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.