Friday, July 18, 2014

A Belated Happy Birthday to James Cagney


James Cagney's birthday was yesterday, July 17th. He was born in 1899, and died in 1986. Most people associate James Cagney with his gangster roles, but he is also well known for his tap dancing, and it is those roles that I love him in. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) is my favorite musical; I can watch it over and over. As a child, I saw him many times in Yankee Doodle Dandy, which was often shown as a Saturday afternoon matinee on July 4th at my neighborhood theater. James Cagney played George M. Cohan and there were many great tap dancing routines in that movie. Cagney was nominated for his first Oscar for Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) but he won his only Oscar for his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy. He reprised his role as George M. Cohan thirteen years later in The Seven Little Foys (1955).

Cagney and Joan Leslie in Yankee Doodle Dandy
I have two other favorite movies that Cagney dances in. One is Footlight Parade (1933); the other was made when he was around 50: West Point Story (1950). Doris Day was his co-star. Glen and I both like old movies, including musicals. Before we got married, when we still lived in Riverside, California, we drove to Sherman Oaks one night after work to see Yankee Doodle Dandy and Footlight Parade on the big screen. We arrived so late we had to watch the late shows, and we hallucinated through the By the Waterfall scene, near the end of Footlight Parade.

Cast of Footlight Parade
Recently I was reminded of the movie One, Two, Three (1961), which was Cagney's last movie before retirement. (He later came out of retirement to do a small part in Ragtime, released in 1981.) In a post on London Match by Len Deighton, Moira at Clothes in Books featured a publicity still for a play by Ferenc Molnar called One-Two-Three. I had not been aware that the film One, Two, Three was based on a play. Glen and I rewatched the movie, enjoying it once again. Cagney does not dance in that movie, but he shows his usual energy. Many reviews say that Cagney was the best thing in this film. He is almost never off the screen. Others in this film are Arlene Francis as his wife, Pamela Tiffin, and Horst Buchholz. Cagney plays the head of the Coca Cola plant in West Germany, a very ambitious executive trying to get a promotion. The movie pokes fun at just about everything. It is not a great film but it is fun, and Cagney is wonderful in it.


Glen wants me to mention his favorite Cagney movies: Lady Killer (1933), The Strawberry Blonde (1941), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) (yes, Shakespeare, playing Bottom, the weaver), and Picture Snatcher (1933).

14 comments:

  1. I can only really recall seeing Angels With Dirty Faces which is a great film.

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    1. Col, that is a great movie, and we do have a lot of Cagney's gangster type movies also, just not my favorites of his.

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  2. Tracy, I enjoyed reading your offbeat post on James Cagney and I hope you'll continue to give us an occasional non-bookish post. Like Col, I too liked him in ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES although I've never seen him in a tap-dancing role yet, so I'll be looking out for YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. He was a terrific actor.

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    1. Prashant, he was a good actor in all of his roles (that I have seen so far). We have a few of his movies unwatched that I want to try soon.

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  3. Tracy - Cagney certainly had a profound influence in film, and he was versatile. Thanks for the reminder of his work.

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    1. Margot, while working on this post, I was surprised to find how many movies he had been in. Many I have seen, but still it seemed like a lot.

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  4. I love Cagney too and Yankee Doodle Dandy used to be shown on TV regularly here. I remember my boys being amazed at the tap dancing scene when the film goes at different speeds. I had never heard of One Two Three.
    I love old films in general and as a child my favourite actor was Edward G Robinson! I think I must have been an unusual child.

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    1. Katrina, I have always enjoyed old films too. I think it is unusual for children to like old films, but they used to be more available on TV, giving us more access. My son has an appreciation for old films because my husband and I both watched them a lot.

      We recently watched A Slight Case of Murder with Edward G. Robinson. Sort of an unusual movie for him, a comedy about the aftermath of Prohibition.

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  5. I am so tired after reading all day, but I could not turn out the lights before I read about Jimmy Cagney. I can still sing the words of the song " I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy...etc!"
    I am a film fanatic and want to think about the films JC made that impressed me. i will write more tomorrow. Just wanted to say....love the film reviews! ( ps you write so many reviews these last few weeks I haven't had time to comment. Will do asap!

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    1. Thanks, Nancy. While I was writing this, I kept remembering other Cagney movies I enjoy. I thought I was slowing down on reviews and posts. I got so behind since April I am trying to catch up, but it is a never ending battle.

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  6. My favorite show on TV was "Saturday Night at the Movies"( I think on NBC). My love of films started there. My favorite JC movie is Yankee Doodle Dandy and White Heat. I 've been reading so much since 2012 ( blog start) that I haven't been able to see so many films. I should just put in in my agenda "film night', no books!"

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    1. Nancy, I get to watch a lot of films because my husband and son are both into them, and that way I get a lot of variety. I haven't seen anything like White Heat in a long time, so we may work those in soon.

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  7. I liked Cagney dancing better than Cagney the gangster - and I was SO GLAD you mentioned Footlight Parade - that's my favourite of his movies, such a great musical, but not one that's often mentioned.

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    1. Moira, Footlight Parade is a favorite with us too, and Cagney does some great acting in that. Joan Blondell is a favorite too, and Ruby Keeler is also an awesome tap dancer, different style.

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