Yankee Doodle Dandy is no more the true-life story of George M. Cohan than The Jolson Story was the unvarnished truth about Al Jolson -- but who the heck cares? Dandy has song, dance, pathos, pageantry, uproarious comedy, and, best of all, James Cagney at his Oscar-winning best. After several failed attempts to bring the life of legendary, flag-waving song-and-dance man Cohan to the screen, Warners scenarist Robert Buckner opted for the anecdotal approach, unifying the film's largely unrelated episodes with a flashback framework. Summoned to the White House by President Roosevelt, the aging Cohan is encouraged to relate the events leading up to this momentous occasion. He recalls his birth on the Fourth of July, 1878; his early years as a cocky child performer in his family's vaudeville act; his decision to go out as a "single"; his sealed-with-a-handshake partnership with writer/producer Sam Harris (Richard Whorf); his first Broadway success, 1903's Little Johnny Jones; his blissful marriage to winsome wife Mary (a fictional amalgam of Cohan's two wives, played by Joan Leslie -- who, incredibly, was only 17 at the time); his patriotic civilian activities during World War I, culminating with his writing of that conflict's unofficial anthem "Over There" (performed by Nora Bayes, as played by Frances Langford); the deaths of his sister, Josie (played by Cagney's real-life sister Jeanne), his mother, Nellie (Rosemary DeCamp), and his father, Jerry (Walter Huston); his abortive attempt to retire; and his triumphant return to Broadway in Rodgers & Hart's I'd Rather Be Right. His story told, Cohan is surprised -- and profoundly moved -- when FDR presents him with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first such honor bestowed upon an entertainer. His eyes welling up with tears, Cohan expresses his gratitude by invoking his old vaudeville curtain speech: "My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you." Glossing over such unsavory moments in Cohan's life as his bitter opposition of the formation of Actor's Equity -- not to mention George M.'s intense hatred of FDR! -- Yankee Doodle Dandy offers the George M. Cohan that people in 1942 wanted to see (proof of the pudding was the film's five-million-dollar gross). And besides, the plot and its fabrications were secondary to those marvelous Cohan melodies -- "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Harrigan," "Mary," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "45 Minutes from Broadway," and the title tune -- performed with brio by Cagney (who modifies his own loose-limbed dancing style in order to imitate Cohan's inimitable stiff-legged technique) and the rest of the spirited cast. Beyond its leading players, movie buffs will have a ball spotting the myriad of familiar character actors parading before the screen: S.Z. Sakall, George Tobias, Walter Catlett, George Barbier, Eddie Foy Jr. (playing his own father), Frank Faylen, Minor Watson, Tom Dugan, John Hamilton, and on and on and on. In addition to Cagney, music directors Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld also won Oscars for their efforts.~Hal Erickson
Audio-only extras - Radio show and precording session outtakes/rehearsals
Galleries of art/photo/publicity materials and James Cagney trailers
John Travolta remembers James Cagney
Leonard Maltin hosts Warner Night At the Movies 1942 with trailer, newsreel, dramatic short, cartoon and Cagney in wartime short You, John Jones
More vintage cartoons
Rousing documentaries chronicling the movie's making and James Cagney's career
James CagneyGeorge M. Cohan
Joan LeslieMary Cohan
Walter HustonJerry Cohan
Richard WhorfSam Harris
Irene ManningFay Templeton
Jeanne CagneyJosie Cohan
Rosemary de CampNellie Cohan
Frances LangfordNora Bayes
Douglas CroftGeorge M. Cohan, Age 13
Eddie Foy, Jr.Eddie Foy
Minor WatsonEd Albee
Chester CluteHarold Goff
Odette MyrtilMme. Bartholdi
Patsy Lee ParsonsJosie Cohan, age 12
Wallis ClarkTheodore Roosevelt
Jack YoungThe President
Murray AlperWise Guy
Henry BlairGeorge M. Cohari, Age 7
Leslie BrooksChorus Girls in "Little Johnny Jones" Number
James Cagney called "Yankee Doodle Dandy" his favorite picture. It was the only one he watched on television, He always considered himself a song-and-dance man, going back to his pre-film stage career. Here, he sheds his tough guy image to play the legendary Broadway performer, George M. Cohan.
Cagney chose this vehicle because he had been targeted by HUAC for his 1930s liberal views. He had even done a radio version of "Johnny Got His Gun," based on the Dalton Trumbo novel that provided fuel for Trumbo's being blacklisted. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is a love song to America. No one ever questioned Cagney's loyalty again,.
As Cohan, Jimmy does the title song, "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Over There," and "It's a Grand Old Flag" (among others) with a tremendous amount of physical energy, tap dancing, strutting and filling the screen with his enthusiasm and charisma. He ad libs bits of business to give the character more humor and charm. Jimmy even improvised the scene where he dances down the White House Steps and exits to a street full of marching soldiers.
This was a tremendously important film, not just for Cagney but America. The United States had entered World War II at the end of 1941. The positive feelings, humor, and patriotism in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" helped Americans at a time when the movies provided a source of comfort and confidence. Even FDR becomes part of the movie, as Cagney/Cohan tells the life story of the famous performers to the President, in flashback form.
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" may be the most patriotic film ever released by a major American studio. Cagney won the Best Actor Academy Award for 1942. Warner Brothers sold all opening night tickets for an admission fee of War Bonds, raising close to $6 million.
Although the film is a mythical version of Cohan's life (except for his Broadway creations), you can't beat it for sheer entertainment and a great supporting cast.
Walter Huston is Jerry Cohan, the patriarch of the family. His death scene with "son" Cagney, caused the cast, crew, and even hard-boiled director Michael Curtiz to cry. Joan Leslie plays Mary, Cagney's love and (in the film) life partner. She was 17 years old to Cagney's 42, but she shines as an idealized version of Cohan's two wives, neither of whom was named Mary. Rosemary DeCamp plays Cagney's mother, although she was younger than he was.
This Blu-ray edition showcases the unparalleled black-and-white photography of James Wong Howe, Sets and costumes accurately recreate actual vaudeville and Broadway performances that made the Four Cohans a Broadway staple at the dawn of the 20th Century and well into the 1920s. George M. Cohan would continue to act, write, direct, sing and dance on the stage into the late 1930s.
The heart of the movie might be exemplified by the "Grand Old Flag" number, showing great moments in American History and featuring home front workers, servicemen, boy scouts, and an awkward (if sincere) moment where black actors sing homage to Abraham Lincoln.
The disc contains a load of extras, including commentary; a "making of" featurette; a radio adaptation of the film; the short, "Only, You, John Jones" with Cagney showing the importance of civilian defense, and even a war-themed cartoon where Daffy Duck protects scrap metal against an enemy goat. That's entertainment!
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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Cagney has always been the bad guy, he is for male as Bette Davis is for female. This is one of the greatest musicals I have ever seen. It is between this and Singin' in the Rain. I have never been much of a musical fan but some others that I liked are: On the Town, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Dancer in the Dark.
This review is from Yankee Doodle Dandy [Special Edition] [2 Discs] [DVD] 
I would recommend this to a friend
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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I was excited to find this old Cagney classic on Blu Ray. It has been an annual tradition at 4th of July to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy. If you haven't seen it, and have a Patriotic spirit you need to watch this flick!