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Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

James Cagney salutes the grand old flag in "Yankee Doodle Dandy"

James Cagney salutes the grand old flag in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”

Around the age of 13 or 14, my dad introduced me to Yankee Doodle Dandy. It took me a few viewings before I finally understood the magic behind it. The only bad thing was my dad got the colorized version. Well, at least it made me realize why colorization of movies is a bad thing.

It tells the story of George M. Cohan (who was actually born July 3rd), the song writer/actor/singer/dancer who grew up in a family of performers but became a hit by himself with hits such as “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Give my regards to Broadway”. The patriotism reached new levels when he did “You’re a grand old flag” and (my favorite) “Over There”.

It is told in narration by Cohan after he is invited to see the President (Jack Young, who sounds exactly like FDR). We here of his times with his family, his parents (wonderfully played by Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp) and his little sister Josie (James’s real life sister Jeanne). He falls for Mary (Joan Leslie), who later becomes a source for a great song. The scene where they meet makes me smile more on every viewing. There is also a great comic scene with Eddie Foy Jr. playing his own father (“Would you mind spraying it again?”)

Still, the main reason to see the film is Jimmy. I have no idea how James Cagney did what he did in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Really, I just want to still be under his spell. He was known to be a great gangster character, but his performance as legendary show man George M. Cohan is surely his best. I would argue it may be the best musical performance in film history. It is not the best singing in a movie, nor even the best dancing. However, it most surely is the most energetic. It is like before each take, they wound him up like the energizer bunny, and let him loose at the sound of “Action!”.

I also like how the movie portrays the fact that a person does not need to be an action hero to be a patriot of a country. That seems to be the message around Hollywood these days. I mean no disrespect to anyone who has given their lives for our country, but I state that others who do other forms of service are just as patriotic at heart. How different would the world be if Cohan did not right his songs?

Parents, the movie is fine for any age that wants to see it. If you have a kid who likes musicals, this is essential viewing (Even John Travolta stated it was one of his favorites, and he did quite well as a performer).

I end with a memory. It is January 2002, a few months after 9/11. I am auditioning for my 8th grade musical, “Bugsy Malone, Jr.” Everyone gets up and sings “God Bless America”. I get up and sing “Over There”. I, along with another girl, am the only one who does not sing “God Bless America”. I end up getting the lead role (the other girl got the love interest role of mine). In short, thank you George M. Cohan.

Overall: 5 Stars *****

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