AFI 100: Yankee Doodle Dandy

So far in the AFI 100 project, the two films for which I had the lowest expectations–the silent movie and, now, the jingoistic musical–have been my favorites. Having never seen James Cagney in the role of a tough-guy, the skill with which he “played against character” was lost on me, but it hardly proved necessary to enjoy this biography of song-and-dance man George M. Cohan, who, along with the rest of his family, entertained legions around the turn of the (last) century. But the story of the showman’s life is really just bookends for the film’s second act, which is essentially an hour-long montage of Cohen’s greatest hit, including “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Over There,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “Grand Old Flag” (I had no idea one guy wrote all of those). Though there is some wincable acting and a couple of scenes that max out the corn-o-meter (the bit with the teens, 10 minutes from the end, is like a rejected Hee-Haw sketch), the bulk of the movie is so thoroughly delightful that you’re willing to forgive a lot. Even the blackface.

And holy smokes, that Cagney can dance.

My rating: 9/10, best so far!

Next up in the AFI 100 Project: The Bridge on the River Kwai and Nashville.

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14 comments.

  1. One of my all-time favorites! Glad you enjoyed it too…

  2. Matt, if you liked this, I can’t wait to see your reaction to Singin’ in the Rain. I think it’ll knock your socks off.

  3. My mom made us watch this as kids, and I too, had never seen Cagney’s tough guy roles, and of course the songs are amazing, and sure, a bit cheesey – but – turns out, my grandmother had actually seen George M. Cohan live, in person, and after seeing Cagney in the movie remarked that he doesn’t just dance well, his dancing posture was exactly like the real Cohan (note the almost ninety-degree bend at the waste). I thought that bit was pretty cool.

  4. I had seen the gangster films first…and I had no idea he was a song and dance man…and a pretty damn good one.

    Great film…very enjoyable despite the corn you mentioned.

    I think you will like Bridge on the ….

  5. I’m with Jocelyn on this one.

  6. Oh come on! Blackface is hilarious. It warms the cockles of my little evil heart.

  7. I love this movie to pieces. ADORE IT.

    I even have fond memories of trying to show a friend of mine the dancing-up-the-wall move Cagney would do. So I danced up a tree. And fell down and sprained my ankle. I was on crutches for two weeks. And I was unemployed, so I spent those two weeks going to job interviews. On crutches. ON THE SUBWAY.

    And I still love this movie. That’s how good it is.

  8. I’ve never seen a James Cagney movie (mea cupla). Yet I have memories of people quoting or acting out scenes from that particular clip. Kind of a weird social conditioning that is. But that dance scene and what they were singing; something akin to marvelous.

    The AFI 100 has been interesting to follow. I appreciate your filtering of things. Thanks.

  9. I have been totally holding my breath, waiting to hear your response to this film. There was a strong possibility that, if you hadn’t at least liked it, I might never have come back to “Defective Yeti.” The divide would have been simply too impassable. To hear that you loved it, though? Warms the cockles of my vicious little heart. It’s as much pure enjoyment as you’re likely to get in a movie, if you ask me. And that final scene with Walter Huston kills me every time.

    Now get off your ass and go watch “The Public Enemy” or “The Roaring Twenties,” and see what it was that shocked audiences so much when they saw him sing and dance!

  10. I am excited for you with Bridge over the River Kwai next on your plate. It is one of my all time favorites. And it makes that joke in spaceballs make sense.

  11. Oh, I love love love James Cagney. When I was in high school, I decided I was going to watch every movie he ever made. I got up to 14, I think, before I found out that a) he made more than 60 and b) some of them have been lost, which kind of quashed my enthusiasm for the project. Anyway, of his gangster movies, I think “White Heat” is the best, though he’s pretty delightfully evil in “The Public Enemy,” too.

    Oh, and not only could he dance, he was also fluent in Yiddish. That’s my kind of movie star.

  12. Good point on the Yiddish, Anne! He uses his fluency in at least two of his movies: “Taxi!” and “Lady Killer.”

    But I don’t think you should give up on your Cagney quest. A lot of those early movies show up on TCM (it was Cagney month in January!), and more and more are coming out on DVD. I just checked his filmography on the IMDb, and see that I’ve seen 37 of his films so far, so don’t give up hope!

  13. Jocelyn is right on – if you liked YDD, you’re gonna be flabbergasted by Singin’ in the Rain. (It’s one of my top ten films.)

  14. Wow! Can’t believe you haven’t seen this or Singin’ in the Rain!! Two of my all-time favorites, but then again, they were two of the few we had on video as kids and watched them hundreds of times. I’ve got my little boys watching both of them already…

    You’ll love Bridge. Try to catch it on the big screen during a festival sometime! I saw it that way the first time, and it blows you away. (Umm, forgive the morbid pun.)