Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 1942
Directed by
Michael Curtiz
126 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Yankee Doodle Dandy

It is surprising that this musical biopic of George  M. Cohan was shot in black and white (there is a colourised version available) as it forgoes the opportunity to properly exploit the Ol’ Red, White and Blue which here is fulsomely celebrated in a show-piece number ‘You're a Grand Old Flag’, the title of one of Cohan’s most popular patriotic ditties  

James Cagney in the role that won him his only Oscar plays the Irish-American showbiz legend, a remarkably prolific theatrical producer, stage star and songwriter who was born on the Fourth of July into a vaudeville family of parents Jerry Cohan (Walter Huston) and Nellie (Rosemary DeCamp), and eventually younger sister Josie (Jeanne Cagney, James’s sister).

Typical of the highly romanticized (i.e. fictionalized), style of biopics of the era there is only a very loose association with the facts (for example,Cohan was marriednot once but twice and neither wife was named Mary as is Cohans’ wife, played by Joan Leslie who was only 17 at the time, here) it follows a familiar path in charting Cohan's journey from child performer in the 1880s to being the toast of Broadway in the early 1900s after the success of his first self-penned show ‘Little Johnny Jones’ which gave us his signature tune, ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’.

In its day the film was a huge hit but this was largely for sentimental reasons as it was released soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the flag-waving populist nature of Cohan’s songs well suiting the temper of the times.  Today it has much more limited appeal.  Director Michael Curtiz gives us a couple of impressive production numbers but as a stand-alone musical for the most part it is routine stuff as well as being over-long.

To be fair however, Cagney who himself started in showbiz as a vaudeville song-and-dance man in a role that Fred Astaire wisely turned down, captures the energy of a man who wrote hundreds of songs and starred in some eighty Broadway shows eventually being given the Congressional Medal of Honor by FDR for his contribution to the American Spirit (a.k.a. the war effort).  




Want something different?

random vintage best worst