Film Title: Yankee Doodle Dandy
Studio: Warner Bros.
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
- James Cagney
- Joan Leslie
- Walter Huston
Directed by Michael Curtiz, Yankee Doodle Dandy was released on Memorial Day of 1942 in New York City. This film is a musical based on the life of theatrical legend George M. Cohan and the impact he had on popular culture during the first half of the twentieth century. James Cagney stars as Cohan and is supported by wonderful cast including Walter Huston as Larry Cohan, Joan Leslie as Mary, and Richard Whorf as Sam Harris.
The film begins with an aged Cohan meeting with President Frederick Delano Roosevelt after some controversy surrounding the actor’s latest play. Cagney’s character then soon begins a narration that brings the audience to Providence, Rhode Island in 1878 where he was born. From that point, a chronicle of the man’s life begins from growing up in the Vaudeville troupe called The Four Cohans with his parents and sister, finding the love of his life in a woman named Mary, and achieving success and fame with successful songs like Give My Regards To Broadway, Grand Old Flag, and Over There.
Despite it’s inaccuracy of George M. Cohen’s life, this story is still worth the watch because the plot and message still reflects the human element through the idea of keeping family together and always being there to support one another. This ideal is especially captured when Cohen comes to see his father who is on his death bed. It’s important to note one particular piece of dialogue in this scene:
In a confused state, Huston complains, “I won’t let you break up the act.” Cagney then replies, “don’t worry, dad, they never will. We won’t let them.”
That is such a power statement that immediately reminds the audience of this underlying theme surrounding the power of family. And it doesn’t hurt that James Cagney does an extraordinary job conveying emotion in such a natural, masculine nature through out this entire scene. It’s a great contrast and showcase of acting ability when a viewer can see a new layer to the actor besides the emotionless, hollow gangster that had defined him only a decade prior.
But a true highlight of this film is with out a doubt James Cagney singing and hoofing his way through them as if he was back in his Vaudeville days. Now it’s important to realize that he isn’t a Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire, but this thrilling musical is still worth seeing for Cagney’s unexpected talents and the role that won him an Academy Award for Best Actor. And even though Yankee Doodle Dandy is by far most remembered for the actor’s dancing, this wasn’t the debut. In Footlight Parade, released in 1933, Cagney sang and danced in a number called Shanghai Lil, and then in 1937 in a film called Something to Sing About, he did a small tap dance at the end.
The thing that makes this musical lovable is that the songs are so well known and relatable whether knowing a version on Yankee Doodle Dandy as a child or feeling patriotic when listening to Grand Old Flag on the Fourth of July. For audiences in the Unites States, this movie could easily represent a piece of classic Americana. But besides the patriotism this movie incites, the visual splendor in the numbers like the Little Johnny Jones sequence and Grand Old Flag transcend any national boundaries. After all, this music won Academy Awards for Best Sound Recording and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.
The only true disappointment about this movie is that it wasn’t filmed in color. Color would have greatly enhanced the boldness already conveyed in Little Johnny Jones and Grand Old Flag. In both these numbers, the actors are dressed in beautiful costumes but lack emotion and flavor because of the grayscale.
If the consumer is lucky enough to purchase the two-disc special edition, than this DVD has plenty of extra features to enjoy! Extras include documentaries chronicling the making of the movie and James Cagney’s career, Audio commentrary, John Travolta remembers James Cagney, Leonard Maltin hosts Warner Night At The Movies 1942, James Cagney starring in the short You, John Jones, and much more!
Also, the inside of this DVD offers a colorful, detailed chapter index with black and white images from scenes in the film.
For American viewers, this film is a must see classic especially around Memorial Day, The Fourth of July, Patriots Day, or any other national holiday. For viewers outside the U.S.A, this film is worth watching for its great cast, warm story, and entertaining musical numbers. And for anybody, this film deserves to be in any Cagney collection alongside The Public Enemy, The Fighting 69th, and White Heat.
This movie was nominated for a four academy awards including Best Picture, Best Director-Michael Curtiz, Best Actor in a Supporting Role-Walter Houston, Best Film Editing-George Amy, and Best Original Screen Play-Robert Buckner. And, this film won three additional awards including Best Actor-James Cagney, Best scoring of a Musical Picture- Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld, and Best Sound Recording-Nathan Levinson.
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