Classic Movie Reviews

Yankee Doodle Dandy

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JAMES FRANCIS CAGNEY, JR. ( Jul 1899 -- Mar 1986 )  

"Jimmy" Cagney was born on New York's lower East Side, where he became an able street fighter, despite being somewhat sickly as a boy, no doubt with encouragement and pointers from his bartender father who was an amateur boxer. After graduating from high school, he entered Columbia University, where he intended to major in art. He had to leave after the first semester when his father died. He worked many different kinds of jobs, from bellhop to copy boy at the New York SUN. He had started tap dancing as a boy and followed in his father's footsteps as an amateur boxer with a winning record. Ironically, considering the tough guy movie personna he became famous for, his first stage performance had him in drag, as part of the chorus line for the 1919 revue, Every Sailor. After a few years in vaudeville as a dancer and comic, his first major acting part came in Penny Arcade in 1926. Rave reviews got him an offer from Warner Brothers to reprise his role in the stage play on the silver screen. His seventh movie, The Public Enemy, made him famous forevermore for one scene in particular -- the one where he shoved a grapefruit half into the face of Mae Clarke (and made her the answer to a trivia question). His first Oscar nomination came in 1938 for Angels With Dirty Faces and he won the Oscar in 1942 for Yankee Doodle Dandy. He retired to his farm in 1961 but returned to the screen 20 years later for Ragtime. Other classics among his 60-some movies include Love Me Or Leave Me, Man of a Thousand Faces, Roaring Twenties, White Heat ("Toppa the world, Ma!"), The Fighting 69th and Mister Roberts. The American Film Institute ranks him among the Fifty Greatest Screen Legends of all time.


    "My mother thanks you. My father thanks you.
           My sister thanks you. And I thank you."


    James Cagney was a natural to play the part of George M. Cohan (known as "The man who owns Broadway") in this musical biography, written by Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph. Cagney started out in show business as a song and dance man, ala Cohan, and was able to display his own wide range of talents in Yankee Doodle Dandy. There is some Hollywood fictionalizing but most of the film is faithful to reality, although it omits the fact that Cohan divorced and remarried. Cohan was a consultant on the project but his participation was limited by the fact he was dying of cancer. He did, however, live long enough to see the finished product and he liked Cagney's portrayal. Cagney received the Oscar for Best Actor.The cast includes Walter Huston, Rosemary DeCamp (who played Cohan's mother, despite being several years younger than Cagney), Joan Leslie and Jeanne Cagney (James Cagney's real-life sister) who played Cohan's sister. The bevy of classic show tunes include Give My Regards to Broadway, Over There, It's a Grand Old Flag, Harrigan, Mary's A Grand Old Name and others.
             1942, Directed by Michael Curtiz

Watch a Musical Number from Yankee Doodle Dandy

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