I meant to review this on July 4th. Then I might have been able to get away with my unabashed appreciation of Jimmy Cagney’s performance. Yes, the story of George M. Cohan’s life is as schmaltzy as they come. And the patriotic song and dance numbers are way over the top.
Ha! Now I’ll bet you’ve got “Yankee Doodle Dandy” stuck in your head, too. Later on, you’ll find yourself whistling it. Even if you’re a lousy whistler. The song was made to be whistled, and that’s part of the reason I love this film.
George M. Cohan was brilliant. The world would be a poorer place without his songs. Not only can’t I resist “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” but the chorus of “You’re a Grand Old Flag” is enough to get me waving the stars and stripes. And when patriotism gets tiresome, there’s still “Give my Regards to Broadway.” Listen to Judy Garland’s rendition:
But getting back to Jimmy Cagney, the way he threw himself into the part of Cohan, the sheer joy he displays every time he starts tap dancing, is impossible to resist. Cohan lived long enough to see the film. “My God, what an act to follow!” he’s supposed to have said.
Cagney claimed that he never prepared for his roles. “You either know what you’re gonna do or forget it,” he told the film critic Richard Schickel toward the end of his career. Hoodlum roles came easily. “I understood that type perfectly well.” Cagney found the bad boy in every character he played, even George M. Cohan. Here he is, improvising a little tap dance on the way out of the White House, after receiving a medal from FDR himself:
Who doesn’t love this picture?