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!
I 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.