Friday, January 8, 2010

Review: "Yankee Doodle Dandy"

#98 on the American Film Insititute's top 100 Films (the newer list) Also on the original list as well, I think as #100. It is also honored by being on AFI's Top 100 Songs list, their 100 Musicals list, their 100 quotes list, and 100 Cheers list. It also was nominated for 9 Oscars, winning for Best Actor (Cagney), Best Music, and Best Sound. It has also been selected for preservation by the US National Film Registry
Starring the ever-brilliant James Cagney. A semi-autobiographical look at the life of George M. Cohan - Broadway's greatest patriotic song and dance man. Can I gush a little? I love this film! I love the man it is about and I love Cagney in it. I'm an old-Broadway fan, so this film is a wonderful nostalgic revelrie for me. It also is a nice lift as there really isn't too much batting against Cohan in the film. A little rough starting out, but his family is always there, always loving, and there never seems to be any real trouble. Some would see this as problem, but I couldn't agree less. In a time when all we had were troubles, this was an uplifting relief.
If you think you don't know this Cohan character, you do - everyone in American knows him. Ever hear of 'Yankee Doodle Dandy?" "Give My Regards to Broadway?" "You're a Grand Old Flag?" "Over There?" All of those songs are his creations - and they have become American standards.
If you can, get the 2 disc special edition and watch Warner Night at the movies. It gives you a good perspective on the time when this movie was opened - and how much it meant. While watching the newsreels I couldn't help but shed a tear or two and let the pride of how we all banded together wash over me. This whole movie has this effect on me. There's a beautiful sentiment mixed in with all the flag waving and patriotism.
Cagney is brilliant in this movie. His energy, his style, all accurtely portray the vision of the Broadway legend. Second only to the man himself. There is a brashness, a cockiness, and a confidence to his performance. It is even more amazing when you think about who Cagney is. He was known for his gangster/tough guy roles - with some exceptions. And this is a far cry from anything like that. The most interesting thing is that is where he got his start - doing work on vaudville. Great training for an any actor. His dancing is not the same as we think of in today's terms, or even the classics of Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire, its from a completely different time and different style. It's not smooth and effortless, but raucous and while he doesn't make it look easy, it shows as second nature, hard work - and as always, a joy to do.
The other thing to consider is that this film went into production just after Cagney was cleared by Martin Dies of charges claiming he was a communist (can you imagine? Cagney a communist? Seriously, what were they thinking?). On top of that, the film was in production when Pearl Harbor happened, and was relased in the next year. So all things considered, this film had perfect timing, and it meant a lot to the people of the US. It was a dose of patriotism that was well needed.
Apparently the real George Cohan didn't think too much of it, but told the studio that if his wife liked it, he would allow them to release it (yes, it is unheard of, but this whole movie was made based on the fact that Mr. Cohan had the final say on everything.) Thank God, Mrs. Cohan loved, or we would never have been able to see this movie!
5 out of 5 stars n' stripes!

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