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I Found It At the Movies: 1941—Sergeant York (Howard Hawks)

I Found It At the Movies: 1941—Sergeant York (Howard Hawks)

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Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1941: Sergeant York (Howard Hawks)

I love almost all of the Howard Hawks films I’ve seen. He manages to be insightful and human and entertaining and fun all at the same time (in many ways, this is what I see as the very definition of Classic Hollywood).

In general, I would never call Hawks’ formal approach gritty, raw or naturalistic. His films are usually slightly more glossy, with a little artifice here and there. In other words, they are films shot indoors with excellent production design that make you forget you’re not watching the real thing.

But I’ve always felt differently about this one. When I first saw Sergeant York it caught me off guard. I’m not sure whether the locations are any more authentic than those used in Hawks’ previous work, but there’s a certain realism on display here that feels new and different for him. Obviously a large part (maybe the only part) has to do with the fact that this is based on a true story. Whatever the case may be, this biopic (along with a Raoul Walsh entry that I’ll discuss in my 1942 post) feels more real, more true, and more close to life than any I’ve ever seen.

What moviemakers can learn: Our attention spans are undoubtedly getting shorter, and so are many of our movies. But a movie like this shows us the power of taking time to evolve our characters and allow our audience a real opportunity to get to know them.

Other contenders for 1941: This year seems to be unusually rich. I have several major gaps, but also several films that would be close runners-up. The major films I haven’t seen are H.C. Potter’s Hellzapoppin’, Jean Renoir’s Swamp Water, Kenji Mizoguchi’s The 47 Ronin, Ernst Lubitsch’s That Uncertain Feeling, and Yasujirô Ozu’s Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family. I admire the hell out of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and consider it one of the most important films of all time, but for some reason it’s yet to impact me on an emotional level, personally and deeply. I really like The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, and They Died with Their Boots On, but slightly less than my two runners-up. I love The Strawberry Blonde. It captures a lost time and era in a way that feels extremely real to me (realism is one of the things I respond to most in film). Then there’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. It remains one of my favorite films from the director and probably my favorite film ever dealing with paranoia and marital suspicion (Gaslight [1944] would be up there, too.) Finally, though, I gave the year to the Hawks as it grabs hold of me in a way that I’ve rarely experienced with any other film.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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