Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Yankee Doodle Dandy" - James Cagney (1942)

In this finale from the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy” about the life of the legendary song and dance man George M. Cohan, James Cagney kicks out all the stops in his exuberant performance of the title song. Towards the end he even teams up with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney to bring new life to a very old song.

The movie is mainly the story of the Cohan’s family vaudeville act, “The Four Cohan’s”, and their precocious child George, who is very much full of himself. He has no doubts that he was born to do something big. And he did. As a triple threat entertainer; one who could compose, sing and dance; he had few contemporary rivals. The film chronicles his life as a child star and then his triumphant return to the stage, culminating in his receiving a Presidential medal for his achievements and patriotism. That medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, which was awarded in 1936, is a civilian award and was presented to him by FDR for his song “Over There” which was written for the First World War.

James Cagney was one of the most versatile performers to ever work in the film industry. From his early roles as a gangster in films such as “Angels with Dirty Faces”, Mr. Cagney went on to more dramatic work, as in the film “The Seven Foys”, also a true story of vaudeville. And, after shooting it out in gangster films, dancing up the walls in this film; a feat which Gene Kelly would later replicate in his films; he went on to produce some of the most underrated films of his career using his own money. A good example of that would be William Saroyan’s “The Time of Your Life” in 1948. After proving to himself that he could do it all, he made one last gangster film, “White Heat”, in 1949.

If you have any doubts about Mr. Cagney’s enormous talents then just hit You Tube and watch the stairway scene from the “Yankee Doodle Dandy” film. In it he has just received his medal from the President and then dances down a stairway without looking at anything but the audience and holding onto nothing but his dignity. This is a perfect film to watch if you really want to be in the mood for the 4th of July. Here is the link to that little dance down the stairway;

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