Yankee Doodle Dandy

August 4, 2013 • 1:25 pm

Here are two scenes from a movie that you may think schmalzy, but I love. It’s Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney as songwriter/performer/playwright George M. Cohan (1878-1942).

Scene I: After a lifetime of writing popular songs, including patriotic ones, Cohan gets a medal from Franklin Roosevelt at the White House, and dances down the stairs in joy.  He then joins a line of soldiers marching off to WWII, all singing  song he wrote, “Over There.” Nobody recognizes Cohan as he falls in line, and one solder asks him, “What’s the matter, old timer—don’t you remember this song?” Cohan replies, “Seems to me that I do,” and joins in.

I watched that movie every fourth of July during my childhood. It’s terrific, and has some nice dance scenes (did you know Cagney was a great dancer?). Here’s a famous one:

15 thoughts on “Yankee Doodle Dandy

  1. When I was a child there was a show on television called Million Dollar Movie; it played the same movie every day for a week, twice a day on the weekend, if I recall correctly. When Yankee Doodle Dandy was on, my friends and I watched every single showing of it!

  2. As a matter of fact I recall seeing it as a child when it came out. At some point or other some movie rating organization (possibly the UCLA Film and TV Archive) listed it as the 100th greatest movie ever made. Except that foreign language films didn’t count.

  3. Borrowed this recently from the library, but the DVD was so scratched it wouldn’t play. I’m a big fan of Cagney — read his autobiography a few months ago. He preferred musicals to the gangster pictures, most of which he didn’t think were very good. “I was always a song and dance man,” he said.

  4. One of my favorite song and dance men. The short sequence on the steps is perfection. So spirited and energetic. I’ve watched this on the 4th and it was good to do so again on the 4th of August.

  5. I’ve loved the movie “Man of a thousand Faces”, wherein Cagney played Lon Chaney, since I was a child. Excellent.

  6. It’s probably been 40yrs since I’ve seen this, but I expected he’d bank off the stage opening in that second video, and sure enough, he did.

    I wonder how many takes it took for that scene?

  7. Side note about the first clip: George M. Cohan received the Congressional Gold Medal not the Medal of Honor as depicted in the film. The Medal of Honor can only be awarded to military personnel for acts of valor, not to civilians for writing sons (no matter how good they are).

    1. Erm…”songs” not “sons”. Though you don’t get any medals for writing to your kids either.

  8. If only they played “You’re a Grand Old Flag” instead of “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch these days…

  9. Perhaps the greatest biopic ever. You may be unfamiliar with Cagney’s reprise of the Cohan role in “The Seven Little Foys” staring Bob Hope as Eddie Foy. (Foy had appeared as himself in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.)


    Cagney was about 56 when he filmed that (Hope was about 52.)

  10. Interesting coincidence that you would post this on August 4th. On August 4th, 1914, “the Reichstag voted itself our of session for four months or for what was generally expected to be the duration (of the war). (German Chancellor) Bethmann closed the proceedings with an assurance that carried overtones of the gladiators’ salute:

    “Whatever our lot may be, August 4th, 1914, will remain for all eternity one of Germany’s greatest days!”

    (Barbara Tuchman, “The Guns of August” (1962) page 128)

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