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Yankee Doodle Dandy Movie Review

cohan george cagney story

1942 – Michael Curtiz –

Yankee Doodle Dandy is the story of the great George M. Cohan, Broadway song and dance legend. The film takes us through his life in a flashback while he speaks to President Roosevelt prior to receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. As Cohan leaves FDR, he descends a grand White House staircase with a dancing jaunt in his stride, an emblematic image for a film that celebrates the patriotic confidence of America.

The story is just as lively as this hoofer, combining biography, nostalgia, and song and dance. James Cagney does a marvelous job as the fiery but friendly Cohan. His personality and energy carry the entire film, and the audience identifies with his brash self-confidence that covers a kindness and concern for others. A good supporting cast also makes the movie enjoyable and includes Cagney's own sister and Rosemary de Camp (fourteen years younger than Cagney, whose mother she plays).

The filmmakers create a realistic, if Hollywoodesque, environment of the New York theater life. One strength of the movie is that the focus stays squarely on the story of George. What appeals so much is that George Cohan, in his own words, is just an “ordinary guy.” The idea that this ordinary guy can use his talent to become a hero and a celebrity is the dream of everyone. The film constantly insists that it is the glory of America that such a dream is possible.

The story is simple: a small-time child actor becomes known in the role of Peck's bad boy, and his career keeps going up. He continues to act with his family of four and eventually adds a wife. He tries his hand at writing and producing shows that ordinary people want to see and becomes a big success. He goes on to write some of the most patriotic American songs, like “Grand Old Flag” and “Over There.” This leads to his conference with the President.

Although the story is uplifting, there are times when the movie drags a bit, especially during some of the dance routines that the Cohans stage. If you can look past its datedness, the songs are familiar and the film is inspiring and romanticized. Overall, a great biography through music.

Cast: James Cagney (George M. Cohan), Joan Leslie (Mary Cohan), Walter Huston (Jerry Cohan), Richard Whorf (Sam Harris), Irene Manning (Fay Templeton), George Tobias (Dietz), Chester Clute (Goff), Rosemary de Camp (Nellie Cohan), Jeanne Cagney (Josie Cohan), S.Z. Sakall (Schwab), Eddie Foy Jr. (Eddie Foy), Odette Myrtil (Madame Barthold), George Barbier (Erlanger), Douglas Croft (George M. Cohan at 13), Jack Young (the President) Screenwriter: Robert Buckner, Edmund Joseph Cinematographer: James Wong Howe Composer: George M. Cohan, Heinz Roemheld Producer: Hal Wallis for Warner Bros. Running Time: 126 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1942: Actor (James Cagney), Sound, Score/Musical; Nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor (Walter Huston), Director, Original Story, Editing; New York Film Critics Awards 1942: Best Actor (James Cagney) Box Office: $4.7M.

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