YANKEE DOODLE DANDY  [Blu-ray] [US Import] A Big Musical Biography! The Yankee Doodle DANDIEST Entertainment of ‘Em All!
Here we find legendary actor James Cagney stars in the role for which he won an Academy Award® for the life of singer, dancer and songwriter George M. Cohan, who was the true Yankee Doodle Dandy. This non-stop musical tour-de-force is where we see James Cagney sings, dances and celebrates the life and career of George M. Cohan, who was a music man who lifted a nation, is brought to the White House to receive a Congressional Gold Medal from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Broadway legend George M. Cohan reflects on his life. Flashbacks trace George M. Cohan's rise, from a childhood performing in his family's vaudeville act to his early days as a struggling Tin Pan Alley songwriter to his overwhelming success as an actor, writer, director and producer known for his patriotic songs like "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Over There." Now fully restored and remastered.
FILM FACT: The film won Academy Awards® for Best Actor in a Leading Role for James Cagney, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording for Nathan Levinson. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Walter Huston. Best Director, Best Film Editing for George Amy, Best Picture and Best Writing, Original Story. In 1993, ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Cast: James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Richard Whorf, Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp, Jeanne Cagney, Eddie Foy, Jr., Frances Langford, George Barbier, S. Z. Sakall, Walter Catlett, Jo Ann Marlowe (Josie Cohan Age 6 uncredited), Douglas Croft (George M. Cohan age 13), Eddie Foy Jr., Minor Watson, Chester Clute, Odette Myrtil, Patsy Parsons (Josie Cohan age 12), Jack Young, Henry Blair (George M. Cohan at 7 uncredited), Eddie Acuff (uncredited), Murray Alper (uncredited), Ernest Anderson (uncredited), Vivian Austin (uncredited), Georgia Carroll (uncredited), Wallis Clark (Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited), Pat Flaherty (uncredited) and Art Gilmore (Franklin D. Roosevelt (voice) uncredited)
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producers: Hal B. Wallis, Jack Warner and William Cagney (Associate)
Screenplay: Edmund Joseph, Robert Buckner, Julius J. Epstein (uncredited) and Philip G. Epstein (uncredited)
Composers: George M. Cohan (songs); Ray Heindorf (uncredited), Heinz Roemheld (score) (uncredited)
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Video Resolution: 1080p [Black-and-White]
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English: 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 125 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: Producer Hal Wallis originally envisioned 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' as a straightforward biography of one of Broadway's most successful and prolific impresarios, George M. Cohan, but America's entrance into World War II a few months before its release transformed this lavish musical into a rousing, flag-waving propaganda piece that stirred the passions and stoked the resolve of a nervous, uncertain nation. Like his titular alter ego, Cohan claimed he was born on the 4th of July (3rd of July is his actual birth date), and for most of his life the pint-sized dynamo symbolised Americana. Though George M. Cohan wrote his most famous and patriotic songs like 'You're a Grand Old Flag,' 'Over There,' 'Give My Regards to Broadway,' and the timeless title tune. In the early part of the 20th Century, they all struck a renewed chord with 1942 audiences, propelling 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' to monumental success. Yet despite its eight Academy Award® nominations, including one for Best Picture, some of the film's lustre has faded over time. 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' still entertains today, but seems more old-fashioned than most musicals of the era; a quaint, featherweight period piece that sadly lacks any emotional pulls beyond love of country.
George M. Cohan once said about himself: "Once a song-and-dance man, always a song-and-dance man." And the same holds true for the actor who immortalized him on screen, James Cagney. In his autobiography, James Cagney writes, "Psychologically I needed no preparation for 'Yankee Doodle Dandy,' or professionally either. I didn't have to pretend to be a song-and-dance man. I was one." Cagney, of course, rose to film stardom playing gangsters and wise-guys, but was also an adroit hoofer and he showed off his tapping skills most notably in Busby Berkeley's 'Footlight Parade,' and cut his theatrical teeth on Broadway musicals. George M. Cohan even rejected him for one of his shows when James Cagney was first starting out. Though smashing a half-grapefruit in Mae Clarke's face in 'The Public Enemy' put him on the cinematic map, portraying a Broadway legend would win James Cagney a Best Actor Academy Award® and cement his reputation as an immensely talented, multi-faceted performer.
Ironically, George M. Cohan was not too far removed from the pugnacious punks James Cagney often played on screen. Instead of a gun, George M. Cohan wielded arrogance, and his cocksure attitude alienated many a Broadway cohort. Refreshingly, 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' doesn't shy away from depicting George M. Cohan's abrasive personality, insufferable ego, and brazen ambition and quite a feat, considering George M. Cohan's contract granted him complete script approval and the power to cancel the film's release if he disapproved of the finished product. The unprecedented deal completely stressed out studio chief Jack L. Warner, who heaved a huge sigh of relief when George M. Cohan at last gave the movie his blessing. George M. Cohan adamantly opposed any depiction of his domestic life, so the writers merged his two wives into one, and created a new name for the character Mary, after the popular George M. Cohan song, “Mary's A Grand Old Name.” Sixteen-year-old Joan Leslie landed the part, playing opposite the 42-year-old James Cagney, and in keeping with Cohan's wishes, the two rarely express any affection for each other during the film. In real life, George M. Cohan fathered four children, but none appear in the film. Joan Leslie could only work limited hours each day, because she had to attend school on the Warner Bros. lot, but somehow Joan Leslie and James Cagney make a believable couple and manage to minimise the vast age difference. Interestingly, Rosemary DeCamp, who played George M. Cohan's mother, was also a relative youngster and 11 years James Cagney's junior!
The film's cut-and-dried plot focuses almost exclusively on George M. Cohan's career and is almost completely devoid of any dramatic impact. Told in flashback, the tale begins as an elderly George M. Cohan receives the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt [Jack Young], which inspires the blustery thespian to regale Franklin D. Roosevelt with his life story. We then follow Cohan from his humble beginnings as part of his parents' vaudeville act to his juvenile success as “Peck's Bad Boy,” his tenure as one of the singing Four Cohans and the other three were his father [Walter Huston], mother [Rosemary DeCamp], and sister [Jeanne Cagney] and eventual renown as Broadway composer, lyricist, actor, and producer, who sometimes had five hit shows running simultaneously on The Great White Way. Any personal strife, beyond the death of his father, is ignored, which leaves the film emotionally bereft. Historical inaccuracies also abound, and as we bounce from one song to another, with only negligible chatter and some comic shtick in between, a bit of ennui sets in, despite the lively numbers and spirited performances. Outside of successful shows and some mild family squabbling, nothing of note really happens to George M. Cohan, and the lack of any cohesive narrative makes it difficult to invest in the characters and remain involved in the film. Songwriter biopics often suffer from such a malaise, because let's face it, most composers lead normal, insulated, rather boring existences. Their songs may provide great entertainment, but their lives, generally, do not.
James Cagney agreed to star in 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' partially to quell any lingering rumours about his supposed Communist sympathies, spawned from his years as a "strong Roosevelt liberal" in the 1930s. Playing the all-American George M. Cohan, a man whom many thought really was "a real live nephew" of Uncle Sam; put a stop to any whispers about James Cagney's patriotism. And James Cagney gave the role his all, ceaselessly studying George M. Cohan and adopting his trademark stiff-limbed dance style, vocal timbre, and stage persona. Simply from the standpoint of stamina, it's an admirable performance, and James Cagney's triple-threat abilities undoubtedly helped him snag the OSCAR® Best Actor, the first time a musical performer garnered the award.
And the film's dozen or so musical numbers are really what 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' is all about. Michael Curtiz, whose next film would be the Oscar® winning 'Casablanca,' had never before directed a musical, but seems to have a firm grasp on the genre, constructing modest yet effective song sequences that reflect the simplicity of George M. Cohan's music and don't require any suspensions of disbelief. Michael Curtiz also received an OSCAR® nomination for his work, as did Walter Huston for Best Supporting Actor, but it is James Cagney's presence that looms the largest over this sprightly piece of hokum. His performance remains strong and captivating more than seven decades later, and though his fine work can't mask the film's lack of substance, he keeps 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' relevant, inspiring plenty of admiration, and proving he really is that yankee doodle boy.
Blu-ray Video Quality – Classic film lovers rejoice! Warner Archive Collection has delivered yet another scrumptious 1080p encoded image transfer of this vintage title, one that beautifully captures the original look and feel of 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and James Wong Howe's exceptional cinematography. Superior contrast and stunning clarity lend the image presence and depth, while a natural grain structure provides a palpable film-like appearance. When compared to the inferior 2003 NTSC DVD, the Blu-ray picture looks more vibrant and exhibits far less texture. Blacks are stronger and deeper, and the grey scale flaunts more distinct variations. Background details are easy to discern, shadow delineation is quite good, and close-ups show off fine facial features well. Best of all, not a single speck, mark, or scratch mars the pristine source material, and no digital doctoring, such as edge sharpening or noise reduction, seems to have been applied. Black-and-White musicals generally pale in comparison to their Technicolor cousins, but this stellar transfer makes us miss those saturated hues just a little bit less. Never has 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' looked this good, and making an upgrade is essential for fans of this flag-waving film.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track supplies robust sound that's somewhat limited by the recording equipment of the early 1940s. Though any trace of age-related imperfections, such as hiss, pops, and crackles, have been scrubbed away by Warner technicians, the audio lacks the same degree of fidelity and tonal depth that often distinguishes M-G-M musicals of the period. Still, this solid effort proves the OSCARS® the film won for Best Musical Score and Best Sound Recording were warranted, despite a slight nagging shrillness that occasionally creeps into the mix. Distortion, however, is absent, dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and the tapping from James Cagney's fancy footwork is crisp and distinct. For a 72-year-old film, 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' sounds darn good, and though the audio never dazzles, this is still a grand old track.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary with Warner Bros. Historian Rudy Behlmer: Film historian Rudy Behlmer always provides top-notch audio commentaries, and his discussion of 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' doesn't disappoint. Rudy Behlmer edited a book comprised of Warner Bros studio memos, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Burbank dream factory fuels this informative and absorbing track. Rudy Behlmer date stamps almost all the scenes in the film and names the soundstages on which they were shot. In addition, he points out several historical inaccuracies and identifies some music in the film that wasn't written by George M. Cohan. He also talks about the incessant rewrites that plagued the production, James Cagney's quick-witted improvisations, the star's intense dislike of fellow actor S.Z. Sakall, and how teenage leading lady Joan Leslie had to adhere to child labour laws during shooting. Anecdotes abound, including one that concerns George M. Cohan's rejection of a young, unknown Cagney when the novice actor auditioned for one of the impresario's shows early in his career. When it comes to commentaries, Rudy Behlmer is the best in the business, and this essential track will fascinate anyone with an interest in classic films.
Special Feature: Introduction by Leonard Maltin: Warner Night at the Movies 1942 [3:21] The critic and film historian provides an introduction to the various short subjects from 1942 listed below. Then followed by the Feature Film ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’
Theatrical Trailer: ‘Casablanca’ [480i] [1.33:1] [2:16] Written by Julius and Irving Epstein, who did uncredited rewrites on ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’
Newsreel  [480i] [1.33:1] [9:16] A West Point graduation; the U.S. air corps in China; volunteers for naval service in Houston; Mexico declares war; British tanks to the U.S.S.R.; the air corps in Australia; FDR reviews the troops.
Warner Bros. Patriot Short Subject: Beyond the Call of Duty [480i] [1.33:1] [22:01] Narrated by Ronald Reagan, this Warner Brothers short in support of the war effort focuses on the exploits of Army Air Corps Captain Hewett T. Wheless and his exploits just after the U.S. entry into World War II. He was a ranch hand before enlisting and the film recreates his training with Army Air Corps Captain Hewett T. Wheless eventually commanding a bomber. On a mission, his aircraft encountered 18 Japanese Zeros but he managed to safely return to base, despite the severe damage to his aircraft. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism.
Vintage Warner Bros. Merry Melodies Cartoon: Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid  [1080p] [7:25] The cartoon begins with a mother buzzard instructing her children to go out and catch something for dinner. They set off right away except one with his back turned. This is Beaky Buzzard (Killer) who is shy and a little on the slow side. Against his will, his mother kicks him out of the nest with instructions to at least catch a rabbit. Beaky spots Bugs Bunny and soars down to catch him. Bugs makes like an air-traffic controller and "guides" Beaky to the ground with a crash. After some heckling, a chase ensues ending with Bugs crashing into the ground underneath the skeleton of a dead animal. He cries because he thinks he's dead ("Gruesome, isn't it?", he briefly confides to the audience), but it turns he knew he was okay the whole time. Beaky and Bugs jitterbug together. Bugs says, "Why don't we do this more often," to which Beaky replies, "Ya mean just what we're doing tonight?" This is a quote of the first line of the song "Why Don't We Do This More Often?" After the dance with Bugs, Beaky ends up underground with the skeleton above. He summons his mother and she shows up. At first the mother buzzard thinks Bugs did something to Beaky. Bugs Bunny pulls Beaky out of the ground. Noticing that Beaky is unharmed, the mother abandons her desire to eat Bugs and declares him her hero and kisses him. A blushing Bugs Bunny imitates Beaky. The cartoon, directed by Bob Clampett, and produced by Leon Schlesinger.
Special Feature Documentary: Let Freedom Sing! The Story of Yankee Doodle Dandy  [480i] [1.33:1] [44:31] This comprehensive documentary meticulously chronicles the biopic's journey to the screen, providing historical background on the George M. Cohan family, production details, and notes on the film's impact and lasting appeal. Among other things, we learn how the script evolved from a straight drama into a musical; how the influence of James Cagney's brother, William, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor affected the movie's production; how James Cagney's sister, Jeanne, beat out Ruby Keeler for the role of James Cagney's sister in the film; and how George M. Cohan originally approached Fred Astaire to portray him. James Cagney's love-hate relationship with director Michael Curtiz is also examined, along with James Cagney's improvisations on set, and George M. Cohan's death shortly after the film was released. Actress Joan Leslie, who played James Cagney's wife in 'Yankee Doodle Dandy,' actor John Travolta, and film historians Rudy Behlmer, Robert Osborne, and Bob Thomas, among other noteworthy contributors, comment on this beloved piece of Americana and how it still resonates today.
Special Feature: John Travolta Remembers James Cagney  [480i] [1.33:1] [5:09] In his later years, James Cagney did not typically meet new people, but he made an exception for John Travolta when their mutual friend, producer A.C. Lyles, informed James Cagney that the newly minted star was a dancer. The star of 'Grease' recalls his lifelong fascination with James Cagney, how 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' was his favourite film as a child, and how an emotional meeting with the legendary actor spawned a close relationship that continued until James Cagney's death.
Special Feature Vintage Wartime Short: You, John Jones  [480i] [1.33:1] [10:26] This war time-effort short subject, directed by Mervyn LeRoy 'Quo Vadis' and 'The Bad Seed,' features James Cagney as an everyman air raid warden who, while on duty one night, expresses his gratitude to God that the U.S. has not been bombed like other countries around the world, and that his wife [Ann Sothern] and young daughter [Margaret O'Brien] are safe. He then envisions the horrors his daughter would face if they resided in such hotspots as England, Greece, China, Yugoslavia, France, and Russia. Though James Cagney's earnest portrayal rings true, moppet O'Brien who a year before she would gain renown as Judy Garland's impish sister in 'Meet Me in St. Louis' is the short's real star, and it's amazing the six-year-old actress wasn't scarred for life after enduring the barrage of harrowing situations that befall her character. One minute she's an amputee, the next a starving street urchin. In between, she survives two traumatic bombing scenes and shows up dead in the rubble in two others (once with her eyes open)...all in the span of 10 minutes! The short's subject matter is serious, but the rapid-fire, hyper-dramatic presentation of such unrelieved strife does provoke a chuckle or two. To top it all off, Margaret O'Brien must also recite large sections of the Gettysburg Address in preparation for a school recitation contest...and to stoke the patriotic passions of the audience! It's quite a performance, and definitely merits a look.
Special Feature Vintage Animated Warner Bros. Looney Tunes Cartoon Short: Yankee Doodle Daffy  [1080p] [1.33:1] [6:44] Despite its suggestive title, this Looney Tunes cartoon has nothing to do with 'Yankee Doodle Dandy,' but it's an entertaining romp in its own right. Daffy Duck, agent to the stars, complete with business card that flashes like a theatre marquis, does everything he can to convince Porky Pig of "Smeller Productions" that his preadolescent client "Sleepy LaGoon" can become a star. This annoys Porky Pig, as it is his day off and he has planned to play golf. Daffy Duck spends most of the cartoon telling Porky about what his client can do, while actually performing various shticks himself, in his usual wild and frenetic way. After trying various ways to escape, Porky locks Daffy in a huge vault and takes off in a plane only to find out that the pilot of the plane was Daffy. Porky then jumps out with a parachute while Daffy follows. Porky then gets chased back to his office. Finally, Porky Pig relents and asks to see what his client can do. "Sleepy," a small and droopy-eyed Daffy Duck, who has whiled away the episode slurping a huge all-day sucker which he keeps in a banjo case, finally gets to perform. "Sleepy" begins to sing a song in a strong baritone voice. He starts out well, then tries to hit a high note, and goes into a coughing fit as the cartoon ends.
Feature Audio Vault [Audio Only] You Remind Me of My Mother (Outtake); You’re a Grand Old Flag (James Cagney Rehearsal); Give My Regards to Broadway (James Cagney Rehearsal); Four Cohens Medley (Vocal with Piano) and Harrigan (Vocal with Piano).
Feature Audio Vault [Audio Only] Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Show [19th October, 1942] [29:31] A radio presentation of highlights from ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ featuring James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Jeanne Cagney, Richard Whorf, and S. Z. Sakall all reprising their film roles. Cut down to a lean 30 minutes, including commercials, introduction, and farewells, this telling of 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' foregoes plot in favour of music, and ends up little more than a prolonged medley of George M. Cohan hits. Audio quality is a bit rough, but we're lucky this treasured relic still exists at all.
Special Feature: Screen Selection from the film: ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ provides a listing of twenty songs performed during the film, to which the viewer can jump directly to and they consist of: Medley [Yankee Doodle/Yankee Doodle Boy/Mary’s a Grand Old Name]; The Dancing Master; Peck’s Bad Boy [The Dancing Master]; I Was Born in Virginia; The Warmest Baby in the Bunch; Harrigan and Yankee Doodle Boy [Little Johnny Jones #1].
Finally, George M. Cohan was an American institution, and though 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' takes great liberties with his life story, Michael Curtiz's rousing and if formulaic biopic salutes the man and his music with plenty of warmth, reverence, and patriotic fervour. James Cagney's OSCAR® winning portrayal, distinguished by his distinctive, vigorous dancing, anchors the film and cracks its corny veneer, while more than a dozen of George M. Cohan's most recognizable tunes comprise the truly American soundtrack. Though slim on plot, 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' coasts along on the strength of its music, performances, and production values, winning us over with its irrepressible charm. Warner Archive's Blu-ray presentation honours this OSCAR® winning film with a brilliant video transfer that improves upon the previous inferior NTSC DVD, but with this Blu-ray you get a high-quality mono audio, and a cavalcade of absorbing supplements. Though it never rivals the musicals made across town by M-G-M, 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' remains a prime example of old-fashioned, rock-'em-sock-'em entertainment and its undeniable patriotism makes it deserving of an annual spin on 4th July. Very Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom