Sergeant York (film)

Sergeant York is a 1941 American biographical film about the life of Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I. Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Gary Cooper in the title role, the film was a critical and commercial success, and became the highest-grossing film of 1941.

Sergeant York
Sergeant York (1941 poster).jpg
Directed byHoward Hawks
Screenplay by
Based onSergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary
by Tom Skeyhill
Alvin York
Produced by
CinematographySol Polito
Edited byWilliam Holmes
Music byMax Steiner
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • July 2, 1941 (1941-07-02) (New York City)
  • September 27, 1941 (1941-09-27) (United States)
Running time
134 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.7 million[1]
Box office$8.3 million[1]

The film was based on the diary of Sergeant Alvin York, as edited by Tom Skeyhill,[2] and adapted by Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Howard E. Koch, and Sam Cowan (uncredited). York refused, several times, to authorize a film version of his life story, but finally yielded to persistent efforts to finance the creation of an interdenominational Bible school. The story that York insisted on Gary Cooper for the title role derives from the fact that producer Jesse L. Lasky recruited Cooper by writing a plea that he accept the role and then signed York's name to the telegram.[3]

Cooper went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, while the film also won Best Film Editing and was nominated in nine other categories, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Walter Brennan), and Supporting Actress (Margaret Wycherly). The American Film Institute ranked the film 57th in the its 100 most inspirational American movies. It also rated Alvin York 35th in its list of the top 50 heroes in American cinema.

In 2008, Sergeant York was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4][5]


Just before America's entry into World War I, Alvin York is a poor, young farmer in rural Tennessee, near the Kentucky border, living with his widowed mother, sister, and brother. Alvin's leisure time is spent fighting and getting drunk with friends. The community's poverty and isolation force them to live a 19th-century lifestyle. Alvin's goal is to purchase a piece of fertile farmland, called "bottomland", to improve his lot. Alvin works hard to acquire the price for the land, and is given an extension by the owner. Alvin's sharpshooting skills enable him to raise the money needed, but the owner reneges, making Alvin angry and bitter. En route to seek revenge, Alvin and his mule are struck by lightning. The incident prompts Alvin's conversion to Christianity.

When the U.S. enters World War I, Alvin seeks exemption as a conscientious objector, which is denied. Alvin is torn between fighting for his country and the biblical prohibition against killing others. Alvin reconciles the conflict after reading the biblical quote to render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.

During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, York distinguishes himself by killing and capturing many German soldiers. The captured are marched up the line as prisoners of war by York and only a handful of his men. York is decorated and hailed as a national hero, but desires to return home. He rejects commercial offers that would make him wealthy, explaining that he could not take money for doing his duty. York returns home to marry his fiancé, Gracie. To his surprise, the state has purchased the bottomland farm and built a house for Gracie and him.





Sergeant York was a success at the box office and became the highest-grossing film of 1941. It benefited from the attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred while the film played in theaters. The film's patriotic theme helped recruit soldiers; young men sometimes went directly from the movie theater to military enlistment offices.[6]:156–157 After its initial release, the film was frequently reshown at theaters all over America during the war as a quick replacement for box-office flops and as a theme program for bond sales and scrap drives.

According to Warner Bros. records, the film earned $6,075,000 domestically and $2,184,000 internationally.[1]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 88% rating based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10.[7]


At the 14th Academy Awards, the film won two Oscars:[8]

It was also nominated for:[9]


  1. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1–31 p 22 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. ^ "Sergeant York Review". AllMovie. Retrieved 2008-07-25.
  3. ^ David D. Lee, Sergeant York: An American Hero (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1985), 105ff.
  4. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  5. ^ "Cinematic Classics, Legendary Stars, Comedic Legends and Novice Filmmakers Showcase the 2008 Film Registry". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  6. ^ Kennett, Lee (1985). For the duration... : the United States goes to war, Pearl Harbor-1942. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0-684-18239-4.
  7. ^ "Sergeant York (1941)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 28, 2020.
  8. ^ "NY Times: Sergeant York". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
  9. ^ "The 14th Academy Awards (1942) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-13.

Further readingEdit

  • Michael E. Birdwell, Celluloid Soldiers: The Warner Bros. Campaign against Nazism (NY: New York University Press, 1999)
  • McCarthy, Todd, Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood (NY: Grove Press, 1997), ch. 22: "Sergeant York"
  • Robert Brent Toplin, History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996)

External linksEdit