Blog Directory CineVerse: Star spangled Cagney

Star spangled Cagney

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Want to feel good about your country on Independence Day? Watch "Yankee Doodle Dandy," arguably the most patriotic film ever released by Hollywood, and an important piece of wartime propaganda to boost morale at home in 1942. Ranked #98 on the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movies, this gem never fails to entertain. We discussed the reasons why last night at CineVerse. Here's a summary of that discussion:

What emerges as different, distinctive, or surprising after watching Yankee Doodle Dandy?

  • James Cagney steals the show in unexpected fashion. Here’s an actor so typecast as Grade A gangster that it’s a revelation to see that he’s multitalented; viewers then and now were and are probably surprised to discover that he can dance and sing. He may not croon as well as Crosby or hoof it as majestically as Astaire (who turned down this role), but he has an energetic dynamism in his dance moves that absolutely rivet our attention. Roger Ebert wrote that “he was such a good actor he could fake it.” Cagney is so invested in this role, and his sheer force of will and enthusiasm command us to keep watching and enjoying.
  • It’s a biopic without much serious conflict or high dramatic tension. This is built to be a feel-good flick that entertains as its first and foremost goal; Yes, George M. Cohan suffers some setbacks along his journey—like getting fired and the death of his father. But the film is imbued with such sheer joy and exuberance, primarily thanks to Cagney’s ebullient performance, that it’s virtually impossible not to feel uplifted and amused.
    • Blogger Tim Brayton wrote: “There's not a cynical bone to be found anywhere in Yankee Doodle Dandy, but there's quite a lot of clear-eyed, unsentimental appreciation for the desperate work done by desperate people to drive the entertainment industry, and that tends to help the gloppy sentimental passages go down easier… as much as it's unmistakably a tribute to the most idealistic version of the United States as a glowing symbol of democracy and prosperity, Yankee Doodle Dandy is maybe even more a tribute to the cutthroat fearlessness of America's vaudeville tradition, positioning the Four Cohans as the best kind of troupers, endlessly plying their trade in crap theaters across the continent according to a robust, unwritten code of ethics.”
  • The songs are familiar and memorable. Cohan really did write some all-time classic numbers that have become embedded in the American fabric—likely more songs than you knew were created by this one man.
Themes crafted into Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • Patriotism: Cohan wrote many songs that have become flag-waving standards meant to inspire Americans in the early part of the 20th century and beyond. His personal story and the lyrics and spirit of his songs capture the essence of American pride and exceptionalism.
  • Success and the American dream: Cohan stands as the perfect embodiment of the American ethos and recipient of the land of opportunity; his is an inspiring story to others about how a hard-working and creative American can help make his country great and vice versa.
  • Strong family values. We see how the Cohan family worked so diligently and often performed best as a well-oiled collective unit. We are shown how George honors, respects and adores his parents and sister, and vice versa.
  • The power of the movies to motivate. Alongside Sergeant York, Casablanca, and a handful of others films released during World War II, this picture roused audiences to support our country in wartime and boosted morale.
Similar films that come to mind
  • The Glenn Miller Story
  • Words and Music (about the songwriting team of Rogers and Hart)
  • Night and Day (about Cole Porter)
  • The Great Ziegfeld (about the famous theater producer)
  • Rhapsody in Blue (about George Gershwin)
Other movies by director Michael Curtiz
  • The Mystery of the Wax Museum
  • Captain Blood
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Angels With Dirty Faces
  • The Sea Hawk
  • Casablanca
  • Mildred Pierce
  • Life With Father
  • White Christmas

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