Friday, July 5, 2013

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

I tried to think of a patriotic movie I could review for Fourth of July Film Friday, and then it hit me: James Cagney won his only Best Actor Oscar for his role as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. I had never seen it, so I decided this would be the perfect excuse.

On the one hand, it's a great 1940s musical. The numbers are fun and over-the-top (now I understand why in all The Little Rascals shorts I watched as a kid, every time they "put on a show" they had to go over-the-top!). The songs are all by Cohan, which means they are catchy and fun. The acting is top-notch, of course.

On the other hand, it's a 1940s musical, which means the story is simplified. For some reason, Cohan's actual older sister is made into his younger sister for the film. The whole story is told, literally, by Cohan to President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1936 Cohan was given the Congressional Gold  Medal, the first civilian from the artistic world to receive the award.  It is this honor that is shown as the reason Cohan is called to the White House, although it is obvious that the US is in the midst of WWII at this point in the film.
For what it is, the film is highly entertaining. I especially liked the bit where Cohan tells people he is popular because he gives the people what they want, because he is OF the people. He travelled extensively as a child and did not consider himself just an East-Coaster or of any particular region, but as an American. This might be Hollywood make-believe, but with James Cagney espousing it, it sure does sound good!

The highlight for me (especially this week) are the especially patriotic songs: "Yankee Doodle Boy," "You're A Grand Old Flag," and "Over There."  The scene where Cohan is singing "Over There" to a group of troops when their power goes out is especially powerful and quite well done. Just thinking about these songs makes me have them in my head, which I guess this week is not a bad thing.
If you don't like song-and-dance, you might not like this movie. If you like any of the songs I just mentioned, though, you'll like this movie. And by gosh, that Cagney kid can sing, dance, AND act!

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Robert Buckner & Edmund Joseph
Story by Robert Buckner
Dance numbers staged by
Leroy Prinz & Seymour Felix
James Cagney's dance routines by John Boyle
Music & lyrics by George M Cohan

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