Yankee Doodle Dandy: My Review

Posted: July 7, 2011 in AFI 100, Movies

  Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Dir.  Michael Curtiz

Starring James Cagney, Joan Leslie & Walter Huston

Ranked #98 on AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time


There are legends and then there are true legends.  George M. Cohan is just one of those people who was more than a singer and dancer.  He was so much more and today I watch a film dedicated to his life called Yankee Doodle Dandy.

George M. Cohan was born to Vaudeville actors and according to him, born on the fourth of July.  After a performance where he stars as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the same president to the White House summons him.  While there, he starts reflecting on his life.  We see his rise to fame with his family on the Vaudeville Circuit, his fall from grace and how he pulled himself back to the stage and success with hit song and plays after song and play.  After leaving the White House, he joins a military parade singing Over There, one of his hit songs.

It’s interesting watching James Cagney perform song and dance when he was known better as the King of Gangster Films like Angels with Dirty Faces, Public Enemy No. 1 and The Doorway to Hell.  Cagney was in fact a product of Vaudeville, so playing George Cohan seemed to be a relatively easy transition for him.

For everything that George Cohan was known for, it’s probably his patriotic numbers that most people will associate and remember him for.  This plays quite an important role in Cagney taking the role of Cohan.  In the forties, several congressmen and lawyers were headhunting in Hollywood, looking for anyone that they could label as a Communist and blacklist them.  Cagney’s name was brought up quite often in those circles and was a target for the government.  He always insisted he was a liberal and a supporter of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Of course, this film is all about success and patriotism, and those themes run through out the entire film.  Success comes from Cagney in this role and the fact that he sings and dances entirely himself through this whole film.  He doesn’t dance like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire nor does he sing like the musical stars of those days, but he’s such a great actor that he fools everyone.  He does it with such bravado that you buy that he’s done this for years and years.  Of course Cagney does have roots in Vaudeville but nowhere near what Cohan did.

I wouldn’t call this a musical nor would I call it a docudrama.  I think it’s a fine mix of both, where the musical interludes exist to move the story forward and do not steal from the overall experience.




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