Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Hey, this kid can dance.

Mention James Cagney's name and chances are it's his gangster roles that people will remember - white heat , The Roaring Twenties, The Public Enemy.

But give a chance for this fine biopic by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Sea Hawk) from 1931 of American composer George M. Cohan.

Granted, it's a glowing look at the amazingly prolific career of the Rhode Island native. He wrote more than 300 songs including The Yankee Doodle Boy, Mary is a Grand Old Name and You're a Grand Old Flag. Cohan was known as 'the man who owned Broadway' in the early 1900s because of all his shows that were on the boards. President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal in 1936. Wow. Cohan lived quite the life.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is great entertainment - good music, fine dance and some wonderful performances from the likes of Cagney, as Cohan, Walter Huston and a very young Joan Leslie.

Cohan grew up performing, and travelling widely, with The Four Cohans. The family act featured his parents and sister. Cohan oozes confidence, but his cocky ways irritate promoters and Broadway producers. He gets his break with Little Johnny Jones in 1904 and his career takes off.

Talk about a multi-tasker. Cohan wrote his songs, produced and starred in his many shows.

Cagney is a joy to watch here, especially when he decides to woo stage hopeful Mary (Joan Leslie), who thinks he's a much older man. Watch his dance moves when he's still in full makeup.

Yankee Doodle Dandy celebrates America and its people. See this film.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: From Cagney by Cagney, published in 1976

"Psychologically I needed no preparation for Yankee Doodle Dandy, or professionally either. I didn't have to be a song-and-dance man. I was one."

Cagney read the script and wasn't impressed by the film's lack of humour. He wanted Julius and Phil Epstein (Strawberry Blonde, The Bride Came C.O.D.) "to liven it up and inject humor."

He studied dance with Johnny Boyle, who appeared in The Cohan Revue of 1916.

Cohan, who died five months after the film was released, gave Yankee Doodle Dandy his blessing.

Yankee Doodle Dandy was nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture and director, and won three (actor, sound, recording).

Joan Leslie is still alive at this writing. Her television appearances include The Incredible Hulk and Charlie's Angels!

Eddie Foy, Jr., is yet another actor who appears in Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood. I have to see this film.

Douglas Croft appears as a young George M. Cohan. He also played Lou Gehrig as a boy in The Pride of the Yankees and was Robin in a 1943 version of Batman.

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