A musical portrait of composer/singer/dancer George M. Cohan. From his early days as a child-star in his family's vaudeville show up to the time of his comeback at which he received a medal from the president for his special contributions to the US, this is the life- story of George M. Cohan, who produced, directed, wrote and starred in his own musical shows for which he composed his famous songs.
James Cagney ... George M. Cohan
Joan Leslie ... Mary
Walter Huston ... Jerry Cohan
Richard Whorf ... Sam Harris
Irene Manning ... Fay Templeton
George Tobias ... Dietz
Rosemary DeCamp ... Nellie Cohan
Jeanne Cagney ... Josie Cohan
Frances Langford ... Singer
George Barbier ... Erlanger
S.Z. Sakall ... Schwab
Walter Catlett ... Theatre Manager
Douglas Croft ... George M. Cohan, As a Boy of 13
Eddie Foy Jr. ... Eddie Foy
James Cagney recalls in his autobiography that this movie was his favorite, largely due to his love of dancing. He was one of the great "tough guys" of all time on film, but dancing was his passion, he noted. It shows here. This was "a labor of love," to use a cliché, and it's obvious how much fun he was having in this film. His hoofing talent also was obvious. He was good, very good.
In fact, for the audience, most of this movie is pure "feel good." Almost all the characters are nice people, the story is inspirational and nicely patriotic and the songs are fantastic. If you pick up the two-disc special-edition DVD that came out several years ago, then you'll see this film in all it's glory. The transfer is magnificent and really brings out the great cinematography. I never realized how beautifully filmed this was until I saw this on DVD.
The story is simply the biography of George M. Cohan, the writer and Broadway star of many, many hit plays and hit songs. Unlike today's biographies, this is a very positive story about a man who brought patriotism alive during World War I with such inspirational songs as "It's A Grand Old Flag" and "Over There." For some of us, listening to these songs can bring a tear or two.
Cagney is his normal riveting self and Joan Leslie certainly makes an appealing female lead as Cohan's wife. The great Walter Huston plays Cohan's father. I've always found Huston to be an actor of great presence. In this movie is a very, very touching deathbed scene with he and Cagney.
So you have a little bit of everything here from drama to romance to comedy to music and Cagney is the glue to fits it all together beautifully. One of the great classic films of all time.
There are many, many James Cagney films that show his enormous talent as an actor. He was equally at home in musicals, dramas and comedies. While I have always been a fan and appreciate his unusual scope, this movie in particular caught my eye and totally blew me away when the scene I'm about to describe unfolded.
Near the very end of the film Cagney's character (George M. Cohan) bids farewell to the President and leaves the room. There is a long, open staircase he starts walking down. As he walks you sense a bit of a bounce beginning to take over his step.....one that quickly gives way to an awesome dance as he navigates the stairway. Many will not note, but this dance was a fantastic achievement on two fronts. One, it was done in one "take"...that is, the camera never stopped; the scene never "cut." The camera stays with him in one shot all the way through. Second, Mr. Cagney never ONCE looks at his feet or down at the steps. It's almost impossible to WALK down a staircase without looking down or hanging on to a banister....this man DANCED down a staircase without benefit of seeing or touching anything.
Couple this feat with the brilliant display of "hoofing" he gives earlier in the film when he literally dances up the walls and you have a movie that deserves its "classic" rating. If you haven't seen it please make it a point to do so. Any movie that is awe inspiring 62 years later must be worth a peek, don't you agree?
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (Warner Brothers, 1942), directed by Michael Curtiz, is an autobiographical musical of George M. Cohan (1878-1942), a legendary Broadway showman, composer, actor and dancer, as played by James Cagney in what's been reported as his personal favorite of all movie roles, and it's easy to see why. In spite the fact that Cagney won his only Academy Award as best actor, he was letter perfect in the role as Cohan. Interesting to see a noted movie tough guy singing and dancing, but it's even moreso in watching Walter Huston as Cohan's father doing a song and dance himself.
The story opens with the middle-aged Cohan (James Cagney), following a comical musical performance in "I'd Rather Be Right" in which he plays and spoofs the president (Franklin D. Roosevelt). He gets a telegram from the president himself to meet with him at the White House. Believing the worst, he arrives to meet "with the head man." Alone with him in the Oval Office, the two men converse which leads to Cohan to soon be relating his life story via flashback starting with his birth (born on the 4th of July), as the son of stage entertainers, Jerry and Nellie Cohan (Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp), followed by his boyhood days as the star of "Peck's Bad Boy" (Douglas Croft playing George at age 12), the teaming up with his younger sister, Josie (first played by JoAnn Marlowe, then by Patsy Lee Parsons, and by Jeanne Cagney as an adult) and his parents, forming the act called "The Four Cohans," George leaving the family to form an act on his own, his association with a young hopeful named Mary (Joan Leslie), whom he eventually marries, the publication of his songs that make him world famous, the death of his parents, his retirement from the stage and his return to Broadway to appear in a play that has summoned him with an invitation from the president, and after nearly two hours of recollection, the story moves forward to present day with Cohan to find out why he was really asked to come to visit with the president.
With a handful of song and dance tunes, many composed by Cohan himself, the soundtrack is as follows: "The Dancing Master," "The Dancing Master" (reprise); "Strolling Through the Park One Day" (by Joe Goodwin and Gus Edwards); "Minstrel Number," "I Was Born in Virginia," "The Warmest Baby in the Bunch," "Harrigan," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "All Aboard for Old Broadway" (by Jack Scholl and M.K. Jerome), "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Oh, You Wonderful Girl," "Blue Skies, Grey Skies," "The Barber's Ball," "Mary," "Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway," "Mary" (reprise); "Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway," "So Long, Mary," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (by William Steffe and Julia Ward Howe); "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "Of Thee I Sing," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Come Along With Me," "Over There," "I'm Happy As Can Be," "Love Nest" (by Louis A. Hirsch and Otto Harbach); "Little Nellie Kelly," "The Man Who Owns Broadway," "Molly Malone," "Billie," "Jeepers Creepers" (by Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren); "Off the Record" and "Over There." Of the songs listed above, several could have been chosen as alternate titles in regards to Cohan, including: "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Grand Old Flag," "The Man Who Owns Broadway," or "Off the Record," but the final selection became "Yankee Doodle Dandy." While many of these songs are Broadway show tunes, the most memorable ones happen to be the patriotic songs, especially "Grand Old Flag," "Over There," and of course, the title tune.
In the supporting cast are Irene Manning as Fay Templeton; Richard Wholf as Samuel H. Harris; George Tobias as Mr. Dietz; George Barbier as Claude Erlanger; S.Z. Sakall as Mr. Schwab; Eddie Foy Jr. as Eddie Foy; Minor Watson as Edward Albee; and Frances Langford as Nora Bayes, billed in the closing credits only as The Singer, although Cagney as Cohan does identify her as Nora during the "Over There" number. Listed bottom in the cast is Captain Jack Young as The President, who, during the opening and closing segments, is only visible by a back-view depiction.
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY happens to be the first real successful Warner Brothers musical since the Busby Berkeley backstagers of the early to mid 1930s, and the one that started the trend of musical bio-pics. While there had been several in this category during the 1930s, including the best picture winner of THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (MGM, 1936) starring William Powell, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY started a new trend that would become quite popular and overdone during the 1940s. After Cohan, it seemed that there has been a life story on every composer and actor, etc., imaginable. However, as a movie, YANKEE DOODLE DANCY is a fine musical that blends nostalgia of the past (early twentieth century, World War I) with patriotism of the 1940s. While very little is known today of the real George M. Cohan, the innacuracies wouldn't really be matter nor noticed. However, as indicated by host Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies cable channel (where this movie currently plays), Cohan was married twice, but never to a girl named Mary, but the film lists Mary (no last name given), as played by Joan Leslie, to be his one and only spouse. (Although indicated as man and wife, the movie shows no wedding scene). The screenplay fails to mention that Cohan actually appeared in motion pictures, several during the silent era produced in the 1910s, and two during early 1930s. (Cohan is asked on screen by a teenager if he ever appeared in pictures, and he would respond, "No, only the theater"). Of the motion pictures that featured George M. Cohan, only THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT (Paramount, 1932) opposite Claudette Colbert and Jimmy Durante, exists today. And to watch the Cohan film is to see how close Cagney worked to impersonate him on screen. However, Cohan's singing voice is no where close to Cagney's more soft-spoken vocalization. Cagney's dancing, however, is unusual, particulary during the "Yankee Doodle Dandy" number in which he dances like a puppet. One would gather that the real Cohan danced that way, which is a shame that Cohan never did more musical films to compare.
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY is true indication that James Cagney didn't only do just gangster films. He was versatile in every way, ranging from comedy ("Boy Meets Girl") to a sentimental drifter ("Johnny Come Lately") to a kind-hearted gentleman ("The Time of Their Lives"), but it's the tough guy roles ("The Public Enemy," "Angels With Dirty Faces" and "White Heat") his fans remember him best. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, Cagney's third musical film (following FOOTLIGHT PARADE in 1933 and SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT at Grand National Studios in 1937), is obviously either his best or most admired. Although the patriotism plays towards the World War II audience, much of Cohan's spirit of being an American continues to reflect upon the present generation.
Full of memorable lines, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY's most noted happens to be Cohan's closing speech following a performance, "My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I THANK YOU." Filmed with crisp black and white photography, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY did go through the process of colorization in the mid 1980s. However, while original Technicolor photography would have been its major asset, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY still ranks first rate entertainment for all ages, and the film responsible in keeping the George M. Cohan name more alive today than ever before.
* Fred Astaire was first offered the leading role but turned it down.
* James Cagney reprised his role as George M. Cohan in The Seven Little Foys (1955).
* George M. Cohan chose James Cagney to play him.
* This was the very first black and white movie to be colorized using a controversial computer-applied process. Despite widespread opposition to the practice by many film aficionados, stars and directors, the movie won over a sizeable section of the public on its re-release.
* Many facts were changed or ignored to add to the feel of the movie. For example, the real George M. Cohan was married twice, and although his second wife's middle name was Mary, she went by her first name, Agnes.
* The movie deviated so far from the truth that, following the premiere, Cohan commented, "It was a good movie. Who was it about?"
* James Cagney was eleven years older than his screen mother Rosemary DeCamp.
* Frances Langford is listed in the credits simply as "singer". In the film Cagney calls her "Nora" so this character is probably the real life Nora Bayes (1880-1928). Bayes was a popular performer who recorded many Cohan songs and entertained the troops with Cohan during World War I. Bayes wrote "Shine on Harvest Moon" and was the subject of her own biopic in the 1944 Warner Brothers film of the same name. "Over There" isn't the only singing that Langford does in "Yankee Doodle Dandy". She also sings the medley "In a Kingdom of Our own/Love Nest/Nellie Kelly, I Love You/The Man Who Owns Broadway/Molly Malone/Billie" which backs up one of Don Siegel's great montage sequences. Francis Langford sang "Over There" to WW I American troops and toured with Bob Hope to entertain American troops in WW II, Korea and Viet Nam.
* Warner brothers second highest grossing film of 1942 ($4.8 million).
* James Cagney's performance as George M. Cohan is ranked #6 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.
* The movie's line "My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you." was voted as the #97 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
* In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #98 Greatest Movie of All Time.