“It was based on a man who was actually was very religious; and so they told him to do everything his religion said not to do, and he became a great hero doing it.” - Howard Hawks on Sergeant York
Sergeant York (1934) “Over The Top” Battle Scene
Sergeant York - 1941 (Original Poster)
Released: July 2, 1941 Running time 134 minutes
Howard Hawks’ “Sergeant York” was over twenty years in the making. Although it was the movie that brought him his only Academy Award nomination for Best Director, he wasn’t the first choice to direct the film.
Producer Jesse Lasky spent over two decades trying to convince Alvin C. York to let him make a movie about the war hero’s life. Time after time, York refused. “This uniform ain’t for sale,” York told him.
Late in 1939, Lasky received help from an unexpected source; Adolf Hitler.
Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September of that year set World War II into motion. Before long, his troops were sweeping through Europe. Many people in the United States considered this a European war and saw no value in America getting involved in another European squabble.
The former pacifist could tell that an unchecked Hitler would eventually threaten his beloved country. The time had come to tell his tale on the silver screen.
He told Lasky that he was now willing to let his war diaries be made into a movie but he had three non-negotiable conditions:
•York’s share of the profits would go to a Bible school he was building in Tennessee •No cigarette smoking actress would be hired to portray his wife •Only Gary Cooper could play the role of Alvin York
When Lasky approached Gary Cooper, Cooper turned down the part. It wasn’t until the war hero himself contacted the actor that he relented.
William Keighley, who had recently directed “The Fighting 69th”, was hired by Lasky to direct the film he had wanted to produce since 1919. All he needed now was releases from the surviving members of York’s unit and to tie up a few other minor details.
Minor details have a habit of becoming far more complicated than they originally seem.
Months dragged on and still loose ends remained. Keighley became restless. When Warner Bros. offered him the chance to direct James Cagney and Bette Davis in a now forgotten film called “The Bride Came C.O.D.”, he pulled out of the stalled “Sergeant York” project.
Lasky’s minor details were now compounded by a major detail; he needed a director.
Gary Cooper suggested Howard Hawks. Hawks jumped at the chance to directGary Cooper again, as their first collaboration, “Today We Live,” was Hawks’ only unsuccessful film of the 30s, due to studio interference.
“Sergeant York” would become the number one film of 1941 at the box office; grossing more than four million dollars on its first release. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and brought Gary Cooper his first Best Actor Oscar, and Howard Hawks his only Best Director nomination. In 2008, the National Film Registry chose this Howard Hawks classic as one of America’s most significant movies that warranted preservation for future generations.
Alvin C. York (1887 - 1964)
Howard Hawks not only managed to conquer the minor details of combat, he succeeded in making a film that would capture the hearts and minds of a reluctant nation on the verge of a major world war.
Director: Howard Hawks
Producers: Howard Hawks, Jesse L. Lasky and Hal B. Wallis
Writers: Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston and Howard Koch
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.