, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and at the age of 18 she performed in the film, in The Sky's the Limit(1943) with Fred Astaire.
Her last movie role was in the film, The Revolt of Mamie Stover(1956)and she eventually retired from acting altogether to take care of her twin daughters Patrice and Ellen. She has appeared in many television commercials since then and also made guest appearances in the TV shows: Murder, She Wrote and Charlie's Angels.
Joan was a regular volunteer at the Hollywood Canteen where she danced with the servicemen. In 1944, she starred with Robert Hutton in the film, Hollywood Canteen.