One of my father’s favorite films was Yankee Doodle Dandy, the 1942 musical on the life of composer, playwright, actor, dancer and singer George M. Cohan whose contributions to the American songbook include “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “Over There“.
My father would let us stay up way past our bedtime to watch the movie as part of a patriotic duty, if only to see the scene where the actor James Cagney tap-danced to the title tune. In the days before on demand video, Netflix, or even DVD sales, my father was subject to the whims of the network schedule, which would offer series of patriotic films to celebrate the Independence Day holiday. Sometimes the movie was scheduled to run in the afternoon; sometimes the movie was scheduled as the midnight movie. Regardless of the time it was broadcast, watching the film was tradition, and my father looked forward to seeing Cagney’s portrayal of Cohen.
My familiarity with Cagney in films was limited to his gangster roles, especially his role as a vicious con in White Heat. How surprising then to me to see him hoof around the stage, using the proscenium wall to catch air the way a skateboarder would. The contrast was striking, but I should not have been surprised. Great actors or actresses usually have multiple talents, and Cagney was no exception. Even though YouTube allows me the chance to rewatch this clip whenever I want, I am struck by how light-footed he is dancing a stiff-legged jig across the stage.
Enjoy watching his performance….and Happy Fourth of July!