Tuesday, November 24, 2009

#98: Yankee Doodle Dandy

Just two posts ago, I detailed how much I was dreading watching Ben-Hur because of its insufferable length and my fear of its inability to hold up over time. I was happy to report that my fear was unwarranted and the length did little to detract from the overall picture. Now here we are, only two movies later and I've just finished watching the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy, yet another movie I was none too anxious to sit through.

Now, I love James Cagney. I've seen a number of his films, one of my favorites being The Public Enemy. He was an immense talent, but I wasn't so sure I was ready to see him sing and dance to overly patriotic musical compositions. My head is so chock full of memories of Cagney as the young gangster Tom Powers that the thought of him putting on tap shoes seemed almost degrading. Of course, yet again, I was completely wrong. I loved Yankee Doodle Dandy and Cagney's performance is outstanding, perfectly complementing the picture's patriotic tone and show stealing grandeur.

The film is based on the real life of George M. Cohan, a young actor who worked, as he put it, in "legitimate theater" and whose plays overran Broadway in the early 1900's (as evidenced by his pseudonym, "The Man Who Owns Broadway").

I won't go into too much plot detail because Kevin has done a good enough job of that in his post below, but Cohan's plays were of the "America first" type, with ample flag waving and patriotic pride. In fact, a little research shows that the attacks on Pearl Harbor occurred only a few days into shooting, so the filmmakers purposely aimed to make a patriotic film, and its release was even timed for around Memorial Day. Their approach succeeded. I finished this movie feeling good about my country, loving it and feeling thankful for those who have died for my freedom.

Nevertheless, for a movie to elicit that type of feeling, it must be good. You can try all you want, but if your movie stinks, your message is lost. Well, Yankee Doodle Dandy is excellent and I was enamored with it for its 2+ hour runtime. The songs are terrific (and instantly recognizable due to their cultural significance), the dances are impressive and fun to watch and the spectacle of the plays is a sight to behold. There were dozens of scenes where we would be shown a snippet of a play and I found myself wanting to watch every last one.

Coming up soon on the AFI Top 100 list are movies like Pulp Fiction, Do the Right Thing, and Goodfellas, three films I have already seen and love. Although there won't be too many upcoming surprises, Ben-Hur and Yankee Doodle Dandy have taught me to keep an open mind and give each film a chance because you never know, it might actually be good.

-Joshua Hylton

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