Released 1942 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Michael Curtiz (of Casablanca fame)
Stars - James Cagney, Jean Leslie
It’s a biopic of Broadway great George M. Cohan (Cagney), best known for hits such as “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Over There.” Leslie co-stars as Mary, George’s wife.
The blackface scene is wildly inappropriate. Thank goodness it was brief or I might have died from secondhand embarrassment.
I didn’t find it especially interesting. Cohan’s life was presented as fairly boring, so the movie relies heavily on the spectacle that was his Broadway shows to add some excitement to it. In that way, it reminded me of The Great Ziegfeld.
There’s this feel to it, a sense of “George M. Cohan is the most awesome man who ever awesomed” that’s kind of hard to swallow. I suspect it’s due to the facts that it came out only about 5 months after the U.S. entered WWII and 7 months before Cohan died (he was likely already terminally ill when they were filming it) and Cohan had a lot of patriotic appeal. However, you don’t really get to know him through this film, so I was a little befuddled as to why I was supposed to revere him.
The make-up work to make people look old was really fantastic.
I haven’t seen much of Cagney’s work, but most of what I’ve seen is from his early days, when he did the whole wise-cracking, tough guy schtick. It was nice to see him show some range. I thought he was great. I especially loved his tap dance down the stairs at the end.
Despite my complaint above, I did enjoy all the singing, dancing, costumes and sets.
I think what’s bothering me about it is that there’s no depth. You know me, I don’t need my movies to be meaningful to enjoy them. However, when it comes to a biopic, I expect to get to know the person. At the end of this one, I still had a lot of questions about George M. Cohan. Who was he, really, other than a guy who really liked to write patriotic songs? They don’t even mention his children once (he had four and was purportedly very close to them). I did read that Cohan was very private about his personal life, but even so I felt like the filmmakers could have tried harder to do more than scratch the surface.
That having been said, there was a lot I liked about it. The performances, costumes, make-up, singing, and dancing were all great. It also has a decent amount of humor. It will make you feel good. This isn’t a film intended to provoke thought. The intent is to delight the senses and stir your deepest passions for song and country. It does that quite well.
I give it 3.5 stars.