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Yankee Doodle Dandy

Updated: Jul 5, 2023


July 4th weekend is the perfect time to revisit the classic biography of George M. Cohan YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. Released 81 years ago, the film has lost none of its star spangled patriotism.

Chosen for the American Film Institute's Top 100 films of all time, and Top 25 Musicals of all time, this timeless classic still inspires.

James Cagney was known for his tough guy gangster roles like "Angels with Dirty Faces" and "White Heat". He breaks through those expectations with his Academy Award winning Best Actor performance as showman/composer Cohan. Often imitated but never duplicated in the decades since, Cagney commits to the complicated dancing scenes with such fever that he creates a stiff-legged style all his own.

The film's creators came together one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor to create the ultimate American war-time film, rousing the country and troops to their mission. And what a list of creators it is. Director Michael Curtiz helmed "Casablanca" the same year! The screenplay is by Julius J. Epstein (Casablanca),

Robert Buckner (Knute Rockne All-American) and Edmund Joseph.

The story opens with an aging Cohan called to the White House for an important meeting, where he begins telling his life story to President Roosevelt. The film flashes back to his youth and tells of his start with his family act The Four Cohans.

His father is played by the legendary Walter Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) in a winning and hilarious performance and Rosemary DeCamp is equally good as Cohan's mother. His sister Josie is played by Cagney's real-life sister Jeanne Cagney.

As the foursome travels the country with a variety show of drama, song and dance, George's star begins to emerge and he pairs up with another playwright Sam Harris (Richard Whorf) for their first big hit on Broadway.

The film spans many decades, loaded with all the classic songs that Cohan composed through the years. Highlights are "Give My Regards to Broadway", "Mary's a Grand Old Name" and "Over There" which became America's war anthem in World War II. "Off the Records" is a favorite as well.

I'm very moved by heartfelt patriotism and if you can keep a dry eye during the full scale stage performance of "You're A Grand Old Flag & War Medley" by Cagney and his full cast, you're made of steel. Singing songs and recreating moments throughout American history on stage, the medley hits you in the gut. The conclusion sees the entire cast and some very clever staging (featuring long treadmills for marching) as seemingly endless American flags march from the capitol.

It's STIRRING and when you consider the staging was done 80+ years ago, it's jaw dropping.

At the heart of the story, Cagney delivers a passionate, joyous performance as George M. Cohan, smiling, full of conviction and love for America. He's unapologetic and winning.

Was Cagney a great singer? No. Was he a classically trained dancer? Not by any stretch, but he does both with such absolute commitment that he creates one of the best singing & dancing performances in film history.

Featured in almost every scene, Cagney raises the film proudly onto his shoulders and marches it right into film history. Like "White Christmas" every holiday season, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY is a must watch every July 4th weekend.

"My Mother thanks you. My Father thanks you. My Sister thanks you. And I thank you."

No thank YOU, Mr. Cagney. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY gets an old-fashioned, star spangled A.



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