Although Cagney is best known for his gangster roles and snarling, "You dirty rat "(even though the actual line was, "Come out and take it, you dirty yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!"), he was also a talented song and dance man, which is evident in his performance as songwriter George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Wikipedia says, "Cagney was a fitting choice for the role of Cohan since, like Cohan, he was an Irish-American who had been a song-and-dance man 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."
Never seen the movie? Here's the synopsis, courtesy of Wikipedia:
In the early days of World War II, Cohan comes out of retirement to star as President Roosevelt in the Rodgers and Hart musical I'd Rather Be Right. On the first night, he is summoned to meet the President at the White House, who presents him with a Congressional Gold Medal (in fact, this happened several years previously). Cohan is overcome and chats with Roosevelt, recalling his early days on the stage. The film flashes back to his supposed birth on July 4, whilst his father is performing on the vaudeville stage.
Cohan and his sister join the family act as soon as they can learn to dance, and soon The Four Cohans are performing successfully. But George gets too cocky as he grows up and is blacklisted by theatrical producers for being troublesome. He leaves the act and hawks his songs unsuccessfully around to producers. In partnership with another struggling writer, Sam Harris, he finally interests a producer and they are on the road to success. He also marries Mary, a young singer/dancer.
As his star ascends, he persuades his now struggling parents to join his act, eventually vesting some of his valuable theatrical properties in their name.
Cohan retires, but returns to the stage several times, culminating in the role of the U.S. President. As he leaves the White House, after receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from the President, he performs a tap dance down a set of interior stairs (which Cagney thought up before the scene was filmed and performed with no rehearsal). Outside, he joins a military parade, where the soldiers are singing "Over There", and, at first, he isn't. Not knowing that Cohan is the song's composer, one of them asks if he knows the words. Cohan's response is a smile and then joins in the singing.
Great film, and James Cagney was great in it, but I admit, I really love his gangster movies! White Heat is my favorite. Do you have a favorite Cagney film?
Thanks for visiting and have a great week!