Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

yankee doodle dandy poster 1942 movie james cagney
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 9/10

Cagney gives it all


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Yankee Doodle Dandy

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Genre(s):  Musical/Drama

Release Date(s):  May 29, 1942

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

yankee doodle dandy james cagney grand old flag dance

It’s a grand old flag!

George M. Cohan (James Cagney) always knew he was a star…you could just ask him.  As his family toured as “The Four Cohans”, George had bigger dreams of becoming the songwriter of America.  When George finally gets the opportunity to make the jump, he doesn’t blow the opportunity, but instead, George becomes what he always knew he could be…a legend.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, Yankee Doodle Dandy is a musical biopic.  The movie was received positively by critics and fans.  It won the Academy Award for Best Actor (Cagney), Best Score, and Best Sound with nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Walter Huston), Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Screenplay.  It was selected in 1993 by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry and frequently makes “best of” lists.  The movie also has the distinction of being the first movie computer colorized by Ted Turner.

Biopics nowadays are a dime a dozen.  It seems like everyone gets a biopic.  That doesn’t mean their bad, but the obvious biopic people have been overrun by people where weren’t as well known by the public.  George M. Cohan was an obvious choice for a biopic at an obvious time.

yankee doodle dandy james cagney fdr dance

It’s off the record…

When Yankee Doodle Dandy came out, America was in the midst of World War II and a lot of George M. Cohan’s work was a patriotic staple during World War I (it was already being made when Pearl Harbor was bombed).  Cohan’s pride in America is obvious in Yankee Doodle Dandy, but it is refreshing that even at the time, the almost sappy love was criticized by some (and the film isn’t afraid to say it).  Like most biopics, the movie glazes over large chunks of Cohan’s life like the fact that Cohan divorced his wife Mary who here seems to be the love of his life…ironically Cohan was an advisor on the movie so many of the choices could be his doing.

James Cagney is great in the role.  The movie is very demanding with a specialized “stiff-legged” dance style and Cagney looks like a natural in many of the scenes.  He allegedly didn’t like Cohan but also was just coming off an investigation by the House of Un-American Activities Committee and ended up making one of the most American films.  The rest of the cast is also strong with Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp (younger than Cagney) playing his parents and Cagney’s real life sister Jeanne Cagney playing his sister Josie and Joan Leslie playing the devoted Mary Cohan.

yankee doodle dandy ending james cagney

Don’t you remember the words, old man?

The movie also looks good.  I don’t know what Cohan’s actual Broadway performances looked like, but if they looked anything like the musicals put on in this movie, they were pretty amazing.  It has to be remembered that it was a different time with plays and musicals being the primary entertainment…and Cohan just having hit after hit.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a good biopic.  Despite verging on sappy, it never feels sappy and has that classic Hollywood shine to it.  The movie is just over two hours but moves faster than a lot of pictures at the time partially due to the big, impressive numbers.  Cohan had hit after hit, and it is funny to think of him struggling to make it initially…especially when you realize how many songs of his you know.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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