"Yankee Doodle Dandy" tells the story of Broadway composer George M. Cohan, expertly put over by erstwhile gangster, James Cagney. Cagney had started his show biz career as a hoofer, but later got pegged as a "public-enemy" type, so it probably shocked some of his 1940s audience to see him take to his feet and skip effortlessly across the stage in this remarkable biopic.
The story opens with the elderly but still dancing Cohan's getting summoned to the White House on a mysterious visit. President Franklin Roosevelt greets the entertainer and asks him about his life, and then we're off to the land of flashback, as we see George and his parents (dad is Walter Houston) and sis play vaudeville, and then see George strike out on his own as a multitalented composer/performer. And in case you're clueless as to just what Cohan penned, here's just a few: "Give Me Regards to Broadway", "You're a Grand Old Flag", "Over There", "Mary is a Grand Old Name", "Harrigan", "Forty-five Minutes from Broadway", "So Long Mary", and the eponymous "Yankee Doodle Dandy".
Cagney is aces as Cohan, giving us a spunky likeable main character who just happens to dance up a storm at the drop of a hat. I once heard a dancer on TV call Cagney's style "eccentric dancing", a style where the upper body remains straight while the performer hops about on his toes. Whatever it is, it is wonderful to watch. The supporting actors and actresses are all good, but the movie is Cagney's by a mile. If you thought all he could do was plug another bootlegger, you've got another thing coming in this deservedly Academy-Award winning performance.