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Michael Curtiz
James Cagney, Jeanne Cagney, Walter Huston, Frances Langford, Jane Leslie, Irene Manning, George Tobias, Richard Whorf
Writing Credits:
Robert Buckner, Edmund Joseph

The Yankee Doodle Dandiest Entertainment of 'em all!

A musical portrait of composer/singer/dancer George M. Cohan. From his early days as a child-star in his family's vaudeville show up to the time of his comeback at which he received a medal from the president for his special contributions to the United States.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 125 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 10/14/2014

• Audio Commentary With Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
• “Warner Night At the Movies 1942” Introduced By Leonard Maltin
• “Let Freedom Sing!: The Story of Yankee Doodle Dandy” Documentary
• “John Travolta Remembers James Cagney”
You, John Jones 1943 Wartime Short Featuring Cagney
• Classic Daffy Duck Cartoon
• “Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater” Radio Show
• Prerecording Session Outtakes and Rehearsals
• Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Yankee Doodle Dandy [Blu-Ray] (1942)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 22, 2014)

On the original AFI’s Top 100 list, 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy resided at the very bottom as film #100. It also sat at or near the bottom of the AFI-ranked movies I wanted to see, as a musical biography of composer George M. Cohan didn’t sound like something I’d normally want to watch. Happily, the movie proved to be surprisingly amusing and endearing.

The movie starts at its era’s present day, and we see the premiere of a production called I’d Rather Be Right. This offers the return of Cohan (James Cagney) to the stage after a long absence. He plays the president in the comedic show, so when he gets a summons to come to the White House, he fears that he’s in hot water.

When he arrives, he receives a personal meeting with “the President” (a thinly disguised FDR, played by Captain Jack Young). Cohan quickly launches into a retrospective discussion of his life and career, so the film jumps back 60 years. We see that his parents Jerry (Walter Huston) and Nellie (Rosemary De Camp) were in show business, and Jerry rushes from a performance to witness George’s birth on July 4, 1878.

The movie then moves forward to show the progress of performing clan the 4 Cohans; that group includes younger sister Josie (Patsy Lee Parsons). 13-year-old George (Douglas Croft) proves to be the star of the show, which goes to his head and makes him cocky and bratty. Some kids beat him up and his father reprimands him, so he promises to become more modest. However, this doesn’t last, and George soon returns to his arrogant and brash self.

From there the tale follows the Cohans through the years. Eventually the adult George meets an aspiring performer named Mary (Joan Leslie). The pair hit it off and become a romantic item.

After a while, George starts to write his own tunes, but he does so fairly unsuccessfully until he meets another floundering artist named Sam Harris (Richard Whorf). Harris can’t sell his plays because producers want songs in them, so Cohan and he hook up to integrate their works.

This succeeds, and the pair become a big hit with their musicals. The rest of Dandy follows what happens to George and the rest of the Cohan family over the years up to the “present” and his meeting with FDR.

Before I watched Dandy, I worried it would provide a pandering hagiography. The prospect that Dandy would come across as sappy and purely sentimental seemed especially strong since Cohan himself remained alive at the time of his release. (Cohan died less than half a year after the flick’s June 1942 premiere.)

Happily, Dandy offers a surprisingly spunky and irreverent piece of work. The set-up seems somewhat lame and awkward, as the way it gets Cohan to tell his life story feels forced and artificial. However, the presentation of his biography quickly becomes engaging.

Much of the reason Dandy succeeds stems from Cagney’s fine, Oscar-winning performance as the lead character. Cagney seems confident and lively throughout the role, and he makes a clean departure from his typical gangster part. The actor portrays Cohan as a raging egotist but Cagney makes him charming and likable nonetheless.

As for Cagney’s singing and dancing, Gene Kelly had nothing to fear, but he handles himself fairly well. Actually, his hoofing seems pretty good, but his speak-singing comes across as somewhat awkward.

At first I thought this came simply from a lack of talent, but as I explored the disc’s extras, I found otherwise. For one, we learn that Cohan sang that way, and in addition, we hear some rehearsal renditions from Cagney that offer much stronger crooning. In any case, Cagney holds his own in the musical numbers.

One of other big fears related to Dandy came from its patriotic nature. I have a low threshold for jingoism, and given the era in which they shot Dandy, I figured it’d become pretty intolerable in that regard.

However, it keeps the flag-waving from becoming excessive. Sure, we get a lot of it, but those elements seem much less heavy than I expected. In addition, Dandy largely avoids the sappy sentimentality I figured would mar it.

Instead, Yankee Doodle Dandy provides a nicely light and plucky film that seems gleefully irreverent much of the time. It never appears afraid to make Cohan look like a boob, though it always does so in a comedic and affectionate way.

Does it represent a clear and accurate biography of the composer and performer? God, no; this is clearly a fantasy version of his life. But with results that seem so much fun, who cares?

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Yankee Doodle Dandy appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite the flick’s advanced age, the picture looked quite positive.

Across the board, sharpness remained solid, as it remained detailed and well defined. I noticed no problematic signs of softness and the film looked distinctive. No issues related to jagged edges or shimmering showed up, and no edge enhancement or digital noise reduction interfered.

Print flaws also appeared absent. Black levels came across as deep and rich, while low-light shots were appropriately smooth and lacked any problematic denseness or muddiness. Contrast was tight and distinctive as the movie represented a fine black and white presence. This merited an “A-“, as it seemed strong for a film of this era.

The DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Yankee Doodle Dandy didn’t live up to the standard set by the visuals, but the audio seemed fine for a movie from 1942. Speech appeared acceptably natural and distinct. I noticed no problems with edginess or intelligibility, and dialogue was fairly well reproduced, though a little thin and sibilant in general.

Effects played a fairly minor role in this song/speech dominated film, but they remained reasonably accurate and without distortion or other problems. Music sounded decent but unexceptional. Louder singing tended to seem somewhat shrill and rough, but most of the songs were clean and acceptably dynamic. No problems connected to noise, hiss or other source issues appeared. Overall, the soundtrack of Dandy was a bit above average for its vintage, but it didn’t stand out as superior in that domain.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2003 Special Edition DVD? Audio seemed similar, as the lossless DTS-HD MA mix couldn’t add a lot of pep to the 70-plus-year-old material.

Visuals showed more obvious improvements, though, as the Blu-ray was tighter and smoother. I liked the DVD a lot but the Blu-ray became a clear upgrade.

Most of the DVD’s extras repeat here, and we begin with an audio commentary from film historian Rudy Behlmer. He’s provided tracks for many different flicks, and here he offers yet another fine running, generally screen-specific discussion.

This chat frequently takes the form of a production diary, really. Behlmer often tells us about the day-in, day-out experiences for each scene, and this allows him to get into many great production details.

Behlmer also tells us about the various participants and explores issues such as the history behind the songs and the story, script changes and improvisation, and cast and crew interactions. It’s a lively and informative discussion that helps educate us about the film.

A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1942. As explained via a three-minute, 21-second introduction from Leonard Maltin, this feature includes a preview for Casablanca - a flick from the same era as Dandy - plus a period newsreel, an animated short called Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid and a war-related inspirational short entitled Beyond the Line of Duty.

These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Dandy, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this program and think it’s quite clever. Use the “Play All” option to run each of these features and then automatically launch into Dandy.

In addition to the trailer for Dandy, we find a documentary called Let Freedom Sing!: The Story of Yankee Doodle Dandy. This 44-minute, 31-second piece uses comments from actors Joan Leslie, John Travolta, and Joel Grey, producer AC Lyles, film historians Behlmer, Bob Thomas, and Robert Osborne, Warner Bros. art director Gene Allen, biographer David Collins, and authors John McCabe and Patrick McGilligan.

“Sing” opens with a discussion of Cohan’s life and career and tells us how his story made it to the screen. It discusses why Cagney became involved, the creation of the script, Cohan’s demands for control of the flick and liberties taken, casting, notes about director Michael Curtiz and other crewmembers, plus additional elements. “Freedom” lacks much sizzle, but it covers its subject well and gives us a solid look at the film.

More information comes up in John Travolta Remembers James Cagney. After producer AC Lyles tells us how he got Cagney to meet with the actors, the five-minute, nine-second session consists of statements from Travolta as he discusses his long-time affection for Cagney and the brief relationship they shared. It’s a sweet little remembrance of Cagney.

We find a cartoon semi-related to the flick: 1943’s Yankee Doodle Daffy (6:44). Other than the title, the short really has nothing to do with Dandy, though at least it takes place in show business. It’s also a very good cartoon.

After this we locate a live-action short from 1943 called You, John Jones. Cagney stars as the title character in this wartime flick that runs 10 minutes, 26 seconds.

Jones mans an air raid station and waxes about how much he appreciates the lack of bombing on US soil. Apparently some divine power doesn’t believe him, so we see some fantasy segments that show what it’d be like for his daughter if they lived in war-torn territories.

It’s an odd piece – why are they teaching John a lesson when he already is thankful and doing his part? Still, it’s a good addition to the set as a historical curiosity.

Within the Audio Vault we get two features. “Outtakes and Rehearsals” includes an unused song called “You Remind Me of Mother” as well as four practice takes/warm-up ditties. Cagney’s performances are interesting to hear since he actually sings the songs, unlike his talk-crooning in the final flick.

Also in the “Audio Vault” we discover an October 19, 1942 broadcast as part of the “Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater” radio show. This reprises Dandy in a manner that favors its music. Cagney narrates the piece as part of his chat with FDR, and this leads into many songs.

Essentially the narrative feels like a loose excuse for the crooning, and the radio show doesn’t seem terribly interesting. At least it brings back the entire original cast, which is a nice touch.

Does the Blu-ray lose materials from the DVD? Yes – it drops a Bugs Bunny cartoon, another documentary about Cagney, still galleries, additional trailers and some text notes.

On paper, Yankee Doodle Dandy sounded like it might offer a maudlin and sappy piece of nostalgia. In reality, however, the movie proved quite winning, as it gave us a peppy and amusing take on the life of a famous composer. The Blu-ray provides excellent visuals as well as mostly positive audio and a nice array of bonus materials. A classic film gets a fine presentation on this solid Blu-ray.

To rate this film visit the 2003 review of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main