Yankee Doodle Dandy, released in 1943, stars James Cagney as George M. Cohan. I consider myself to be fairly well-versed in Broadway history, but knew nothing of Cohan’s life. I’m not as well-versed as I thought. Understanding that film takes artistic license with biographies, Cohan was not a nice little boy! I suppose anyone–at any time in history–has to be somewhat opportunistic to make it in New York, but this kid was insufferable. Cagney had me completely convinced that he himself was a schmuck–not just the character he played.
That said, I’m a sucker for the big song-and-dance shows of yesteryear. YDD does not disappoint here. Warner Brothers chose to colorize the film, and it doesn’t have that purplish tint to it that so many of those fake colorized films have. As a result, the costumes and sets for Cohan’s shows aren’t at all boring. The choruses were huge, choreography simple, and the excerpts from his shows were entertaining.
The other surprise from watching this film was the dialogue. At times, the generation gap in film is quite evident. Not so in this film. I didn’t feel alienated by the writing at all. Kind of refreshing from a film that was made before my mom was born.
I realized I have something in common with Cohan, aside from a love of musical theatre. Cohan was known for his “flag-waving” anthems and musical revue style of shows. Desperate to prove he could do more, he wrote a play–no music, no gags, no flag-waving. It bombed. This is the only part of the movie I wish had been fleshed out a little more. Cohan wanted to bust out of the mold he’d created for himself. I’ve created a mold of my own: teaching. Recently I’ve been wanting to bust that mold into a billion pieces. My supporters tell me I can do anything I put my mind to, and I believe that as well, but if I’m so good at teaching, why not just stick with it? After Cohan’s failed play, he bounced back with “Over There”–the American Anthem of World War I. Not saying that I’ll create a national phenomenon like Cohan did, but perhaps I should pay a little more attention to what I already do well.