Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – Michael Curtiz

As I continue my time with the Musical chapter in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, I dove into the biographical film, Yankee Doodle Dandy starring James Cagney.

That gave me a pause.

Despite everything I had ever heard about the film, I’d never seen him do anything like this. It was still a fun experience seeing Cagney in a role I wouldn’t necessarily associate him with. And he was great! I’m not the only one who felt that way, he walked away with the 1843 Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance of George M. Cohan.

Cohan was a writer, director, producer, musician, and actor, and he created some of the most renowned flag waving tunes that inspired America.

The film is told through a series of flashbacks during his meeting with the President, who is going to award him with a congressional medal of honour for his service to America.

The film is incredibly inspiring, and is filled with lots of music and stage sets that conveyed the hope of a nation, and served as inspiration for what America was aiming to become.

The film also walked away with two more Oscars, one for Best Sound, and Best Score, but for me, it’s all about Cagney. Shedding the tough guy image that filled his career, he is able to tap dance his way through the entire film and turns in some nice comedic moments as well.


We follow Cohan’s career from its beginning when he was a child actor along side his parents Jerry (Walter Huston), Nellie (Rosemary DeCamp) and sister, Josie (Jeanne Cagney). He changes from a cocky young performer to one of the foremost theatrical creators of his time.

We meet his friend and partner Sam Harris (Richard Whorf), and I love how the pair come together. Working as a pair they are nigh unstoppable when they focus on their craft, and watching their successes mount is a real joy.

And he also meets Mary (Joan Leslie) and falls in love.

Cohan specialised in comedy and musicals, and while his critics complained about the lack of dramatic ability, his music has endured and proves to be more inspiring than the hillbilly music that accounts for American Inspirational today.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this one, and loved Cagney’s performance. There is such a sense of joy in his characterisation and he brings Cohan to life in a likeable and enjoyable way.

The music is all about inspiring the country, and even now, it causes a swell of pride, and Cagney tempers it perfectly under the able hand of director Curtiz.

This was a fun one to settle in for, and made for great entertainment, and, of course, let me see Cagney in a whole new way.

Check it out!

Yankee Doodle Dandy 1942 flag show finale


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