film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

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I link to my blog posts on Facebook, and I’ve had friends and family ask me about my progress through the list, asking when I’ll be getting to one or another movie.  My uncle Peter was especially keen on when I’d be getting to Sullivan’s Travels.  “I think that’s my favorite movie,” he told me over Thanksgiving.  And again on Christmas.  Peter: this one’s for you.

I’d actually heard about this film before, without having seen it.  John Sullivan (Joel McCrea), a director of wildly popular screwball comedies, has decided he wants to Get Serious and adapt a “socially conscious” novel about the deprived underclasses called O Brother, Where Art Thou for his next outing (yes, that sounds like a familiar title, we’ll get to that at the end).  He wants to make something that will educate and inspire the Little Guy.  But towards that end, he wants to understand the Little Guy, and concocts a scheme to dress up as a hobo and live out on the open road for a while first; then when he feels he really gets them, he’ll come back and make his Serious Masterpiece.

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Things do not quite go according to plan.  Initially the studio insists on a support team following him in what is basically a fully fitted-out tour bus, complete with lawyer, doctor, publicist and cook on standby just in case; but Sullivan shakes them and manages to thumb a ride pretty quickly.  But he realizes too late that the driver is heading back to Hollywood instead of further out into the wilderness, and the studio finds him again (but agrees to be more hands-off). He meets a young woman (Veronica Lake, known only as “The Girl” in the credits) who’s giving up on Hollywood and trying to save up for a bus ticket home; she learns about his plan and begs to come along, disguised as a boy.  After a couple weeks of slumming it in flophouses and sleeping rough, Sullivan and The Girl call “time” on their experiment and rejoin Sullivan’s support team.

The publicist has been working on a puff piece about Sullivan’s trip and has a great idea for an ending: they give Sullivan a couple hundred dollars in five-dollar bills and send him back out as himself to distribute them to the panhandlers he’d met previously.  But his big stack of cash proves too enticing for one of the homeless men, who knocks him out and seizes all the cash before shoving Sullivan into a boxcar bound for Georgia. When he comes to, he is imprisoned for trespassing and assaulting a guard in his confusion.  And there Sullivan’s troubles really begin – and with them, Sullivan’s education about the value of his past films.

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I knew dimly about the plot before, but hadn’t known about Sullivan’s false starts; I was expecting a pretty straightforward on-the-road tale throughout, with Sullivan going through a long slow slide down. The meandering path and the meddling of the studio actually make for a more complex narrative; initially, no longer how long Sullivan was on the road, he always knew that he could hit an eject button that would send him back to his comfortable mansion in Beverly Hills whenever he wanted.  McCrea also plays Sullivan as one of those painfully earnest Hollywood celebrities that wants so hard for their art to be a Force For Good but hasn’t realized that the common folk they hope to speak to all have minds of their own and little patience.  An early scene sees Sullivan turning to another man in a boxcar and asking him his views on Marxism; his only answer is a long stare, followed by his new friend rolling his eyes and walking away.  It isn’t until Sullivan faces real hardship that he really can empathize with the common man he’s trying to reach out to.

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Actually, the scene that gives Sullivan his epiphany is interesting in and of itself. The work crew Sullivan is on is given a rare treat; a nearby church invites them to join in with their church movie night.  It’s a poor African-American Baptist congregation; but still, the scene is refreshingly free of any egregiously stereotypical “black” characters.  There’s a preacher talkin’ gospel, but he’s only doing so to urge his flock to be welcoming to the chain gang. No one does any minstrel mugging at any point.  Admittedly just seeing extras behaving like regular people feels like a low bar today, but at the time it was such a novelty that the head of the NAACP wrote director Preston Sturgess a gushing letter thanking him for the “dignified and decent treatment of Negroes in this scene.” Frankly, after seeing the single depiction of a black character in High Sierra, I’m inclined to agree with that praise.

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The first few scenes with Veronica Lake also grabbed my attention.  Ultimately her character turns into more of an ingénue, but in the first few scenes, she’s a world-weary, seen-it-all snarker who initially takes pity on Sullivan when he’s posed as a bum; he wanders into a diner, and she overhears him turning down food when he says he doesn’t have enough – so she orders him a plate of eggs, on her.  As they chat, she hints at some of her bad luck with a tellingly current comment:

You know, the nice thing about buying food for a man is that you don’t have to listen to his jokes. Just think, if you were some big shot like a casting director or something, I’d be staring into your bridgework saying ‘Yes, Mr. Smearcase. No, Mr. Smearcase. Not really, Mr. Smearcase! Oh, Mr. Smearcase, that’s my knee!’

In reality, apparently Veronica Lake got on McCrea’s nerves and he turned down the chance to co-star with her on a later movie.  She definitely gives the impression of being someone who does not suffer fools, either on screen or off.

…Okay, if you’re a Coen Brothers fan the title of the movie Sullivan wants to make probably caught your eye.  And yes, the Coen brothers have acknowledged that they named their own film O Brother, Where Art Thou as an homage to this one, and have even said that their own film was one that the fictional John Sullivan might have made in his own day.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

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So the cynical me found a lot to snort about in How Green Was My Valley.  Based on a smash-hit novel by English author Richard Llewellyn, it’s a nostalgic and idealized bildungsroman from the perspective of Huw (Roddy McDowall), the youngest son in the Morgan family, looking back on his early childhood in a small mining village in Wales.  And based on everything I’ve just told you, you can probably predict some of the events: yes, people are tragically killed in mine disasters, yes there’s a couple instances of class struggle, yes there’s a kindly villager who sees potential in young Huw and encourages him to educate himself and escape the colliers’ life (and yes, that schooling does involve a teacher who looks down on our hero for being a little bit too rustic in his demeanor).  Yes, there’s also a long-suffering mother and a stern but kind father.  And yes, the town is a picturesque little idyllic paradise which our now-adult Huw leaves at the end of the film (only in voiceover).

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I was actually surprised how little we saw of Huw himself in the film, and how many of the events are things that he witnessed as opposed to being things he did. Yeah, we have scenes of him at school, and a very early scene where he excitedly buys penny candy with some pocket money, but other than that the bulk of the film mainly deals with things happening to his siblings and parents; his brothers and father quarrelling over whether the miners should unionize, the doomed romance between his older sister Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) and the young pastor in their church (Walter Pidgeon) or his sister-in-law Bronwyn (Anna Lee) coping with an unexpected tragedy.  To be fair, though, a lot of the first half of the film sees Huw lying in the front parlor, bedridden from a bad accident, so a fly on the wall for a lot of other goings-on was pretty much all he could do.  And fortunately, everyone else in the film turns in a fine performance, and the tales being told are all poignant.  But after the third such poignant tale and the third such Death Of A Way Of Life That Will Never Come Again, I started to feel like the sentiment was being laid on a little thick.

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However, reading a little about the film’s production history made me forgive it a little.  The original screenwriter, Philip Dunne, actually toned down some of the sentiment and treacle from the original book; he once described the book in an interview as “turgid stuff, long speeches about Welsh coal miners on strike.”  Geopolitics lead to the film getting scaled down even further; director John Ford originally wanted a 4-hour epic shot on location in Wales, so we could see the lush green valley described in the story in glorious technicolor.  However, World War II’s Battle of Britain started right as they were about to begin filming, and the possibility of German Luftwaffe attacks made Wales somewhat less suitable as a filming location.  So Ford switched Wales for Santa Monica and Technicolor for black and white, scrapped the glorious nature shots he’d had in mind and focused on the story itself (there are still some beautifully-composed shots, so I personally didn’t miss the color).

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And I think the War also added to the tone of nostalgia that pervaded the film. The cast and crew were filming right before the United States entered the War, but they were hearing about it on the news every day; hearing about the real events impacting the real little Welsh villages that inspired their pretend one. Most of the cast were also emigres from the British Isles; Roddy McDowall had only just arrived in the United States as a refugee with his family, fleeing the outbreak of war.  And thus apparently the film became a major bonding experience for them all; no doubt there were a great many heart-to-heart talks people had with each other about the fears of war and for families abroad.  Sometimes members of the cast would even just hang out on set, reluctant to leave the idealized and safe little haven that the film was depicting.  The cast bonded so tightly, in fact, that Ford apparently hosted reunion parties for the cast and crew every year or so, always set close to the date they’d begun filming.

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And it’s not a leap to imagine that the nostalgia is also what drew audiences.  Things weren’t perfect by a long shot – there are events about which Huw has only a child’s understanding, but life still seems something of a challenge.  But the film leans into values like family, duty, honor, and faith pretty hard (there’s a lengthy speech that the pastor has with Huw about faith and prayer, during which the nonreligious may find themselves squirming a bit).  The film was released only two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but audiences were no doubt already fearful of war and longing for escape to a simpler and happier time when decency won out (at least usually).  This sentiment also carried over during the Oscars – John Ford beat out Orson Welles for Best Director that year, and the film defeated Citizen Kane for Best Picture.  Donald Crisp also took a Best Supporting Actor statuette as patriarch Gwilym Morgan.

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So the cynic in me still shakes its head a little; but the compassionate side of me understands this film’s message and appeal very well, thinking of the cast and crew and audience at the time it was made.  I understand that desire for escape (that’s a story I will tell in a much later review), and while I didn’t share it today, I definitely understand why they sought comfort then, and can’t fault them in the slightest.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

The Wolf Man (1941)

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So it’s an inescapable fact that I’m watching many of these movies well after their initial release, and sometimes that passage of time is affecting my reaction in some unforeseen and unexpected ways.  This was definitely the case with The Wolf Man.

The Wolf Man is one of the titans of the horror films from Hollywood’s Golden Era; but surprisingly, it was released nearly a decade after the others (like Dracula and Frankenstein), at a time when monster horror films were getting a little passe.  Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, too, it seems to be a wholly original film; there was no 19th Century Gothic Horror novel upon which this was based.  In fact, a lot of the common conceptions we have about werewolves were invented for this film – the fact that werewolves can only be killed with silver, or that being bitten by a werewolf turns you into one yourself.

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That’s exactly the fate that befalls our tragic hero, Larry Talbot (Lon Cheney Jr.), the prodigal son of an upper class English lord.  He’s just come home after about 20 years to help his father manage the estate, and quickly gets his head turned by pretty Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), who works in a local antique shop.  She’s engaged, but lets Talbot take her out one evening – with her best buddy Jenny as a chaperone – to get their fortunes told at the gypsy camp that’s just set up out of town.  Gwen and Larry slip off for a more intimate chat while Jenny goes first – incidentally, the gypsy who reads her palm is Bela Lugosi, in a small cameo role – but they are surprised when Jenny soon runs screaming past them, with a wolf in pursuit.  Larry heroically comes to her rescue, clubbing the wolf to death with a silver-headed cane Gwen’s just sold him.  But he gets a nasty bite in the process, and Gwen has to help him home.  Even stranger, when police return to the scene, they find Jenny’s body – but instead of a dead wolf, they find the body of one of the gypsies.  More strange deaths happen over the next week or so, and Larry Talbot starts feeling very unlike himself…

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So some bits of this film felt a little cheesy.  Every night scene seems bathed in dense fog and eerie mood lighting.  The “gypsy camp” is pure fairytale nonsense, and the actress Maria Ouspenskaya’s role as “gypsy wise woman” Malvela seems to be more of a convenient exposition and plot device than she is a person; whenever we need to learn something about werewolf lore, or whenever Gwen needs to get somewhere in a hurry, along comes Malvela on her pony cart, spouting arcane folk sayings.

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Still, I had to wonder if the reason why those elements felt so cheesy is because those are precisely the elements that got picked up in the film’s later sequels, like The Wolf Man Meets Frankenstein and other B-movie drive-in fare.  That’s one of the big disadvantages I have in watching this today, I think; I am more familiar with all of those cornball films than I was with this original, and am familiar with them as cornball films, things that get shown on late night public access cable and introduced by someone named “Mistress Fangora” or something.  The later films all copied the same kind of murky fog and spooky music, but with lesser-quality acting and performances, so even though the quality of the script is a bit better here, my head still goes to “this is hokey”.  And the script definitely is trying to be better than that; so much so that Alex (who watched too) and I ended up having a lengthy discussion about why the whole thing felt like it was trying to be a morality play.  I’ve also since realized that the film was trying to do a little bit of “is Larry really a werewolf or is this all in his head” as well; that was the original idea, anyway, and there are some definite parts of the script that point to that “is he or isn’t he” question.  Granted, the fact that you see Larry transform into the werewolf kind of undercuts that, but never mind.

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There’s one bit that did not age well at all; Larry’s initial meeting with Gwen comes after he’s been playing around with a telescope, and sees her trying on earrings in her bedroom above the antique shop.  He carefully notes the shop, then immediately goes there, posing as a customer.  When he sees Gwen is indeed behind the counter, he walks up to her and says he’s in the market for earrings.  When she shows him their stock, he turns them down.  “I’m looking for something pretty specific,” he says, describing the exact set of earrings he’d seen her try on.  When she still doesn’t catch on, politely saying that she hasn’t seen anything like that, he says, “oh, but you have, they’re upstairs on your vanity right now!”  ….Let’s just say that the reaction in my apartment to that line was pretty strong.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

High Sierra (1941)

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So, the people associated with High Sierra were pretty fascinating.  And I’m talking about both the characters in the film and the cast and crew; this was Humphrey Bogart’s first starring role, and his first professional collaboration with writer John Huston (who prior to this was Bogart’s drinking buddy).  Ida Lupino, who played Bogart’s main love interest (and more on why I said “main” later), had an even more intriguing story; she ultimately went into directing, mainly in television.

The characters are interesting too – Bogart plays Roy Earle, a bank robber in the clink who’s just gotten pardoned at the top of the film.  But it turns out one of his old bosses pulled some strings to get him out, for he needs Earle to spearhead a heist at a splashy resort in California.  Earle heads west to the Sierra-Mountain camp where the rest of the team for the heist has set up a base of operations, and meets Marie Garson (Lupino), a taxi dancer one of the others fell for in Los Angeles and invited to tag along with him. However, Garson wasn’t as interested in the dude as much as she was desperate to get out of Los Angeles, so as the team waits for the go-ahead for their heist, Garson finds her attention shifting to Earle, and he gradually finds himself reciprocating – a development that has a tragic impact on their stories.

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Now, it would be one thing if that were the whole story.  But it’s not – there’s also a subplot with Earle getting sweet on another woman entirely for a while, the daughter of an Okie family Earle meets briefly en route to California and coincidentally meets again in Los Angeles. Velma (Joan Leslie) is a pretty and shy young thing, suffering from a congenital club foot, and Earle is smitten enough to gallantly offer to pay for her corrective surgery.  Which is nice and all – except Velma doesn’t return his affections.  And then there’s another plot thread about Earle’s boss Big Mac, and how his sudden death leads to a power struggle in the crime gang to which Earle belongs which further affects his plans.  And there’s still another bit about a stray dog that starts tagging along with Garson and Earle, and the fact that this dog may or may not be a bad-luck totem.

And…to be honest, that’s a lot for a movie that’s only a little over 90 minutes.  The performances are all fantastic; the characters also all have all sorts of weird little fillips of extra business that flesh them out, like Earle’s being visibly charmed by the natural world – periodically during his drive to California, he often pulls over just to stop and marvel at the country he’s driving through.  Even at the very beginning of the film, when he is let out of jail and a driver is waiting to drive him to a meeting with Big Mac’s representative to hear about the heist, Earle tells the driver to give him a half hour to go hang out in a park first. (There is one glaring exception; an African-American handyman at the camp, played by Willie Best, is largely a pretty glaring and icky stereotype of a guy, sadly.)

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There’s also a daring action sequence towards the end, with a high-speed car chase up Mount Whitney followed by a sharpshooter standoff.  A lot of the film was shot on location, which I realized meant someone actually did have to drive that fast up those winding roads on camera.  I’ve driven in that part of the country myself, and was freaked out enough by the steep cliffs and winding mountain passages; I was going about 15 mph in my little automatic rental the whole way.  So seeing someone (most likely a stunt driver) doing the same at high speed on a stick shift was unexpectedly gripping.

But there’s just so much happening in the script that ultimately it felt like it didn’t hang together as well as it could.  Earle and Garson were interesting enough characters that I wanted to know more about them as they were, without having to throw in a spadeful of other subplots and side plots as character development.  Presumably Velma’s story is in there to show Earle’s moral side, but I’m still not convinced that a romantic subplot needed to be added into that.  And while the dog does have a bit of a pivotal role in the final events, I don’t buy that they needed to add all of the hoodoo about him potentially being bad luck.

There may be two reasons there was so much going on in the script.  John Huston was still new to the game as a screenwriter, with only a handful of co-writing credits to his name (Jezebel among them).  While Huston shared screenwriting credit for High Sierra, this was one of the first instances where he was really in charge, and may have wanted to go for broke a little.  Also, Huston’s collaborator was the novelist W. R. Burnett – the film was based on one of his own novels, and he may have lobbied to keep in some bits that Huston may have been able to cut if Burnett hadn’t been around.

Critics didn’t seem to mind, though.  While some reviews sniffed a bit at the heightened melodrama of the plot, most raved about the casting and the performances – justifiably so, I think – and the action sequences.  Whatever I may think of the script, it did lead to the film that won big for everyone involved.

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The Lady Eve (1941)

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Alex will sometimes join me in watching a film and we usually have a lively discussion after.  This time, his commentary was more pithy.  About 45 minutes into The Lady Eve, Alex blurted out, “….this movie is so dumb.” 

The thing is, he didn’t mean it as an insult.  And I agreed.

The Lady Eve is a screwball comedy starring two people better known for dramatic roles (Barbara Stanwyck, who we last saw from Stella Dallas, and Henry Fonda, late of Grapes of Wrath).  Fonda is Charles Pike, the heir to a millionaire brewer who is instead pursuing a career in ophidiology (the study of snakes); he’s just wrapped up a year in the Amazon assisting one of his professors, and is bringing a live specimen home via steamship.  Stanwyck is Jean Harrington, part of a father-daughter team of con artists who’ve been hopping from steamer to steamer roping people into card games and fleecing them before they hit the next dock.  They first see Pike in the ship’s dining cabin – ignoring all the other women making eyes at him as he reads a book about snakes – and peg him as an easy mark; Harrington can try turning on the charm and romancing him a little, persuading him to a friendly card game with her and her dear old dad.  So what if he is oblivious to the point that Jean literally has to trip him to get his attention.  She then accuses him of breaking the heel on her shoe, and hhe’s such a decent chap that he offers to escort her back to her cabin to change shoes, and is soon falling sway to her feminine wiles. Harrington has him right where she wants him.  Except – he’s such a decent guy that now she’s not sure she wants to go through with the con, and actually tries to double-cross her own father to spare Pike.

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But then right before they dock back in the USA – right when Jean is about to confess her feelings – Pike discovers evidence of her criminal past, and angry breaks up with her.  Stung, Jean persuades her father to join her in a second, different con against Pike – and this time, it’s for revenge.

Fonda manages to play Pike as somehow both intelligent and stupid; he’s a student of biology who can’t even pick up that the woman turning up at his house and calling herself “The Lady Eve Sidwich” is actually Jean Harrington, even though she’s made no effort to disguise herself aside from affecting an accent.  He’s a fuddy-duddy who gets the vapors when “Eve” relates a long list of past lovers she’s had, but is easily swept off his feet simply by Jean showing a bit of leg.  Surprisingly, Fonda’s salt-of-the-earth earnestness serves him here, as it did in Grapes of Wrath – he oozes “decent upright citizen” all throughout, the kind of trusting soul who takes everyone at their word and believes in decency and fair play.  Exactly the kind of person who’d be taken in by such a pair of cons.

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As for Stanwyck, she’s having a blast – she gets to play two characters, both of them the smartest people in the room by far, and one of them a juicy femme fatale.  There’s an extended sequence when Jean is in her cabin with Pike, having a conversation, and she begins playing with his hair while she speaks.  An enraptured Pike sits enchantedfor a full three minutes while Jean strokes and caresses and runs her fingers through his hair, talking away about something perfectly inconsequential – because she knows that Pike isn’t listening to her anyway, and that’s the point. (Incidentally, an earlier draft of the script implied the two went on to hook up in Jean’s cabin; but the Hays Board put a stop to that.)

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This movie is ridiculous. But not unpleasantly so – even as you’re rolling your eyes at Pike’s naïveté or over some of the sight gags (Fonda has five pratfalls in a single scene), you’re also chuckling at Jean’s wit.  Actor William Demarest has a small role as Pike’s valet and self-appointed protector, and a recurring gag sees him going to greater and greater lengths to convince Pike that “the Lady Eve” is not who she seems.  There’s a completely pointless gag involving a horse that nevertheless had me giggling.  This film is dumb, but in the way that some big cuddly dogs are a little endearingly dumb and you end up fond of them in spite of yourself.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Sergeant York (1941)

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About halfway through Sergeant York, I had what I thought was a genius thought – “hey, this is like the granddaddy of Hacksaw Ridge!”  I was so struck by that thought that I suspected Mel Gibson had been inspired by this film, and did some curious research after watching.  But not only did I not find any evidence Gibson had been inspired by this film, I found scores of other critics all having the same “hey, this is like Hacksaw Ridge!” thought.  Ah well.

To be fair, there are some strong parallels.  Both films are about men from Appalachia who go off to war, despite being conscientious objectors.  And in both cases, the men save an impressive number of lives despite their religious oppositions to killing, earning them not only the respect of their peers but multiple decorations for heroism. And, remarkably, both films are based on true stories (I looked up the story of the real Sergeant York afterward to confirm it).

But that’s where things diverge a bit. Hacksaw Ridge is more focused on the period immediately before and during the wartime service of its subject, Desmond Doss, with most of the action taken up by his main act of heroism during the Second World War.  Sergeant York, meanwhile, is about a hero of the First World War, Alvin York, and covers a good deal of his backstory and a little of his post-war homecoming.

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Gary Cooper plays York, who’s a definite hellraiser at the onset of the movie; by day he’s the head of the sharecropping household he shares with his widowed Ma and two younger siblings, struggling to farm in the poor rocky plot of land that is theirs; but at night he rides off to a local saloon to get good ‘n’ drunk.  Ma tolerates it, patiently understanding that someone with such a hard life needs some kind of venting outlet, but both she and the local pastor secretly hope something will help young Alvin see sense one day.  And eventually, Alvin sees – not sense, but Grace.  That is, he sees the pretty Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie) and decides he wants to straighten up a bit so he can woo her more effectively.   But Gracie only starts him on his road to Damascus – it takes a near miss with a literal thunderbolt to turn him the rest of the way towards religion.  And when he converts, he’s all in.

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Which makes it all the more complicated for him when the United States finally enters the First World War.  The newly-pious York takes all the Biblical commandments very seriously, particularly the one about “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.  When he’s drafted, he and his pastor file several appeals to excuse him from service, all of which fail; by this time, York is away in Georgia on basic training, and has been impressing his commanding officers with his superior marksmanship, perfected during a lifetime of hunting game in the woods near his Tennessee home.  When all his appeals fail, his commanding officers take him aside for a bit of a chat about how they respect his convictions and all, but maybe he could make an exception during wartime?….

I have to step in here for a minute and state that the wartime acts depicted in the movie are indeed true, and are not overblown Hollywood heroism.  The real Alvin York was involved in an offensive action in France, and was one of a squad of seventeen soldiers sent to capture and neutralize a German machine gun position.  While his squad was able to capture many of the German soldiers stationed there, another group of German soldiers surprised them by re-manning the machine guns while the Americans were coping with their prisoners, opening fire and injuring many of the Americans.  York was uninjured, however, and managed to singlehandedly kill all six of the German soldiers manning the station – and would have killed a seventh if he hadn’t run out of ammunition.  However, that seventh man was the commanding officer of that particular German unit, and was already offering his entire 130-man platoon in surrender to York and the other eight remaining Americans.  I honestly thought that bit was an exaggeration, but again, that is absolutely true.

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In my defense, I wasn’t suspicious solely because that was such a remarkable act.  The film had also shown me a couple of borderline corny “dramatic” moments meant to punch up parts of York’s story. York’s miraculous escape from lightning is one.  Another comes later in the film, when his commanding officer is trying to persuade him to drop his conscientious objector suit.  York is sent home with a copy of an American History book and ten days’ furlough to think things over; he spends all ten days holed up on a mountain, reading the history book and the Bible in turns, wrestling with his convictions until a chance gust of wind happens to blow the Bible open to the very passage that manages to finally convince York to take up arms in battle.

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Fortunately, though, the corny moments are few.  There could have been many – Ma could have complained more about York’s hellraising, York and his pastor could have had shouting matches with his commanding officers in pursuit of his conscientious objector status, the “hellraising” scenes could have been broader.  York’s hometown is in rural Appalachia, and even here the film avoids lots of the stereotypes about hicks and hillbillies that are all too common about that region.  Maybe it’s because the real Alvin York was still alive, but the film takes a matter-of-fact tone for the most part.   Cooper’s performance is also matter-of-fact and refreshingly understated, which also helps with the more over-the-top scenes.  It also helped Cooper to win the Best Actor Oscar in 1941.