1 Year, 100 Movies: #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

by Trey Hock on June 20, 2010

in 1 Year, 100 Movies,Columns

For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film will be recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!

posterI have to say that before I even put the disc in the DVD player, I expected to hate “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” I mean it’s a musical about a patriotic, flag-waving song-and-dance man. Could it get any worse?

Luckily, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was released in the summer of 1942, when U.S. involvement in WWII was still at the leading edge. America needed a large emotional and psychological boost, and Lee Greenwood was no where in sight.

“Yankee Doodle Dandy” offers just such a boost, but manages to avoid becoming straight propaganda. As a biopic of George M. Cohan, an actor/singer/songwriter who is responsible for such classics as “Yankee Doodle Boy” and “Over There,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” offers the story of a compelling individual all wrapped up in patriotic song.

The story and focus of the entire film is the life of Cohan. We watch as he grows from a bright, presumptuous, youngster in a family of vaudevillians, to an ambitious and talented Broadway producer and actor. Though he faces a number of setbacks throughout the film, Cohan moves along with hardly a ripple to interrupt his success. It is one of the few critiques I have of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” that there is so little real conflict. Of course, this was intended to be a feelgood musical that would cheer on and inspire people facing a world war.

This brings me to another point.  For a film that was, in part, made to inspire people into service during the Second World War, it does not focus on the exploits of a dashing young soldier. It instead looks at an artist. Cohan did write songs about his love of country and he signed up to entertain troops during WWI, but he was no fighter. Instead the film shows that anyone can dedicate their lives to family and country, in any number of ways.

At a time when both the left and right criticize each others’ patriotism, it is refreshing to check out a movie with the basic premise that we all can be patriots in our own way–even as a song and dance man.

And the song and dance numbers are all impressive. James Cagney can definitely move and sing. It really is pretty great to watch an actor known for his gangster roles dance slack-limbed all over a stage. In the link below, Cagney really starts moving around 4:12.  Just watching him makes me exhausted.

I do have one other criticism of the film.  The scenes with F.D.R. which bookend the film, and offer a means to start the story and make for a quick and tidy resolution at the end, feel forced. The rest of the dialogue is clever and often sparkles, but these bookend scenes feel heavy and obligatory. They are by no means a reason to avoid the film, just a small gray area in an otherwise vibrant and wonderful film.Up next: #97 Blade Runner (1982)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #99 Toy Story (1995)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #100 Ben-Hur (1959)

1 Year, 100 Movies: An Introduction

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Seth Iliff June 24, 2010 at 4:53 am

What happened to actors that have multiple talents? As much as I detest much of Hugh Jackman’s film work, I love the fact that he is truly talented. And Scarlet Johannesson’s broadway exploits should be admired (she’s got quite the sultry voice). I dunno… maybe its too much to ask modern actors to develop their craft beyond the screen. I vote for more modern musicals, like “Once”.

Reply

2 Seth Iliff June 24, 2010 at 4:53 am

What happened to actors that have multiple talents? As much as I detest much of Hugh Jackman’s film work, I love the fact that he is truly talented. And Scarlet Johannesson’s broadway exploits should be admired (she’s got quite the sultry voice). I dunno… maybe its too much to ask modern actors to develop their craft beyond the screen. I vote for more modern musicals, like “Once”.

Reply

3 Seth Iliff June 24, 2010 at 4:53 am

What happened to actors that have multiple talents? As much as I detest much of Hugh Jackman’s film work, I love the fact that he is truly talented. And Scarlet Johannesson’s broadway exploits should be admired (she’s got quite the sultry voice). I dunno… maybe its too much to ask modern actors to develop their craft beyond the screen. I vote for more modern musicals, like “Once”.

Reply

4 Trey June 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

Seth, I didn’t even think of “Once” as a contemporary foil for the classic musical, but it is. Yeah, I was talking to Brent about the loss of the triple threat actors, and that there really isn’t anyone that is a great actor, great dancer, and great singer all in one. There are actors who can sing or dance, but you’d never call them singers or dancers. Gene Kelly on the other hand could do all incredibly well. But, we’ll get to “Singing in the Rain” at some point.

Reply

5 Trey June 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

Seth, I didn’t even think of “Once” as a contemporary foil for the classic musical, but it is. Yeah, I was talking to Brent about the loss of the triple threat actors, and that there really isn’t anyone that is a great actor, great dancer, and great singer all in one. There are actors who can sing or dance, but you’d never call them singers or dancers. Gene Kelly on the other hand could do all incredibly well. But, we’ll get to “Singing in the Rain” at some point.

Reply

6 Trey June 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

Seth, I didn’t even think of “Once” as a contemporary foil for the classic musical, but it is. Yeah, I was talking to Brent about the loss of the triple threat actors, and that there really isn’t anyone that is a great actor, great dancer, and great singer all in one. There are actors who can sing or dance, but you’d never call them singers or dancers. Gene Kelly on the other hand could do all incredibly well. But, we’ll get to “Singing in the Rain” at some point.

Reply

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