We’ve all been there: you’re talking to a friend or a coworker and they reference a classic movie that you’ve never seen. You shrug and say “Oh, I’ve never seen that one actually.” They stare at you in horror. “You’ve never seen (insert classic movie here)?? It’s a classic!”
Well after the 1 Woman, 100 Movies challenge is completed, I will no longer have to endure these conversations. I am on a mission to watch the top 100 movies of all time. After each movie, I’ll report back and let you know my thoughts on the movie, how it’s held up over the years (if it’s an older selection), and if it deserves to be considered one of the best.
First step: pick a list to work from. I wanted to pick a list that included a generous mixture of older movies ('70s and earlier) and more current options. I also wanted a list that has been updated fairly recently. Of course, the first list I landed on was AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time, but this list was last updated in 1998, which I decided was too out of date for me.
After more searching, I found a suitable list. IMDb’s Top 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. Number one on the list? The Godfather. And would you believe that I haven’t seen this yet? I thought this was a good sign.
But instead of jumping in straight to number one at the beginning of this challenge, I’ll be starting from the bottom.
#100 – Yankee Doodle Dandy
Year released: 1942
Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical
IMDb rating: 7.7 stars
Summary: The life of the renowned musical composer, playwright, actor, dancer, and singer George M. Cohan.
Previously seen?: No
First thoughts: I have never heard of this movie, I’ve never heard of George M. Cohan, and considering the movie promo poster (above) and the year that it was released, I’m nervous that I’ll be witnessing a bit (a lot?) of racism is this selection.
I didn’t find this movie streaming anywhere, so I coughed up the $3 on Amazon Prime to rent the movie for a couple of days. I quickly noticed that it was over 2 hours long!
BUT, I reminded myself to keep an open mind. Just because it’s an old movie paying tribute to a patriotic songwriter/performer from the 20s and 30s, doesn’t mean I won’t find it interesting, right?
Well, to get to the point, I didn't love it. The acting was… unusual? I don’t know if the lead James Cagney was making strange acting choices, or if he was doing a spot-on George Cohan impersonation (since I had trouble tracking down videos of Cohan). Keep in mind that James Cagney won an Oscar for this performance.
The movie featured a lot of on-stage performances with Cagney giving poetry-like readings set to music; I definitely wouldn’t call it singing. However, the dancing was pretty impressive. The dialogue picked up about an hour in and found it’s pacing, but in the beginning, I found it to be wordy and a bit slow.
(Here's a video of Cagney rapping, ahem, singing the Yankee Doodle Dandy song)
Quick summary: The movie starts with Cohan leaving another successful performance and discovering that the president of the United States would like to meet with him. In the meeting, Cohan starts to tell his life story, and we are taken back to his childhood when he performed with his parents and sister in “The Four Cohans” act. The rest of the movie details his life, his struggle to make it in showbiz, the creation of famous songs like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Give My Regards to Broadway.”
And what do you know, about 13 minutes in, blackface made its appearance on screen. Given the year this movie was released, I saw that coming a mile away. It added nothing to the story and was totally unnecessary.
Am I glad I spent two hours of my time watching this movie? Not really. It was interesting learning about a performer songwriter that I clearly knew nothing about, and I found his character to be witty and charming. I wouldn't consider this a must-watch movie, but if you're a huge Broadway theater fan, I'm sure you'll get a kick out of it.
Do I think this movie belongs on the top 100 list? That's hard to say, I'll check back when I've watched more of the movies on the list.
(BUT, Roger Ebert loved it)