As much as I would have liked to wacth the rerun of ‘The Box and The Bunny’ episode of Ugly Betty, I came across something last night on Turner Classic Movies that I couldn’t resist. I even made the kids watch, much to their initial chagrin. We watched the 1941 classic Seargent York.
I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid; I had forgotten just what a well made film this was. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of one on Tennessee’s favorite sons – he even beat out Orson Welles’ performance in Citizen Kane. All I can say is that this movie stands the test of time. My kids wanted to stay up for the end (you have no idea what a big deal THAT is when dealing with an old, black and white movie). That’s how good it is. A few observations:
We tend to think that attention to historical detail in film is a modern concept, invented by Ron Howard. Not so. This movie had so many things right, including the proper names of cities and towns, WW I battles, costumes. I loved how they had the old 19th century Baptist style church, with men on one side and women on the other (they even had seperate entrances). Then there’s the dialect.
This brings up a stickler. The dialect in the movie, we modern city folk feel, HAS to be exaggerated. Well, I’ve run into a few old timers from Fentress County – it’s not too far off. Certainly the pronounciation ‘Agin’ for against, and wide use of the phrase ‘I reckon’.
The whole “folks on the bottom look down on folks at the top” thing is ABSOLUTELY accurate. In farming, it’s much easier to work flat land (and bottom land is much more fertile). The poorer you were, the higher up in the hills you were.
At the beginning of the movie last night, I told Lintilla, “This would be a great movie to remake”. After seeing the movie to its completion, I can say with all seriousness, that when it comes to remakes of Seargent York, I’m agin’ it.
There is no way they couldn’t mess it up. The first half of the movie is York’s conversion to Christianity story. There is NO WAY they’d handle this part with the gentle care it was given in the first movie. Also, with today’s mores, something tells me that no modern filmmaker is going to spend a full hour on a conversion story.
There’s also no way a modern director could not inject the modern anti-war sentiment into the parts about York’s status as a consciencious objector. They are two totally and completely different mindsets. I’d hate to see Alvin C York become Abbie Hoffman.
Then there’s the battles themselves. I don’t want to see this lovely story of conscience get overshadowed by a Spielberg-like quest for ‘realism’. A side note for directors: We are not stupid. We know war is graphic, and tragic, and horrible, and ‘All Hell’. You don’t HAVE to show us. Please treat us like adults.
I can’t tell you how weird it was, but at the end of the movie, starting with when York turned down Cordell Hull’s offers for all that money, I was overcome with local pride. I related to York in so many ways: devotion to God over all else, a strong sense of duty, being a Tennesse boy and understanding the culture and history.
If you haven’t seen this movie (even if you haven’t seen it in a while), this is a great one to add to your collection. I know I’m going to.
Update One thing I forgot to mention. If you do happen to watch this movie, look closely at the character ‘George’ (Alvin’s younger brother). He is played by Dickie Moore, and his resemblence to Leonardo DiCaprio is almost scary.