With today marking the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, we look back at a previously reviewed film whose patriotism, musical numbers, and talented star combine to create a film that is both fun but also appropriate for this somber and serious occasion. Michael Curtiz’s Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) is an autobiographical film about George M. Cohen, an accomplished actor/singer/playwright/songwriter, and man of many other talents who was known as ‘The Man Who Owns Broadway’ back in his heyday.
The film stars James Cagney as Cohen, who upon being awarded a medal by the President of the United States for his contributions, proceeds to tell the story of his life–from his birth on the fourth of July (the real Cohen was actually born on the 3rd) and his childhood performances with his family in their vaudeville acts, to his later Broadway successes, and the tragic deaths of his sister and parents, with an assortment of musical numbers and songs thrown into the mix.
James Cagney, a man perhaps better known for playing ruthless gangsters and shady tough guys, is a perfect as the jubilant song and dance man, George M. Cohan. Cagney’s energetic personality, coupled with his own talents at song and dance, allows him to put on such an enthusiastic performance that any minor imperfections in his physical performance that might be noticed are quickly forgotten and lost in a phantasmagorical production of unforgettable music numbers and upbeat songs.
Yankee Doodle Dandy isn’t by no means the most accurate of film biographies (aside from playing around with the chronology of Cohen’s life, the film also neglects to mention the fact that Cohen divorced his first wife in 1907 and married his second wife the same year), however, Yankee Doodle Dandy is still an entertaining musical, with a number of catchy songs (many written by Cohan himself), enthralling dance numbers, and a moving performance by star Cagney that more or less make up for the film’s less than stellar historical accuracy.
Released on Memorial Day after the Pearl Harbor Attack, the film can feel a little overly patriotic and even a bit jingoistic in certain places (particular during one song-dance number that encourages people to buy War Bonds), but for a day such as today, Yankee Doodle Dandy is a film that will keep the festivities in high spirits and leave everyone with a smile, while also epitomizing everything good and right with America, and honoring the fallen with dignity and respect.
Find the nearest Blockbuster near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.