Director Michael Curtiz's Yankee Doodle Dandy is a stirring, sentimental musical biography of an American institution, George M. Cohan, a songwriter whose unwavering devotion to friends, family, and flag made him an ideal subject for a wartime film. Produced shortly after the U.S. entered World War II, Yankee Doodle Dandy was just what the country needed during those dark days. The super patriotic aspects of the film are laid on mighty thick, especially at the end of the film but the flag-waving has an undeniable charm and the entire film is appealing.
James Cagney is magnificent in his Oscar-winning performance as Cohan. Watching this bantam tough guy strut his way across the stage, singing and dancing with swagger and braggadocio, is one of the greatest pleasures to be found in the American cinema. Cagney has an infectious spirit, energy and drive and boy, can he dance! He imbues Cohan with spit and vinegar and heat. Cagney’s scenes with Joan Leslie, who is extremely winning as Cohan’s girlfriend, then wife, are very special and it’s truly moving when they sing “Mary” together. And Cagney shows that he was one of the few actors who could also play tender scenes with other men as witness the love and affection shared between Cohan and his father (Walter Huston).
Yankee Doodle Dandy is a lavish production and Curtiz delivers strong direction. The musical numbers are particularly well done in a non-Busby Berkeley style during which Curtiz uses long camera pans to great effect. The songs, including “Over There,” “Grand Old Flag,” and “Give My Regards to Broadway” will stick in your head and the title tune, in which Cagney is at his spectacular best, will have you cheering. Yankee Doodle Dandy received eight Academy Award nominations including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Cagney, winner), Best Original Story, Best Sound Recording (winner) and Best Scoring of a Musical (winner).
Old-fashioned, sentimental, patriotic and yes, slightly corny, Yankee Doodle Dandy is the perfect film for the Fourth of July. It’s guaranteed to make you swell with pride as an American. They really don’t make them like this anymore.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy Fourth of July. Coming up: WAR OF THE PLANETS, Andy Griffith and yes, finally, GOLDFINGER.