Aeons ago, before I hit my early teens, my parents went on an extended trip.
This was during a time that the cinema was becoming a part of my soul.
One of my father’s friends was involved in the films for TV game, and shortly
before the trip, half a dozen large cardboard cartons arrived, along with a 16mm projector.
This was a special treat for evenings after schoolwork was done, and weekends.
There was an assortment of Monogram films – I was learning about the “B”
production entities, along with a number of pre-1949 Warner titles.
I recall seeing a short commemorating the 25th anniversary of sound at Warners, with
sequences from many early Vitaphone films I’d thus far not seen, following audio up
through the latest and greatest of the era, inclusive of scenes from a Bogart film.
The print were all used. Many had cue marks where commercials would be cut in. Some
fades and dissolves had been removed. But for some the image quality rang out, loud and
I was learning the difference of printing methods, of Kodak vs Dupont film stock, of
prints made by reduction from 35 negatives as opposed to being produced from 16 dupes.
Two titles became my favorites.
One was a 1946 Bogart film – The Big Sleep – and in this old Dupont print, filled to the
brim with silver halide crystals, every detail was visible, down to the chalk pinstripes in
men’s suits. What I recall as being telling was that a replacement section had been cut in
from a new dupe neg, which was flat vs deep blacks, and those chalk stripes were all but
The other film that caught my attention, probably because I was a huge Gary Cooper fan,
was a 1941 film, about the greatest American hero of World War I – Alvin York – who
came from a town in Tennessee so tiny, that it probably wasn’t even on maps. Something
I found it to be a fun film, although I really didn’t understand much of it. The concept of
a conscientious objector wouldn’t form in my young mind for a bit longer, when I saw
another of Mr. Cooper’s films, which came out late in 1956, and in which he (oddly –
does this happen often in films) played a similar character, in an earlier war.
While I’m sure that the mushy parts, with Joan Leslie left little impact on me, even
today I relish hearing him do his turkey calls. That was what the film was about to me
at that time.
Back then, I never would have considered that the film’s original cut camera negative
might someday disappear, but this one, along with many others – did.
I’d not seen a quality print of the film in decades, until the new Blu-ray from Warner Archive
arrived recently, and it brought back a flood of memories.
The imagery on this disc is generally magnificent, but not perfect, and possibly something
needs to be explained at this juncture.
Once a camera negative, which permitted a multitude of different looks via different exposures
is gone, we’re left with the dupes, and I’m presuming that this transfer came from a fine grain
There are just a couple of shots that appear slightly off on the film now. Both are just
slightly heavy. And I’m betting that when the fine grain was produced, it was made this way.
But no matter, the rich tonalities that appeared in 1941, as captured by Sol Polito, are still
very much in evidence. The close-ups of Joan Leslie are glowing.
Between that first viewing of Sergeant York, and today, many things have changed, and
I can now appreciate the incredible direction of Howard Hawks, the low-key acting of
the great Margaret Wycherly, as Mother York, and the innocence portrayed by both
Miss Leslie and June Lockhart, both sixteen at the time. Miss Lockhart is still with us,
at 95, God bless her!
Along with a commentary by Jeanine Basinger, there’s a making-off doc that comes with
the new disc. It was probably on the DVD, but I don’t recall seeing it, and it gives a wonderful
concept of what went into getting the film made.
There have been wonderful anti-war films, but few of this quality and import meant to stir
emotions and get us ready for war.
Sergeant York is one of those extraordinary films that gets better with age, both it’s and ours, and
our understanding of levels of love of country, love of religion, and how it all comes together.
For those who may have never seen this film, you’re in for a treat, and I’m quite jealous of anyone
seeing it for the first time.
This is a film that belongs in every serious collection, and arrives on October 13.
Image – 5
Audio – 5
Pass / Fail – Pass
Upgrade from DVD – Absolutely
Very Highly Recommended
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