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  • Writer's pictureValerie A. Higgs

AFI #98: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)


After a performance where famous vaudeville and Broadway entertainer George M. Cohan portrays FDR, he receives a telegram asking him to stop by the White House. During the meeting with the President, he ends up telling his life story, starting with his birth on the 4th of July.

This is a rewatch for me, but I felt like I was seeing it for the first time. I remember watching it before and thinking "oh wow this was really great!" but I didn't remember much about it, aside from the iconic moments, like tap dancing down the stairs at the White House.

From what I recall hearing, James Cagney surprised Hollywood by dancing his way into winning an Oscar. Until then he was known as a gangster - most famously in White Heat. He played the heavy in the movies that made him famous, and then he did Yankee Doodle Dandy.

I don't know much about who was up for the part, but the thing that always strikes me is that if I said George M. Cohan to someone today, they wouldn't know who I was talking about. At his height, everyone knew who George M. Cohan was, or at least knew his music.

I started singing along with most of the songs, especially Grand Old Flag and Over There. It was pretty refreshing to have a musical on the list.

I always thought Cagney's dance style was strange until I saw a video of the actual George M. Cohen. Cagney NAILED Cohan's style.

It's important to note that the movie was released about 7 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so it's not surprising that there were a lot of American flags and talk of patriotism.

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