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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

'Yankee Doodle Dandy' BD: Cagney Classic Non-Lacy George M. Cohan Bio-Musical

Yankee Doodle Dandy (BD)
The Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the 1942 George M. Cohan bio-musical "Yankee Doodle Dandy" starring James Cagney as the titular patriot is a recent edition to the  impressive Archive BD library of classic musicals. 

Unreal TV has reviewed the release of the 1962 Doris Day musical "Billy Rose's Jumbo" and shared thoughts regarding "Hit the Deck." A review of  the BD release of "Pete Kelly's Blues" starring Jack Webb is scheduled for the week of December 15, 2014."

"Dandy," which covers the life of song-and-dance/composer Cohan literally from his birth on July 4 (though records indicate that he was born the day before), 1878 until just before his 1942 death, is one of the more macho musicals ever made. Seeing the chorus boys in the plethora of recreations of the grand numbers for which Cohan is famous look more like chorus men is amusing from a 2014 perspective.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the original trailer for "Dandy" shows all that is special about the film. Further, the portion devoted to promoting the musical numbers is awesomely reminiscent of the cheesy (often greatest hits) records that '70s television advertised.

The film opens on a 1942 evening with Cohan being called from the theater where he is depicting FDR to meet with the real big deal in the White House. The next roughly 100 minutes consists of Cagney-introduced flashbacks telling POTUS the story of the entire life of arguably the most patriotic performer of the early 20th century.

One underlying theme in "Dandy" is "the family that plays together stays together." Young actors portray Cohan traveling and performing with his parents and sister from Cohan being a toddler right through adulthood. This includes a scene with the entire family doing a number in blackface that is unfortunate by today's standards.

A highlight from that era of Cohan's life (and from the film itself) is seeing the already large ego of a roughly 10 year-old Cohan swelling even more on starring in play called "Peck's Bad Boy." The series of comeuppances that immediately follow a performance truly are must-see.

The audience also learns of the circumstances of the breakup of the family troupe and the subsequent rise to fame that Cohan experiences. Discovering that some genuine chestnuts such as "Give My Regards to Broadway" are Cohan compositions is as fun as seeing spectacular stagings of songs, such as "Dandy" and "You're A Grand Old Flag" that modern audiences more closely associate with Cohan.

Other highlights include a 39 year-old Cohan trying to enlist in the Army to fight in The Great War (a.k.a. World War I) and an older Cohan contending with sassy teens who are unaware of his work.

Archive facilitates describing the awesome job that Cagney does with his role by quoting the statement in a Pauline Kael review that "Cagney is so cocky and sure a dancer that you feel yourself grinning with pleasure at his movements." The same is true regarding his entire performance.

The aptly described "Star-Spangled Extras" include (and go way beyond) a documentary on making "Dandy" and a Leonard Maltin-hosted recreation of a night at the movies in 1942. The latter includes the trailer for "Casablanca," a newsreel consisting entirely of WWII propaganda, a short, and a hilarious Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Not only do they not make 'em like "Dandy" anymore, not many home-video companies invest the care and love that Archive devotes to making the BD such a spectacular tribute. "Dandy," Cohan, and Cagney truly deserve no less.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Dandy" is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.