Blog Directory CineVerse: A rally-round-the-flag film

A rally-round-the-flag film

Thursday, September 13, 2018

They just don't make films like "Sergeant York" anymore. Truth is, who would swallow the sincerity and genuine patriotism today? That would be some heavy lifting for a contemporary filmmaker and a modern audience. Yet it's fascinating to examine the propagandistic power and forthright folksiness of Howard Hawks' 1941 picture, which wears its heart--and its love of country in a time of war--on its sleeve. These thoughts made for a compelling conversation last night at CineVerse, during which time we discussed the following:


  • Scarface
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • Only Angels Have Wings
  • His Girl Friday
  • To Have and Have Not
  • The Big Sleep
  • Red River
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blinds
  • Rio Bravo
  • While capably directed by Howard Hawks, this picture doesn’t showcase as many of Hawks’ signature traits or hallmarks.
    • For example, Hawks often liked to focus on the dynamics and power of a group working together; this movie concentrates mostly on one person’s heroic journey. 
    • Critics often praise Hawks for his ironic wit and cynical sensibilities, but here he has to treat the character and subject matter with sincerity and reverence.
    • Film critic Robin Wood said: “It is precisely these factors that work consistently against the film’s artistic success. One feels Hawks continually hampered by having to ‘stick to the facts’; an intuitive artist, he is ill-equipped to handle big issues on any but a superficial level.”
  • Interestingly, three-quarters of the movie depicts Alvin York’s life before combat; only about a quarter of the film—most of the last third—depicts his wartime heroics; consider that the latter is what York is famous for. Yet it’s important to flesh out his backstory to invest us more in his personal crisis of conscience and to get us to care about the man and what he values.
  • It feels like the America of York’s time is very different from the America of today.
    • Then, we were rallying round the flag in a show of support for our country, which was just about to enter World War II; this film was unashamedly propagandistic in trying to encourage patriotism and military enlistments. The sentiments and religious convictions are sincere, and there’s no trace of irony or cynicism. 
    • Today, these factors may make the film appear sappy and far outdated, in an era where viewers are skeptical about patriotism, spirituality and trust in government.
    • Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant reviewer, wrote: “Sergeant York pulls out all the stops to get Americans behind its message. It almost shamefully reconstructs the Frank Capra populist formula of 'Mr. Deeds', the naive innocent, staying noble and pure while taking on the evils of the outside world. Instead of asking America to understand what's happening, it keeps its arguments simplistic and personal.”
    • Erickson continued: “Sergeant York doesn't do what we expect it to, condescend to the hillbillies. Hawks and his writers use an hour to paint a warm and fair image of God-fearing, quick-to-fight mountain folk, with understatement and tact. The Tennessee'uns are neither Bible thumping saints nor Dogpatch yokels, and except for York, none are presented as being inherently noble in their ignorance.”
  • It also helps that, even though it’s a war that happened 25 years earlier, the enemy, Germany, is the same.
  • The film has been criticized by some for glorifying war. Consider how York employs his “gobble” turkey tactic to flush out German soldiers, which some say suggests that combat is a sport that rewards the clever. 
  • Love of God versus love of country—and the reconciliation between these two convictions.
  • Love of country and unabashed patriotism as priority. This film was meant to serve as wartime propaganda during WWII and stir viewers into supporting our country’s involvement in it.
  • Redemption and conversion—both a spiritual conversion and a conversion from a pacifist to a person who believes that war and combat are justifiable. We see York as a kind of Saul to Paul biblical character who is transformed on the road.
  • The meek shall inherit the earth: York comes from simple country folk and uses his skills and values as a farmer to succeed in combat and rise above others’ expectations of him.
  • Honor, bravery and sacrifice.
  • The love of a good woman can inspire any sacrifice.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  • This Is the Army
  • To Hell and Back (the Audie Murphy story)
  • Hacksaw Ridge (the true story of Desmond T. Doss, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during WWII on religious grounds)

  © Blogger template Cumulus by 2008

Back to TOP