Plot: George M. Cohan (James Cagney) has been summoned to FDR’s office. He is concerned, as he’s currently playing the president in a show, but he goes to the office anyway and recounts his life in show business. At the end, FDR hands Cohan the Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to the arts.
Best Moment: I watched this movie years ago, so I knew it was coming, but dangit if I didn’t tear up at the end when Cohan shakes FDR’s hand and says, “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.” And then Cagney tap dances down the stairs. So sweet and genuine that it’s hard to be cynical.
Worst Moment: I know that Cagney had to be cast for a reason, but it really is a shame they didn’t get someone who could sing the part of Cohan.
Fun Facts: Courtesy of Wikipedia…Cagney was named as a Communist in the first round of HUAC hearings. Rumor has it the hyper-patriotism in the film is a result of the allegation. Also, Cagney didn’t like Cohan, as in an actor’s strike, Cohan sided with the producers and not the actors. Cagney won the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Epiphany: I watched this with a similar lens that I watch Casablanca with–the film was clearly set up to help with the war effort. I missed that connection the first time I watched it. Fun reading for you, if you’re interested–here’s the manual for the Motion Picture Industry from the Office of War Information.
Recommendation: See it. It’s on the National Film Registry, and that alone makes it worthwhile. My only quibble–and this was common of many musicals of that time–the songs aren’t plot points. I much prefer the musicals where the songs help tell the story. Here, the songs are simply taken from a smattering of shows Cohan wrote. I understand why that is, but I’m still not a fan of that mode of storytelling in something billed as a musical.