Yankee Doodle Dandy Review
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Everybody sing!

“Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word, over there!
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming ev'rywhere.”


That’s the spirit! These lyrics were written by George M. Cohan, a song-and-dance man immortalized in the 1942 film, Yankee Doodle Dandy. The song earned Cohan the Congressional Medal of Honor. If you ever need a blast of high-octane patriotism, or a dose of great, old-time music, check out this classic.

Cohan (played by a tireless James Cagney) is semi-retired at the movie's start, but still wowing the Broadway crowds in a production called I'd Rather Be Right. He plays the lead, a singing, dancing version of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He's reading his congratulatory telegrams after the show and is alarmed to find one from the White House -- the real FDR wants him there, pronto. "I'm really worried, Sam," he tells his partner.

  
 
But the President soon puts Cohan at ease, and they both chat about the old days of theater. Cohan mentions that he was always singing about the flag -- or carrying one. "That's what I like about you Irish-Americans," FDR booms. "You wear your patriotism right out in the open. It's a great quality."

And Cohan had a pretty good life. The movie flashes back to his childhood, where he was a “cocky kid” who quickly grew into a cocky adult. Not such a great quality if you want to get work in the theater, but eventually Cohan does succeed. (The part where he simultaneously recruits a partner and flim-flams a stage producer is a clever scene worthy of The Sting.)

All goes well for Cohan after that -- in fact, even better. He meets and marries Mary (...it’s a grand old name...), talks a fire-breathing Broadway diva into starring in his second production, and even gets his show-biz parents and sister involved in his shows. Throughout, we see Cohan dancing and singing and practically bursting out of the screen. If these tunes don’t get your foot moving, nothing will.

World War One erupts and changes everything. Cohan writes “Over There,” which is soon playing everywhere. Then the war is over, and it’s back to writing hit plays. More successes (a really neat old-timey montage shows the passage of ten years), then Cohan leaves Broadway, sees the world, and retires to his farm. This takes us back to I’d Rather Be Right and FDR’s office.

Cohan voices concern that he might have bored the President. Not at all, says the prez. “I wanted to hear the story of your life.” And you will too. I won’t ruin the delightful ending, but trust me -- you’ll never think of the White House stairs in quite the same way.

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