Wednesday, July 17, 2013

JC Superstar

Today is Jimmy Cagney's birthday.  He was best as a tough guy in films like Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties and White Heat, but never liked being typecast and was always trying to break away from such roles, going independent more than once.

He succeeded best at breaking free in a film that by chance I recently watched, Yankee Doodle Dandy.  He got to return to his theatrical roots, dancing and (sort of) singing, and, in fact, won his only Oscar.

It's a musical biopic, a genre Hollywood used to be good at but has essentially given up.  The story is, of course, highly fictionalized, but the numbers (unlike in some other musicals, such as Cagney's great Footlight Parade) are done in a realistic style and much like the original versions.

The only problem I've got, aside from it being overlong (and a bit of a whitewash of a guy who was basically an unpleasant character), is the fact they're doing Cohan songs.  Occupational hazard, but really, his stuff doesn't hold up that well--it's corny and sing-songy and would soon enough be replaced by the far superior tunes of Kern, Gershwin, Rodgers and others.

Still, Cagney is a sparkplug who makes his scenes, no matter how hokey, work. And it's fun to see him in a role that lets him have this much fun.


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