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Yankee Doodle Dandy, A Cagney Classic

Updated on March 16, 2012
Joan Leslie and James Cagney
Joan Leslie and James Cagney

One of the great classic films of all time.

Yankee Doodle Dandy was made in 1942, a great year for films, and still won 3 Oscars. In 1993, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and in 2006 it was ranked #18 on AFI's 100 Years of Musicals. It is a 'feel good' film, both nostalgic and unashamedly patriotic, released as it was just after the Pearl Harbour attack on the US Fleet.

The film tells the musical rags-to-riches life story and times of early 20th century entertainment legend George M. Cohan, following several generations of his family and showcases several exciting song and dance numbers. It contains a tour de force performance by an high energy James Cagney who shows beyond any doubt that he was not just a gangster-portrayer but also a very fine song and dance man.

As well as being critically well-received, the film was also a major box-office success for Warner Bros. It became the top box-office hit of the year, and Warners' most successful film up to that time.

The Original Trailer

Basic Story Line

The movie tells the story of American showbiz legend George M. Cohan (1878-1942), and begins in 1937 with Cohan visiting President Roosevelt and, encouraged by the President, recalls his life, which is told in flashback and forms the backbone of the film.

The flashback begins on July 4, 1878, in Providence, Rhode Island where Cohan was born to a struggling vaudeville family, Jerry Cohan (Walter Huston) and Nellie (Rosemary DeCamp), and performed with them and his younger sister Josie (Jeanne Cagney, the star's sister) as a youngster. They were billed as the Four Cohans. The film follows the Cohan's barnstorming around the country as vaudeville troupers and their first big break as little Georgie stars in Peck's Bad Boy. By the time George was an adolescent, it was clear that he was the star of the show, but also a bit full of himself as well. This led to him later taking his act solo as his sister became married and his parents too old to perform. Cohan did it all, though, being an actor/director/producer/writer and so on, the immense talent is only hinted upon in the movie

The movie moves on to Cohan's fortunate partnership with Sam H. Harris and their hit play Little Johnny Jones, and it traces his rising fame and fortune during WW1 when his patriotic songs like Over There became nationally famous. It reaches its climax when FDR presents Cohan with the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Cagney, as Cohan, does an impromptu jubilant tap dance down the White House steps.

Cast List

James Cagney - George Cohan

Born in 1899 Cagney entered show buisness just after World War 1 and after 3 decades of stardom had risen to be one of the pre-eminent actors of his generation. Yankee Doodle Dandy was far from Cagney's first musical; he previously starred in such other tuners as Footlight Parade and Something to Sing About, among others. Furthermore, he would again play Cohan in The Seven Little Foys. Although remembered as a portrayer of gangsters, his first love was dancing and he always considered himself a 'hoofer' rather than an actor.

Joan Leslie - Mary Cohan

Born Joan Agnes Brodel in 1925, she began performing with her two sisters whilst still a child. Leslie got her first major role in High Sierra (1941) with Humphrey Bogart and starred in many more movies until her marriage in 1950.

Walter Huston - Jerry Cohan

Walter Huston became one of America's most distinguished actors during the 1930's and 40's and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1948 for his role in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which was directed by his son, John Huston.

Richard Whorf - Sam Harris

Irene Manning - Fay Templeton

George Tobias - Dietz

Rosemary DeCamp - Nellie Cohan

Jeanne Cagney (sister of James)- Josie Cohan

Frances Langford - Nora Bayes

George Barbier - Erlanger

S. Z. Sakall - Schwab

Eddie Foy, Jr. - his own father, Eddie Foy.

Title Number and Quality Cagney Dancing


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    • profile image

      Rangerjim99 8 years ago

      This is one of my favorite movies along with "the Wizard of Oz" and "The Quiet Man". I have collected all the signatures of the cast and I am now looking for photos of the actors in character so I can frame them. Very nice site.

    • gunsock profile image

      gunsock 9 years ago from South Coast of England

      Thanks William. Its great to hear from someone who shares my admiration for this wonderful film.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      "Yankee Doodle" was truly one of the great movies of Hollywood's greatest era. My father liked it, my mother liked it, my sister lliked it, and I liked it. Thanks, gunsock, for the memories, and for a wonderful hub!