Yankee Doodle Dandy is one of the greatest musicals ever made and arguably, James Cagney’s finest film. There are no flaws to be found with this film and it sets the bar high for every one that followed after its release. Cagney, best known for roles of a more dramatic fashion, took a gamble that paid off big with an Academy Award for his performance.
The film is a dramatised biography about the life of George M. Cohan, the famous songwriter and playwright who would compose such classics as the title song, the wartime anthem Over There, as well as many, many more over the course of his lifetime. It starts out with Cohan as a child with his family who are all entertainers and as he grows older, he yearns for more. He wants to make it big, but at heart he is doing it for his family and does not want to see them struggle any longer. Eventually, he gets his big break and soon there is no looking back
This was a pet project of Cagney’s and he fought hard to get it made. Most people did not see him as song and dance man, but in reality, Cagney could give Astaire and Kelly a run for their money at dancing. As Cagney wanted to do this picture more than any other, he poured everything he had into it and as you watch him on screen you can tell just how much it meant to him. He is funny, charismatic and has never been more alive or energetic on screen. It is a true masterpiece of the medium.
As previously stated, there is nothing about this film that could be considered a blemish. The casting was absolutely perfect as were the songs and the staging. Michael Curtiz did a great job directing, especially the moment when Over There is recited, if fills you with pride and brings a little tear to the eye.
Many people love Public Enemy and White Heat and often associate them as being Cagney’s best. There are not too many people who could play a gangster as convincing as he could, and he was often typecast into such roles much to his detriment as he would have liked to stretch his wings. It is lucky for the viewing public that he was able to get this movie made as it stands as his crowning achievement.
5 out of 5