Yankee Doodle Dandy

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Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 American biographical musical film about George M. Cohan the actor / singer / dancer / playwright / songwriter / producer / theatre owner / director / choreographer known as "The Man Who Owns Broadway",[1] starring James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston and Richard Whorf, and featuring Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp and Jeanne Cagney.

The movie was written by Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph, and directed by Michael Curtiz. According to the special edition DVD, significant and uncredited improvements were made to the script by the famous "script doctors" twin brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein.


Background and production

The song "The Yankee Doodle Boy" (a.k.a. "Yankee Doodle Dandy") was Cohan's trademark piece, a patriotic pastiche drawing from the lyrics and melody of the old Revolutionary War number, "Yankee Doodle". Other Cohan tunes in the movie include "Give My Regards to Broadway", "Harrigan", "Mary's a Grand Old Name", "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Over There".

Cagney was a fitting choice for the role, as a fellow Irish-American who had been a song-and-dance man himself early in his career. His unique and seemingly odd presentation style, of half-singing and half-reciting the songs, reflected the style that Cohan himself used. His natural dance style and physique were also a good match for Cohan. Newspapers at the time reported that Cagney intended to consciously imitate Cohan's song-and-dance style, but to play the normal part of the acting in his own style. Although director Curtiz was famous for being a taskmaster, he also gave his actors some latitude. Cagney and other players improvised a number of "bits of business," as Cagney called them.

Although a number of the biographical particulars of the movie are Hollywood-ized fiction (omitting the fact that Cohan divorced and remarried, for example, and taking some liberties with the chronology of Cohan's life), care was taken to make the sets, costumes and dance steps match the original stage presentations. This effort was aided significantly by a former associate of Cohan's, Jack Boyle, who knew the original productions well. Boyle also appeared in the film in some of the dancing groups.

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