Film / Sergeant York
Gary Cooper, one-man army.

Sergeant York is a 1941 film directed by Howard Hawks and starring Gary Cooper.

It tells the mostly true story of Alvin C. York, a farmer from the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee. Alvin is a hard drinker and a hell-raiser, but he converts to Christianity, abandons his wild ways, and becomes a pacifist. When the United States declared war on Germany, entering World War I, York applied for conscientious obejctor status, citing his religious beliefs. York's application was denied, and he was drafted into the infantry—where he became a Medal of Honor winner for his actions in combat, one of the most decorated American soldiers to ever live.

Sergeant York was a massive success and a career highlight for both Hawks and Cooper. It was nominated for eleven Oscars and won two, including the first of Cooper's two Best Actor awards.


  • As the Good Book Says...: Alvin and his CO have a little duel of sorts, as York quotes all the more pacific Bible verses, and the officer cites other passages in order to convince York that it's OK to fight.
  • Artistic License History: A few instances:
    • York's friend "Pusher" Ross is killed by a captured German soldier who managed to get hold of a grenade. York then shoots the German in revenge. Pusher is fictional, and although one German did refuse to surrender, threw a grenade and was shot by York in response, the grenade didn't kill any Americans.
    • The German troops are shown being commanded by a major. They were actually commanded by Paul Vollmer, who was only a lieutenant. The fictional major in the movie isn't named.
    • York is seen using a Luger he takes from a captured German after losing his US Army Colt M1911. In truth, he never took a gun from a prisoner to use, and kept hold of his Army Colt for the entire battle. This was changed because the Luger the armorers provided was the only blank-adapted handgun available on the set. He is also seen using an M1903 Springfield, as opposed to the M1917 Enfield he had in real life.
    • The battle occurs in a very open and frankly desert-like environment, as compared to the thickly-wooded hills of the actual ravine in France. It's possible the filmmakers wanted to give the battlefield a more harsh and desolate-looking appearance in order to add tension.
  • Bar Brawl: Alvin leads a wild life before getting religion, one that includes getting into a fight at the local moonshine bar.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Hardly any blood anywhere in the movie, except for Blood from the Mouth from one American mowed down by German machine guns. Most prominent when Pusher gets blown up with a grenade—no blood (it was made in the 1940s, after all; no way The Hays Code would have allowed it).
  • Call-Back: York uses the "gobble, gobble" call to get a turkey to pop its head up so he can shoot it, and later explains to his fellow soldiers how to shoot a line of turkeys—start with the last one so the others don't know what's happening. Both of these are referenced later when he is taking out an entire line of Germans in a trench.
  • Conscription: What forces York to go to war.
  • Country Mouse: Alvin could not be more of a rube when the war drags him out of Appalachia. Not only has he never ridden a subway, he doesn't know what one is.
  • Down on the Farm: The whole first half of the film is York's life in the mountains, romancing his sweetheart Gracie (Joan Leslie) and trying to buy a better patch of land.
  • Draft Dodging: York at first simply refuses to register for the draft. After being told he must register, he appeals all the way up the chain before finally being forced to report for service.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "That strikes me as mighty queer" (strange).
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: In the first scene York manages to shoot his initials into a tree, on horseback, while drunk. His instructors at boot camp are mesmerized when York hits the bullseye at the shooting range every time. This comes in handy when York has to shoot Germans.
  • I Surrender, Suckers:
    • York's platoon forces the surrender of a German unit. The German commander, however, knows that there are a couple of machine gun nests at the top of the hill that the Americans didn't see. While holding his hands in surrender, he nods to the machine gunners atop the hill, who rake York's men with fire.
    • Another German soldier who has surrendered pulls a grenade and throws it, killing York's pal.
  • Left the Background Music On: When a fight breaks out at a bar, someone stumbles into the automatic piano, which gets bumped to "Fast" speed as the fight continues.
  • Martial Pacifist: Sgt. Alvin C. York. Pacifist, conscientious objector. Killed 20 Germans, captured two machine gun nests, captured 132 German soldiers all by himself. He later explains that he had to do it, to stop the Germans from killing his comrades.
  • Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: It gets a 3, because the audience gets a couple of brief glimpses of small amounts of blood.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: A British soldier with the Americans calmly instructs them on when they need to duck the German artillery shells that are falling all around them.