The true story of Broadway star George M. Cohan, whose
songwriting talents and fervent patriotism made him a national star.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph
Starring James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Richard Whorf, Irene Manning, Rosemary DeCamp, Jeanne Cagney
Oscar Wins - Best Actor (James Cagney), Best Sound Recording, Best Original Score (Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld)
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Walter Huston), Best Director, Best Original Story, Best Film Editing
I recently discovered that James Cagney did his famous gangster film run mostly to pay the bills. His true passion was song and dance, and believe me, you can tell in Yankee Doodle Dandy. While not a perfect film, and at times a boring one, Cagney's dedication and committed performance keep this thing afloat most of the time. He is one of the most talented dancers I've ever seen, and he managed to dance his way to an Oscar with his turn as Broadway star George M. Cohan, the man who gave us the patriotic song "Grand Old Flag," among many others over a long career.
George M. Cohan got his start in the family singing troupe, The Four Cohans, when he was a just a boy. His father Jerry (Huston) molded him into a singer, a dancer, a composer, and an actor. But George gets a rep for being difficult, and ends up blacklisted in theaters across New York. So he leaves the group and tries to make it on his own with his own plays and songs. He joins forces with Sam Harris (Whorf), a struggling writer, and together they become a force to be reckoned with on Broadway. Cohan enjoys a long career devoid of scandal, and comes out of retirement to play F.D.R., eventually getting the Congressional Gold Medal from the president himself.
While all nice and sappy, what's really missing from this film is conflict. This film came out in 1942, just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Considering its extremely pro-American slant and glorification of American nationalism, I don't think it's crazy to call this film propaganda. But that doesn't make it bad. Overall, it's a delightful musical thanks to Cagney's impressive work.