War films have shown humankind at both it’s best and it’s worst. Between gritty realism and sappy sentimentalism, these films have the ability to stir nationalism, instill a sense of honor and history or simply provide a snapshot of what life was like at a particularly difficult time. One such film that memorably brings to life World War I is Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York. Gary Cooper plays Alvin York, a poor Southern dirt farmer who does more than his share of drinking, shooting and overall hellraising in a small, rural town in Tennessee. York lives with his mother and siblings (Margaret Wycherly, June Lockhart, and Dickie Moore), blissfully unaware that war is about to explode across Europe. York soon ends his wild ways and finds direction once he meets and falls for the beautiful Gracie (Joan Leslie). Now a hard-worker, York has a mysterious religious experience and suddenly becomes a turn-the-other-cheek pacifist. Well, that is until he is drafted by the Army. Despite seeking an exemption based on religious convictions, York is ultimately shipped off to France. While at war, York shines as a soldier. He leads a group of men on a mission that decimates the enemy, ultimately bringing him the title of American war hero. Once reunited with his family, Alvin readjusts to life back home. He reconnects with and marries his sweetheart and together they start life anew on their own farm and eagerly look ahead to what life will bring them. The film belongs to Gary Cooper as Alvin York. He balances York’s youthful exuberance and sensitive religious conversion with great aplomb. Cooper went on to win the Best Actor Oscar in 1941- beating out the seemingly insurmountable Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. In addition to Cooper’s Oscar, the film scored one other win (Best Film Editing) and it racked up a total of 11 Oscar nominations.
One of the film’s three acting nominations went to Margaret Wycherly, nominee, (172), for her supporting work as Mrs. York, Alvin’s good-natured, devoted mother. Mrs. York’s eventual reunion with her beloved son at the train station near the end of the film is touching and heart-stirring. Wycherly ultimately lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Mary Astor in The Great Lie.