Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yankee Doodle Dandy is Excellent, Entertaining

George M. Cohan was a very prolific song writer, dancer, actor and producer in the early part of the twentieth century. He wrote many famous songs, among them, the title song for this film, "Give my Regards to Broadway" and many others. This is the story of his life.

James Cagney, in his Oscar winning role, plays Cohan. The film begins in Cohan's childhood, performing (with mild success) with his parents (played by Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp) and younger sister. Eventually, the troupe moves onto vaudeville, where young George really becomes enamored with show business. As he gets older, he begins to act as the group's manager, and in the process, becomes a bit of an ego-maniac. He ventures out on his own, leaving his parents and sister behind, but never forgetting where he came from. The film is told through flashback. Cohan is an old man now, looking to retire. He's summoned by the president of the United States to be given the Congressional Medal of Honor, as a result of his influence over American songwriting, among other things. He sits down with the president and begins to tell his story. So, the film, literally, begins and ends with Cagney.

It's pure irony that this role as a song and dance man earned Cagney the only Academy Award statue of his long career. He was probably most famous for his roles in gangster films. Nonetheless, at a certain level, Cagney brings that gangster mentality to this role as well. He plays Cohan as if he is very headstrong and stubborn. He knows what he wants, and he will stop at nothing to achieve his success. Also brought to the film was his unique dancing style. Cagney is graceful on his feet, but at times, his dancing looks like a newborn horse standing up for the first time. He's certainly not as elegant as Fred Astaire, but he brings his own elegance to his clipped style. It's as if he's galloping across the screen. His singing is in a similar style to that of Rex Harrison. He, more or less, speaks his way through a song, as if he's just telling a story. He does sing a few notes, but for the most part, he "sings" as if he's just delivering another one of his lines. The supporting cast is excellent and very complementary to Cagney. It's also worth noting that his adult sister in the film was played by Cagney's real-life sister, Jeanne Cagney. While actors can easily develop a rapport with one another, as you saw the Cagneys together, it was easy to see that their chemistry was something more than just two friends working together.

James Cagney's Oscar was very much deserved. The film was amazingly written, and the casting couldn't have been better. This film is very patriotic in it's general feeling and material. As a lover of the musical film, and of our country, I highly recommend this film.

No comments:

Post a Comment