Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blind Spot Series 2014: Sergeant York

Well, it's that time of the month again (no, not THAT time) and I'm here to review my third entry in this year's Blind Spot series.  I actually did better this month with watching, and reviewing closer to time (I've been so early) but it was hard.  Ever since posting my list of films I'll be watching this year, I've been aching to just watch them all back to back to back, but that would defeat the whole purpose of taking part in this series.

You can catch my reviews of both 'The Shop Around the Corner' and 'Penny Serenade' before checking this out if you like.

But now, onto this month's selection!

I almost felt racked with biased guilt while sitting down to watch ‘Sergeant York’, because I was prepared to sort of hate it on principle.  First, it starred Gary Cooper, an actor who I find incredibly dull in nearly everything I’ve seen him in (I admit to liking him in ‘Ball of Fire’, which was released the same year).  To make matters worse, I decided to set myself up for this viewing by watching ‘High Noon’, the film for which Cooper won his second Oscar.  I loathed that movie with a serious passion.  And then that brings me to the whole Oscar aspect.  Having seen, admired and loved ‘Citizen Kane’, I have a grudge against the fact that Cooper has the Oscar and Welles does not.  I know, it’s petty to be angry over something you aren’t really privy to, since I had not seen this film, but the grudge was there.

So, it’s safe to say that I was in a weird mindset when I sat down to watch this.

Despite some serious reservations, and some serious issues I have with the film, I can’t hate this movie.

This man needs Jesus
The film tells the true story of Alvin York, a country bumpkin turned war hero during World War I.  When the film opens, we meet Alvin drunk and irresponsible.  His family is poor and destined to never amount to much, but with eyes for the town beauty and his heart set on purchasing land for his family, Alvin makes some serious steps in the right direction, including finding God.  No sooner does he turn his life around, tragedy strikes.  First, he’s cheated out of his land (thus the need to find God) and then the World goes to war, and he’s sort of forced to join, despite religious conflictions.  It is on the battlefield that York’s mindset shifts and he finds himself outsmarting the enemy and capturing an entire German position, earning himself the Medal of Honor and becoming one of the most celebrated war heroes in history.

That’s quite a lot of story, and one could easily assume that the film would come across stuffy because of that, but Howard Hawks deserves all the praise you can muster for making all of this work so effortlessly.  Despite some personal quibbles with the way certain aspects of Alvin’s shift is portrayed (it is all very sudden, this converting from lazy bumpkin to hard working country man), the progression of plot is swift and wholly engrossing.

But the direction, while very tight and effective, is only one aspect of this movie.

I’ll just get Gary Cooper out of the way.  I just don’t get him as an actor.  He’s so wooden and uninteresting, and despite having a rather engaging and intriguing film to work with, he was just so boring and bland. 

He’s my biggest issue, but not my only.

It's alright son, you can kill!
It’s important to remember when watching any film that film is a medium of expression and as such should not be unduly chastised for not agreeing with your personal opinions.  We shouldn’t be watching films to validate our own stance on a subject, at least not entirely (sometimes it’s nice, but it shouldn’t be necessary), so while watching a film that is so clearly celebrating war, I had to remind myself that despite being firmly ANTI-war, my opinion wasn’t relevant to this particular movie watching experience.  That being said, I couldn’t help but become irritated when the film tried to debate religion and war.  I have no qualms with depicting men trying to twist scripture to fit their personal agenda, but that whole scene where the heavens basically open up and God pretty much tells York that it’s ok for him to kill others was pretty disgusting.  Like I said, I had to put my personal feelings on the backburner a little here, but I can’t deny that that didn’t sting.  What irritated me a little more though was the cop-out ending.  First, it appears that York is actually conflicted still over his actions, for he refuses money for what he’s done (and I found that moment so astute) and yet the film ends on this high with York finally getting him home, fully paid for by the state…all because of his actions.  AND HE ACCEPTS!  Isn’t that a complete contradiction, and so close to one another at that (those two scenes are practically back to back).

It just seemed poorly thought out, but maybe that’s exactly how it happened in real life.

But, truth be told, outside of those two (I guess it’s more like three) complaints, I genuinely liked this film.  The flow of the film was brisk yet meaty, and some of the supporting cast was truly moving, most notable being Walter Brennan, who handled the complexity of Pastor Rosier Pile exceptionally well.  From a technical standpoint, the film is very well crafted, and like I said, Hawks outdoes himself by keeping everything on a tight leash, giving the film the ease it needed to work.

So there you have it!  March is complete and now we wait until April for the next film on the list.  I still haven't decided which one I'll watch.  I've unintentionally been watching these in order of release, but it really had more to do with what was on my DVR than anything else.  I don't have 'Cat People' on my DVR, so I don't think that will be next (even though it is next chronologically).  But, I DO have 'Shadow of a Doubt' on there, so maybe I'll just skip a year.


  1. This was one of the first classics I saw, as it's my grandfather's favorite film. It's been a while, but I like the film overall too. However, I've never found Cooper's woodenness uninteresting, which sounds like a weird contradiction. Maybe I just don't find him as wooden.

    Watch Shadow of a Doubt next! It has a good showing on my ballot this week! ;)

    1. LOL, I honestly reread "I've never found Cooper's woodenness uninteresting" like twelve times, convinced I was reading it wrong.

      I think Shadow of a Doubt will be next :-D