Cagney

Today in Movie History: June 6

“Once a song and dance man, always a song and dance man,” James Cagney famously remarked. That could explain why an actor renowned for playing gangsters earned his only Oscar for… well, just read the quote. Yankee Doodle Dandy, a heavily bowdlerized biography of songwriter George M. Cohan, arrived as a bracing bit of Old Glory for a nation that had just entered World War II. In and of itself, it’s not much: just a lot of happy pablum accompanied by the quiet assurance that we’re about to righteously kick some Axis behind. But with Cagney onscreen, you quite simply can’t keep your eyes off of it. Director Michael Curtiz would go on to direct his masterpiece Casablanca just six months later, but this one belongs to his lead: an inspiring performance from one of the most compulsively watchable movie stars in the history of film. Yankee Doodle Dandy opened today in 1942.

 

 

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