James Cagney’s performance as George M Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy is stellar. He was able to embody the role effortlessly, this is particularly remarkable during the song and dance numbers. His dancing and singing doesn’t look forced, his movement is fluid and non rehearsed. His singing is upbeat, rhythmic and catchy. When professor Greyeyes mentioned in class that he was known as Hollywood’s quintessential tough guy, this made me appreciate his work in this film even more. He was not a dancer, nor a singer, however that flew over my head while watching the film. I felt that he himself could truly be in Broadway shows and sell out theaters, just like George Cohan did in real life. But how was he able to achieve this?
This is the mark of a great actor, dancing and singing are technique based art forms and Cagney was able to sell to us, the audience a genuinely believable performance. He definitely was able to dance and sing quite well, but he used his personality, confidence, quirks and even comedic gestures to fill in the times he was lacking. Melanie mentioned in class that he didn’t want the director to tell him how to come down the stairs, he wanted to freestyle and do whatever comes organically. It is evident Cagney was really looking to give an authentic performance, and he couldn’t have done a better job!