Sunday, November 7, 2010

156. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Running Time: 125 minutes
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Written By: Robert Buckner, Edmund Joseph
Main Cast: James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Richard Whorf, Jeanne Cagney


Years before I began working my way through the "1001" book, I started another movie list watching project that I never finished. It was the "AFI 100 Years...100 Movies" original list. I remember #100 on the list was "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and I intended to watch them in order from 100 to 1, watching Cagney's performance as George M. Cohan first. I remember loving it and I remember thinking: "Wow, if the rest of the movies on the list are as good as this, then I'm in for a real treat!" I never watched "Yankee Doodle Dandy" again until today, and unfortunately it didn't hold up as the glorious movie that I remembered it being, although James Cagney is still great in it.

As I mentioned above "Yankee Doodle Dandy" tells the story of George M. Cohan (Cagney), a prominent singer, dancer, composer, producer, theatre owner, choreographer and actor, who hit his peak in the early 1900s. The film is told in flashback format as Cohan tells his life story to Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom he is meeting on insistence from the President. We hear George's ENTIRE life story, from his birth to his early touring with his father Jerry Cohan (Huston), his mother Nellie (Rosemary DeCamp) and his sister Josie. We follow George as he is cast as the main character in the play "Peck's Bad Boy". As George becomes more of a star, he begins to develop an air of cockiness and confidence, which his father attempts to shun. George grows up and meets aspiring singer/dancer Mary, whom he befriends and tries to help get her start. More growing up is done, as the Four Cohan's lose work, mostly due to George's bad reputation and George breaks away from his family and tries to make a start for himself, with Mary in tow. George begins writing his heart out and trying to get his scripts read all over New York. With no luck and no future in sight, George sees an opportunity to team with Sam Harris and produce a play called "Little Johnny Jones", which he does and it becomes a smash hit. The team of Harris and Cohan is born and they produce Broadway plays in numbers that have never been seen, earning George the moniker of "The Man Who Owns Broadway"! Cohan would gain huge fame and later, a Congressional Medal of Honor for his patriotic songs, "Yankee Doodle Dandy", "Grand Old Flag", "Over There" and "Give My Regards to Broadway".

I should've watched this on Independence Day, as it is one of the most patriotic films I've ever seen. The book makes mention of Cagney's performance saying and I quote: " much, do we care for this man we forget we are watching a performance. Cagney has become Cohan..." I am in total agreement with that statement, for if someone today were to show me a picture of the real George M. Cohan, I'm afraid that it would be utterly impossible for me to wipe away the face of Cagney when pondering the life of George Cohan. Cagney seemingly has a passion for this piece and you can really see that oozing out of him as he sings songs like "Over There" or the title song. It seems as though Cagney energizes the entire cast, as everyone seems to be at the top of their game and I have a feeling that's a result of Cagney's powering energy. I should also probably mention Walter Catlett, whom I saw here and remembered from "Bringing Up Baby". I love this guy and really need to see what else he's in and seek it out.

With all of those gushing sentiments about "Yankee Doodle Dandy", I will say that it does linger on the boring side. The film is quite long for a musical and eventually there comes a point where I'm all sung and danced out. The movie of Cohan's life becomes a bit repetitive too, much like the real life of Cohan, as he produced hit after hit and his star kept rising. As Cohan's star raised in the film, so did my attention decrease. While I love Jimmy Cagney and his performance here, I will say that this movie takes some patience and it's pace varies from steady to slow and dull. This movie will have you singing some classic Cohan songs when it's over, but when you're sitting in the middle of it, there are moments when you want the singing to stop and the credits to roll.

RATING: 5.5/10 I was gonna' go '6', but I'm thinking that would be a bit too generous. We'll leave it at a '5.5' and say farewell to James Cagney and his time in the "1001" book.


November 7, 2010 3:17pm


  1. Would you believe this is unobtainable over here? Frustrating, as I need it to fully complete the 'AFI 100 greatest movie' list. (Now I am sounding like a sad list geek!)

  2. No, if you're a sad list geek, then so am no youre not

  3. I at last shelled out for a Korean region free import as I had been wanting to see this for ages.. and, to be honest, tick it off from several different lists I have on the go.
    I'd only really seen the opening/ending clips, which I thought were great. The rest of the film? Well, I'm afraid I was dissapointed. Perhaps because I had high hopes. But I tend to be not keen on 'flag wavers', and boy tis waves the flag. Well, I guess it has no choise as his songs wave the flag.


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