Thursday, September 26, 2013

#1,137. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Directed By: Michael Curtiz

Starring: James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston

Tag line: "Get ready to Laugh, to Sing, to Shout! ...For here comes Uncle Sam's Star Spangled Yankee Doodle Dandy!"

Trivia: James Cagney won his first and only Oscar for this movie

My introduction to James Cagney was courtesy of my father, who recorded a trio of the actor's films off a local UHF station in the early 1980s. In all three of these pictures: White Heat, The Fighting 69th, and Angels With Dirty Faces, Cagney played tough-as-nails characters that never backed down from a fight. Fascinated with his persona, I checked out a few more Cagney movies, including The Roaring Twenties and The Public Enemy, where he was every bit as gritty and unflinching as in those other three. 

So, imagine my surprise when, a few years later, I saw Yankee Doodle Dandy for the first time. A far cry from his streetwise gangster movies, Yankee Doodle Dandy sees Cagney portraying legendary song and dance man George M. Cohan, who wrote such patriotic tunes as “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, “Over There”, and, of course, “The Yankee Doodle Boy”.

George M. Cohan (Cagney) has been summoned to the Oval Office to meet with U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Once there, he tells the President the story of his life, starting with the early days, when he joined his family’s vaudeville act. Billed as the Four Cohans, George, his father (Walter Huston), mother (Rosemary DeCamp) and sister (Jeanne Cagney), toured the United States and were a hit everywhere they played. But when George’s cocky attitude cost them a few gigs, he left the Four Cohans and struck out on his own. 

With the help of new partner Sam Harris (Richard Whorf) and the support of his loving wife Mary (Joan Leslie), Cohan took Broadway by storm, churning out one hit show after another, on his way to becoming the most popular entertainer of his time.

Released at the height of World War II, Yankee Doodle Dandy is, in many ways, a propaganda film, glorifying America at a time when the country needed to feel good about itself. Yet even today, this movie casts a spell over an audience, and James Cagney is the reason why. The actor gives it his all in each and every musical number, energetically belting out the three songs mentioned above, as well as “Give My Regards to Broadway”, “Harrigan”, and the very entertaining “Off the Record”, a humorous tune in which Cohan portrays President Roosevelt. The film features genuine warmth as well; a scene where Cohan visits his dying father will surely bring a tear to your eye. That said, it is Cagney’s spirited song and dance numbers that make Yankee Doodle Dandy such a fun movie.

Over the course of his career, Cagney would often return to the tough-guy roles that made him a star. But as he shows us in Yankee Doodle Dandy, he could do a whole lot more than just throw a punch!


Unknown said...

Angels With Dirty Faces is one of the first movies I saw on television

TheRingoKid said...

Just discovered your website today. Have spent the entire afternoon brwosing. My wife is still unhappy that, on July 4, 2013, I stayed inside to watch "Yankiee Doodle Dany" instead of sitting outside in the heat to visit with her family. I stand my my decision.