Yankee Doodle Dandy
|Yankee Doodle Dandy|
Movie poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis
|Written by||Robert Buckner
Julius J. Epstein
Philip G. Epstein
George M. Cohan
|Cinematography||James Wong Howe|
|Edited by||George Amy|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||126 minutes|
Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 American biographical musical film about George M. Cohan, known as "The Man Who Owned Broadway". It stars James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, and Richard Whorf, and features Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp and Jeanne Cagney.
The movie was written by Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph, and directed by Michael Curtiz. According to the special edition DVD, significant and uncredited improvements were made to the script by the famous "script doctors," twin brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein.
Background and production
Cagney was a fitting choice for the role of Cohan since, like Cohan, he was an Irish-American who had been a song-and-dance man early in his career. His unique and seemingly odd presentation style, of half-singing and half-reciting the songs, reflected the style that Cohan himself used. His natural dance style and physique were also a good match for Cohan. Newspapers at the time reported that Cagney intended to consciously imitate Cohan's song-and-dance style, but to play the normal part of the acting in his own style. Although director Curtiz was famous for being a taskmaster, he also gave his actors some latitude, and Cagney and other players improvised a number of "bits of business," as Cagney called them.
Although a number of the biographical particulars of the movie are Hollywood-ized fiction (omitting the fact that Cohan divorced and remarried, for example, and taking some liberties with the chronology of Cohan's life and the order of his parents' deaths), care was taken to make the sets, costumes and dance steps match the original stage presentations. This effort was aided significantly by a former associate of Cohan's, Jack Boyle, who knew the original productions well. Boyle also appeared in the film in some of the dancing groups.
Cohan is shown performing as a singing and dancing version of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The reality of Roosevelt's confinement to a wheelchair due to polio was kept from the general public at the time. In the film, Roosevelt never leaves his chair when meeting Cohan.
The movie poster for this film was the first ever produced by noted poster designer Bill Gold. This movie also has an inside joke about movies: when Cohan "retires" in the 1930s and several teenagers (who know nothing about his career) ask him if he had ever been in the movies, he remarks that he had been an actor in the "legitimate theater."
Cohan himself served as a consultant during the production of the film. Due to his failing health, his actual involvement in the film was rather limited. However, Cohan did see the film before he died (from cancer) and approved of Cagney's portrayal.
In the early days of World War II, Cohan comes out of retirement to star as President Roosevelt in the Rodgers and Hart musical I'd Rather Be Right. On the first night, he is summoned to meet the President at the White House, who presents him with a Congressional Gold Medal (in fact, this happened several years previously). Cohan is overcome and chats with Roosevelt, recalling his early days on the stage. The film flashes back to his supposed birth on July 4, whilst his father is performing on the vaudeville stage.
Cohan and his sister join the family act as soon as they can learn to dance, and soon The Four Cohans are performing successfully. But George gets too cocky as he grows up and is blacklisted by theatrical producers for being troublesome. He leaves the act and hawks his songs unsuccessfully around producers. In partnership with another struggling writer, Sam Harris, he finally interests a producer and they are on the road to success. He also marries Mary, a young singer/dancer.
As his star ascends, he persuades his now struggling parents to join his act, eventually vesting some of his valuable theatrical properties in their name.
Cohan retires, but returns to the stage several times, culminating in the role of the U.S. President. As he leaves the White House, he performs a dance step down the stairs (which Cagney thought up before the scene was filmed and performed with no rehearsal). Outside, he joins a military parade, where the soldiers are singing "Over There". Not knowing that Cohan is the song's composer, they jokingly invite him to join in, which he does.
- James Cagney reprised the role of George M. Cohan in the movie The Seven Little Foys (1955), but agreed only on the condition that he receive no money – he did the film as a tribute to Eddie Foy. In Yankee Doodle Dandy, Eddie Foy, Jr. played the role of his own father. In The Seven Little Foys Bob Hope portrayed Foy; Charley Foy served as a narrator.
- Actress Jeanne Cagney, who played the part of Cohan's sister, was James Cagney's real-life sister. Cagney's brother, William Cagney, was the Associate Producer of the film.
- Rosemary DeCamp, who played the mother of George M. Cohan, played by James Cagney, was, in fact, 11 years younger than Cagney.
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt was played by Captain Jack Young, a lookalike who is seen only from the back. An impressionist, Art Gilmore, provided the voice of Roosevelt, uncredited.
- Uncredited cast members include Eddie Acuff, Murray Alper, Ward Bond, Walter Brooke, Georgia Carroll, Glen Cavender, Spencer Charters, Wallis Clark, William B. Davidson, Ann Doran, Tom Dugan, Bill Edwards, Frank Faylen, Pat Flaherty, James Flavin, William Forrest, William Gillespie, Joe Gray, Creighton Hale, John Hamilton, Harry Hayden, Stuart Holmes, William Hopper, Eddie Kane, Fred Kelsey, Vera Lewis, Audrey Long, Hank Mann, Frank Mayo, Lon McCallister, Edward McWade, George Meeker, Dolores Moran, Charles Morton, Jack Mower, Paul Panzer, Francis Pierlot, Clinton Rosemond, Syd Saylor, Frank Sully, Dick Wessel, Leo White and Dave Willock.
The film nearly doubled the earnings of Captains of the Clouds, Cagney's previous effort, bringing in more than $6 million in rentals to Warner Bros. This made it the biggest box office success in the company's history up to that time. The star earned his contractual $150,000 salary and nearly half a million dollars in profit sharing. According to Variety magazine, the film earned $4.8 million in theatrical rentals through its North American release.
Awards and honors
The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Cagney), Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording (Nathan Levinson). It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Walter Huston), Best Director, Best Film Editing for George Amy, Best Picture and Best Writing, Original Story. In 1993, Yankee Doodle Dandy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
American Film Institute recognition
- 1998: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - #100
- 2004: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Songs - #71
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:
- "My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you." - #97
- 2006: AFI's 100 Years of Musicals - #18
- 2006: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers - #88
- 2007: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - #98
A popular myth about this movie, or at least a stretching of the truth, was that it was written in response to accusations that James Cagney was a Communist. Supposedly, Cagney learned that he was in danger of being blacklisted for having Communist sympathies, so he decided to make the most patriotic movie he possibly could and thus clear his name. This myth has its chronology a bit askew, as the McCarthy Era did not begin until the early 1950s. Also, the Second Red Scare did not begin until the late 1940s, well after the film was made. In other versions of this legend, either Robert Buckner or Edmund Joseph were the accused. Cagney was, however, accused of being a Communist in a California grand jury trial in 1940, and this may have had an influence on the story.
The DVD specials discuss this story in some detail. Congressman Martin Dies was investigating possible Communist influence in Hollywood in 1940; he in fact had a cordial meeting with Cagney. The actor reassured him that, although he was a liberal and supported Roosevelt's New Deal, he was also a patriot who had nothing to do with Communism. That was the end of it, except that Cagney's producer-brother William saw the Cohan story as a good opportunity to dispel any possible concerns about Cagney's loyalty. It was not written in response to the Dies investigation, as Cohan himself had been shopping his own story around for a while before Jack Warner bought the rights, and Cohan retained final approval on all aspects of the film.
As the DVD also points out, production on the film was just a few days old when the Attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. The film's cast and crew resolved to make an uplifting, patriotic film. It was timed to open around Memorial Day in 1942, and was regarded as having achieved its goal in grand fashion.
- Box Office Information for Yankee Doodle Dandy. The Numbers. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
- George M. Cohan at the Internet Broadway Database
- Yankee Doodle Dandy
- Jeanne Cagney at the Internet Movie Database
- William Cagney at the Internet Movie Database
- Rosemary DeCamp at the Internet Movie Database
- Yankee Doodle Dandy at the Internet Movie Database
- Full cast and credits at Internet Movie Database
- Little Johnny Jones at the Internet Broadway Database
- Sklar, Robert (1992). City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-691-04795-2.
- "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
- "The 15th Academy Awards (1943) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
- McGilligan, Patrick (1975). "5". Cagney: The Actor as Auteur. New York: A. S. Barnes and Co., Inc. ISBN 0-498-01462-2.
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- Yankee Doodle Dandy at the Internet Movie Database
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- Yankee Doodle Dandy at AllMovie