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All Dancing, All Singing, All Smiling
by Jon Schuller

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I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy

I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy
The United States has joined the War. Along with England, its Commonwealth and Russia we are fighting on two fronts in 1942 and it's not going well at all. England endures The Blitz, Russia tries to turn back an unstoppable German Army and American G.I.'s encounter first-hand a determined enemy on Guadalcanal. Back home we were just climbing out of the Great Depression and the War forced everyone to either work or ration or both. Spirits were low and Hollywood stepped in to lift them again.

Movies were being used as propaganda and cheerleading.
Beat the Bad Guys was a main theme; light-hearted fare to help us feel better and support the war effort the other. Adapting the story of George M. Cohan to the screen was a natural. Cohan, "The Man Who Owned Broadway", was a legendary
For It Was Mary, Mary

For It Was Mary, Mary
song-and-dance flag-waver, famous for his patriotic musicals and songs. There was really only one movie star at the time who could play a larger-than-life character like this: James Cagney.

Cagney had been featured in films since 1930 but with Public Enemy in 1931 he became a household name. His tough (real-life) New York City background made him a natural for the parts he was cast in most. But his incredible abilities as a song-and-dance man gave him added dimensions of grace and charm. He could be witty and did play many parts for comedic effects. An Irishman "from Delancey Street" he even spoke Yiddish. His versatility was unstoppable.

Why is Yankee Doodle Dandy still appealing? What sets it apart from dozens of other musical melodramas? I agree with many who say the
The Man Who Owned Broadway

The Man Who Owned Broadway
autobiographical nature of the film is a stretch but it's a good vehicle for telling the story. There were Four Cohans and they did spend their lives traveling the vaudeville circuits in the U.S. Did George's rise to fame and fortune happen the way it's portrayed in the movie? I don't care quite frankly. The appeal goes straight to our hearts and, as someone says in the film "and something in our character". George M. Cohan waved the flag for everyone. His songs and scenes reflected his patriotism. I unabashedly love this movie.

Of course without Jimmy Cagney the movie probably wouldn't have been made in the first place. A great cast, Walter Huston as Dad, Cagney's real sister Jeanne as Josie Cohan, Rosemary Decamp as Mom and Joan Leslie as Mary, makes it all work. Cagney's
The Four Cohans

The Four Cohans
larger-than-life portrayal still makes me feel good when I watch him sing and dance. He tap-dances down the grand staircase after getting his award from FDR in the White House. I don't doubt Cagney ad-libbed it as it was being shot. The director, Michael Curtiz, gave his actors latitude in their roles.

It's a real feel-good film and I never tire of watching it. During those dark days of World War II America needed movies to lift its spirits just as they did during the Depression. There are movies being shown today with thin plots and familiar scenes, family sitcoms and romantic throw-aways. I hope they have the same affect on us as Yankee Doodle Dandy did in 1942. Without Jimmy Cagney, I daresay, the new ones will fall a bit short.

" My Father thanks you, my Mother thanks you, my Sister thanks you, and I thank you."

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Mike Thomas
Jul 15, 2010 1:38 AM
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The movie is slightly historically inaccurate as you said, but it had to be romanticized. It was war, and his songs propelled a nation. If you ever get a chance, try to find a touring company doing GEORGE M!

It's a real eye-opener.

By the way, I love this movie regardless, and I watch it time after time to figure out how he dances down those steps at the end! And I almost broke my neck trying to do that wall thing during his Yankee Doodle Dandy number.
Jul 15, 2010 7:48 AM
[X] delete
Thanks, Mike. Your comments are always welcome.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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