98. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

“A film of the life of the renowned musical composer, playwright, actor, dancer and singer George M. Cohan.” 

Holy patriotism, Batman.

In all seriousness, though, this has got to be the most patriotic film I have ever seen in my entire life. Part of that is obviously due to the subject matter of the film, the other due to the time period when the film was actually made.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is about the writer, singer, actor, and dancer George M. Cohan. He became an example for the “all American fella” during the time he was alive. He wrote many songs and musicals, most of which were dealt with patriotism. He’s most known for songs such as “Over There” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy”. Even though he is considered the father of American musical comedy, I do still think that his was an odd choice of story to tell. Today, I honestly can’t see anybody making a movie about this man’s life. Within the context of the 1940s, however, with World War Two happening, I understand completely why his story was chosen to be told. Just a year before this film was released, Pearl Harbor had been hit. America was entering into the war. The American people needed patriotism. And, believe you me, Hollywood did not let them down, especially when it came to musicals. So many of the musicals made revolved around patriotism and “the good ol’ days”. But, like I said, this is the most patriotic musical I have ever seen. It’s almost as if every single scene had an American flag in it.

That makes me wonder what it would be like to watch this film and not be from the United States. I imagine that there would be a difference of opinion about something at some point. I’m not entirely sure what, though. So, if you’re not from the United States, and have seen Yankee Doodle Dandy, please tell me what you thought. I am genuinely interested to know.

From a musical standpoint, this was still towards the beginning of that genre. That means that all musical numbers are done in a musical setting, such as on the stage within the film. Now, there are some very good musicals that have been done like this. However, those making the musicals realized that they would be a lot more interesting if they moved the music off the stage and actually integrated it into the film and the plot. Yankee Doodle Dandy, unfortunately, is one that the music takes place in a music setting. Now, that doesn’t make it less interesting. The musical numbers are still quite catchy. The problem that I have with it is that the musical numbers don’t seem to really add anything to the plot, other than to share with the audience the songs that George Cohan has written. And, I mean, that’s obviously the point of the film, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t bored from time to time. In fact, if I’m completely honest, I fell asleep three times while watching this film, and then had to go back to a part that I actually remembered. I don’t know why I kept falling asleep. Maybe it’s because I recently cut caffeine out of my diet. Maybe I was just being lulled to sleep by patriotism. Who knows?

As for James Cagney, this role earned him an Academy Award (it was also his only Academy Award). In fact, he was the first actor to win an Oscar for a musical performance. And it is very clear why. He does one hell of a job acting in this film. But his dancing, his dancing was where I was really impressed. I have always been completely captivated by tap dancers. Really, I could watch good ones for hours. And James Cagney is one hell of a tap dancer. So, that made watching this film enjoyable. In fact, one of my favorite tap dancing moments in the whole film was at the end, when Cagney as Cohan tap dances down the stairs at the White House which, apparently, was completely ad-libbed. But it was the perfect touch.

Speaking of the White House, this film marked the first time that a living president was portrayed in a film. The president in question is Franklin D. Roosevelt. They portrayed him in, what I feel, was a very clever way. They only showed the audience the president from the back, very rarely seeing the side of his face. Because Franklin D. Roosevelt had polio, and it had not been revealed to the general public until after his death, he is always shown sitting down at his desk. My only problem with this portrayal was the voice. I have a feeling that someone was trying to mimic his voice, but it came off sounding completely detached from the body we were seeing. So that was a bit odd.

I feel as though some of the other characters could have been worked out a little more. For instance, George’s sister and George’s wife were both interesting characters, but weren’t seen very much at all. Of course, that could be because so much had been changed from George M. Cohan’s actual life that they didn’t want to change it any more than necessary, if that makes any sense.

Overall, the film was not bad. I’ve been trying to think about why it is on this list, though. My best guess is that it’s a mixture of James Cagney’s performance, the subject matter, and all the patriotism. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and get the song “Yankee Doodle Boy” out of my head.

Grade: C+


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