So, today, I got off work so that I could vote in Texas’s Super Tuesday primary. After I cast my vote (and don’t ask me who I voted for because it’s a secret ballot for a reason!), I came home and I turned on the TV and I discovered that, as a result of spending February recording countless films off of Lifetime and TCM, I only had 9 hours of space left on my DVR. As a result, the DVR was threatening to erase my recordings of Bend It Like Beckham, Jesus Christ Superstar, American Anthem, an episode of The Bachelor from 2011, and the entire series of Saved By The Bell: The College Years.
“Acgk!” I exclaimed in terror.
So, I immediately sat down and started the process of cleaning out the DVR. I started things out by watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, a film from 1942.
Yankee Doodle Dandy is a biopic of a songwriter, signer, and dancer named George M. Cohan. I have to admit, that when the film started, I had absolutely no idea who George M. Cohan was. Imagine my surprise as I watched the film and I discovered that Cohan had written all of the old-fashioned patriotic songs that are played by the Richardson Symphony Orchestra whenever I go to see the 4th of July fireworks show at Breckenridge Park. He wrote You’re A Grand Old Flag, The Yankee Doodle Boy, and Over There. Though I may not have heard of him, Cohan was an American institution during the first half of the 20th Century. Even if I hadn’t read that on Wikipedia, I would have been able to guess from watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, which, at times, seems to be making a case for sainthood.
And that’s not meant to be a complaint! 74 years after it was originally released, Yankee Doodle Dandy is still a terrifically entertaining film. It opens with George (played by James Cagney) accepting a Congressional Gold Medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (We only see Roosevelt from behind and needless to say, the President did not play himself. Instead, Captain Jack Young sat in a chair while FDR’s voice was provided by impressionist Art Gilmore.) Cohan proceeds to tell Roosevelt his life story, starting with his birth on the 4th of July. Cohan tells how he was born into a showbiz family and a major theme of the film is how Cohan took care of his family even after becoming famous.
The other major theme is patriotism. As portrayed in this biopic, Cohan is perhaps the most patriotic man who ever lived. That may sound corny but Cagney pulls it off. When we see him sitting at the piano and coming up with the lyrics for another song extolling the greatness of America, we never doubt his sincerity. In fact, he’s so sincere that he makes us believe as well. Watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, I found myself regretting that I have to live in such an overwhelmingly cynical time. If George M. Cohan was alive today, he’d punch out anyone who called this country “Murica.”
Yankee Doodle Dandy is an amazingly positive film. There are a few scenes where Cohan has to deal with a few Broadway types who are jealous of his talent and his confidence but, otherwise, it’s pretty much one triumph after another for Cohan. Normally, of course, there’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone talk about how great his life is but fortunately, Cohan is played by James Cagney and Cagney gives one of the best performance of all time in the role.
Cagney, of course, is best remembered for playing gangsters but he got his start as a dancer. In Yankee Doodle Dandy, Cagney is so energetic and so happy and such a complete and totally showman that you can’t help but get caught up in his story. When he says that, as a result of his success, things have never been better, you don’t resent him for it. Instead, you’re happy for him because he’s amazingly talented and deserve the best!
Seriously, watch him below:
James Cagney won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance here. Yankee Doodle Dandy was also nominated for best picture but lost to Mrs. Miniver.
I’m really glad that I watched Yankee Doodle Dandy today. In this time of overwhelming negativity, it was just what I needed!