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Sergeant York is a 1941 biographical film about the life of Alvin York, the most-decorated American soldier of World War I. It was directed by Howard Hawks and was the highest-grossing film of the year.

The movie 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 relented when World War II broke out, on the condition that Gary Cooper play him.

Cooper went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal. The film also won for Best Film Editing and was nominated in nine other categories, including Best Picture, Director (Hawks), 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 Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Alvin York (Gary Cooper), a poor Tennesseemarker hillbilly, is an exceptional marksman, but a ne'er-do-well prone to drinking and fighting, which doesn't make things any easier for his patient mother (Margaret Wycherly). He undergoes a religious awakening when he is struck by lightning during a late-night rainstorm and turns his life around, assisted by Pastor Rosier Pile (Walter Brennan). York vows never to get angry at anyone ever again, determining to be a good husband and provider for his sweetheart Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie).

York tries to avoid induction into the Army for World War I as a conscientious objector due to his religious beliefs but gets drafted into the Army nonetheless. His status as a true conscientious objector is rejected since his church has no official standing, and he reluctantly reports to Camp Gordon (now Fort Gordon) for Army basic training. During basic training, his superiors find out that he is a phenomenal marksman and promote him to corporal.

York still wants nothing to do with the Army and killing. Major Buxton, his sympathetic commanding officer, lectures York about history from a U.S. history book. He gives York temporary leave to go home and think about fighting to save lives. York wants to read the U.S. history book and the officer gives it to him. He tells York that after his leave if he still doesn't want to fight he will discharge him from the army. York reads the book, decides he will serve his country and reports back for duty. York decides to leave it in God's hands, but still doubts he can kill someone because of his interpretation of the Bible.

His unit is shipped out to Europe and participates in an attack during the Meuse-Argonne campaign. Pinned down by German fire and seeing his friends being shot down all around him, his self-doubt disappears. Owing to the large number of casualties, York suddenly finds himself the last remaining Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) and thus placed in charge. He works his way around behind German lines and shoots with such deadly effect that the Germans surrender. Then, York forces a captured German officer (Charles Esmond) at gunpoint to order the Germans still fighting to surrender. He and the handful of other survivors end up with 132 prisoners. York becomes a national hero and is awarded the Medal of Honor.

York later explains that he did what he did to hasten the end of the war and minimize the killing.

Returning to Tennessee, after a ticker tape parade and celebration, the people of Tennessee have purchased the bottomland farm he tried to get before the war and paid for a house to be built on the land where Gracie and Alvin will start their married life.


The movie depicts York as the eldest of three children. In real life, he was the third of eleven children. His two older brothers had moved away from home by the time his father died, so York became the man of the house.

In the movie, York became a Christian after he was struck by lightning while riding his mule. Real-life accounts of his conversion vary. Some say he did it to please his mother. Others say he did it to win the affections of his future wife, Gracie Williams. All accounts agree that York quit drinking and fighting and started attending church, and later became a genuine convert.

The movie shows York deciding to go to war after reading the Bible verse that says, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." In real life, his commanding officer brought this verse to his attention. As the movie depicts, York did take a furlough to consider the matter, and was praying on top of a mountain when he believed God gave him his answer.

The movie depicts York coming home to a new house and farm provided for him by the state of Tennessee. In real life, York had been home and married a few years before the state gave him his new farm.


Academy Awards

The film won two Academy Awards:

It was also nominated for:


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