Film: Yankee Doodle Dandy

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 film starring James Cagney and Walter Huston. It tells the life story of Broadway song-and-dance man George M. Cohan, the composer of songs such as "Over There", "You're a Grand Old Flag", and "Give My Regards To Broadway". Cohan's life is depicted from his beginnings with his family's vaudeville act, to fame and fortune as a Broadway composer and American patriot.

The film actually starts after Cohan has come out of retirement to play President Roosevelt in his best friend's new musical I'd Rather Be Right. After the show, he's summoned to meet the real President. Cohan chats with Roosevelt, recalling his early days on the stage. The story then flashes back to his youth, starting with his birth.

The Four Cohans perform successfully. Later, in partnership with another struggling writer, Sam Harris, they finally interest a producer and they are on the road to success. He also marries Mary, a young singer and 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.

Yankee Doodle Dandy was directed by Michael Curtiz. It won three Oscars, including Best Actor for Cagney. It was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1993. The most famous scene in the movie, Cagney's tap dance down a White House staircase, was done without any rehearsal.

Cagney would briefly reprise the Cohan role for a cameo in the 1955 film The Seven Little Foys, in which he performs a tabletop challenge dance with Bob Hope as Cohan's friend and rival Eddie Foy.

This work provides examples of:

  • Age Cut: Teenaged George Cohan demands his mail at a hotel. Pan to his feet, cut to a different pair of feet, pan up to James Cagney as the adult Cohan demanding his mail at a hotel.
  • As You Know: Some dialogue establishing that the other Cohans have an offer to play in Boston, but George has been blackballed due to his obnoxiousness.
  • Bio Pic
  • Blackface: The Four Cohans, in one of their shows.
  • Call Back: We see Cohan composing the melody to "Over There", followed by the song being performed at a rally as America enters World War I. 25 years later, as America enters World War II, the song is sung again.
  • Casting Gag / The Cameo: Eddie Foy, Jr., appears in one scene as his own father, Eddie Foy, Sr.
  • Dated History: Cagney as a dancing Franklin D. Roosevelt comes off as odd to a modern viewer, but back in the day Roosevelt's paralysis was carefully concealed from the public.
  • Eagleland: One of the most unapologetic Flavor 1 examples ever made.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: "Extra! Extra! Lusitania torpedoed by German sub!"
  • Framing Device: Cohan relates his life story to FDR after the President presents him with the Congressional Gold Medal.
  • Happily Married: George and Mary (played by Joan Leslie).
  • Invisible President / The Faceless: FDR's face is never shown.
  • Meaningful Echo: When the Four Cohans perform together, George M. Cohan thanks the audience by saying, "My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you and I thank you." At the end of the movie when President Franklin Roosevelt presents him with the Congressional Medal, Cohan thanks the President with those same words.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: After the opening scene with Cohan meeting Roosevelt, Cohan's story starts with Cohan's birth, and continues with him as a prima donna teenager in the family show, before Cagney takes over.
  • The Musical Musical: The presentation of Cohan's music and Cagney's recreation of Cohan's performances are far more accurate than the portrayal of Cohan's life story.
  • Off the Record: "Off the Record" from the musical I'd Rather Be Right is prominently featured.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Production on this film started just a few days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack, Warner Brothers then decided to make the most over-the-top patriotic film ever, and they did.
  • Significant Birth Date: The hero of this super-patriotic film was, as the title song puts it, "born on the Fourth of July".note 
  • Title Drop: The title to one of Cohan's most famous songs.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The version of Cohan's life presented in the film is mostly fictional.