Yankee Doodle Dandy
January 22nd, 2022

Yankee Doodle Dandy [1942]

Please join Cultivate Cinema Circle as we screen Michael Curtiz’s Oscar winning (Best Lead Actor, Best Sound, Best Score) film Yankee Doodle Dandy [1942].

Event Sponsors:

Venue Information:

Downtown Central Library Auditorium
1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, NY 14203
(Enter from Clinton Street between Oak and Washington Streets)
716-858-8900 • www.BuffaloLib.org
COVID protocol will be followed.

TrailerSynopsisDirector BioLinks

James Cagney stepped into the shoes of legendary showman George M. Cohan and danced off with a Best Actor Oscar. The film chronicles Cohan’s life as he reminisces about his early days in vaudeville to his success on Broadway while preparing to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Rosemary De Camp, who plays George’s mother, was actually 15 years younger than Cagney. Cagney played Cohan again in 1955’s “The Seven Little Foys.”


  • Academy Awards – 1943 – Winner: Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Sound (Recording) & Best Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture)
  • Academy Awards – 1943 – Nominee: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Writing (Original Story) & Best Film Editing
  • National Film Preservation Board – 1993

“The only things you regret are the things you don’t do.”

Courtesy of TCM:

One of the most prolific directors in the history of the cinema, Hungarian-born Michael Curtiz thrived in the studio system as the top helmsman at Warner Bros. Studio in the 1930s and 40s. Tirelessly hammering out four or five films a year, Curtiz relentlessly tackled both low-budget pictures and more prestigious Oscar-baiting fare, all the while proving amazingly adept at creating lavish results on minimal budgets in a wide variety of genres. Autocratic and overbearing to the extreme, Curtiz clashed constantly with his actors, and his most famous player, Errol Flynn, finally refused to work for him after 12 pictures, including swashbuckler classics like “Captain Blood” (1935) and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938). Yet for all his unsympathetic treatment of performers, Curtiz had a knack for detecting and fostering unknown talents, including Flynn, John Garfield – whom he introduced in “Four Daughters” (1938) – and Doris Day, among others. His highly developed visual approach combined with his technical mastery could elevate the most mundane material, and three of his finest films – “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942), “Casablanca” (1942) and “Mildred Pierce” (1945) – made a virtue of melodrama and sentimentality. Though he reached the culmination of his creative powers with “The Breaking Point” (1950), Curtiz entered a financially successful period with more crowd-pleasing pictures like “White Christmas” (1954) and “King Creole” (1958). Having tapped out with “The Commancheros” (1961), Curtiz was nonetheless a tireless director who left behind a rich legacy, some of which displayed the very best Hollywood had to offer.

Born on Dec. 24, 1888 in Budapest, Hungary, Curtiz was raised in a moderately middle class home by his architect father and his opera singer mother. After making his stage debut as a child in one of his mother’s operas, Curtiz ran away from home at 17 to join the circus, where he performed as a juggler, acrobat and mime. He later attended Markoszy University and the Royal Academy of Theater and Art in Budapest. After completing his studies, he joined the Hungarian National Theatre, where he eventually worked as an actor and director. In 1913, he spent six months working on his craft in Denmark, where he was the assistant director on August Blom’s “Atlantis” (1913), before returning to Hungary to briefly serve in the army during World War I. He went back to filmmaking in 1915 and left Hungary four years later after the industry became nationalized, eventually settling in Vienna. There he directed a number of movies for Sascha Films, including the biblical “Sodom und Gomorrha” (1922) and “Moon of Israel” (1924). He also made “Red Heels” (1925) and “The Golden Butterfly” (1926) before catching the attention of Warner Bros. studio head, Jack Warner, who brought Curtiz over to the United States.

Curtiz’s first U.S. film, “The Third Degree” (1926), was a romantic drama that revealed a mastery of the moving camera in its flashy expressionistic sequences, at one point presenting the action from the perspective of a lethal bullet. It also marked the first of eight collaborations with Dolores Costello, one of the studio’s few established female stars. Warner Bros. thrust Curtiz into its attempts at sound innovation, and two part-talkies “Tenderloin” (1927) and “Noah’s Ark” (1928), both starring Costello, achieved considerable popularity and garnered millions at the box office. “Noah’s Ark” was also notable for having John Wayne cast as an extra during the flood scene. In 1930, Curtiz directed no less than six Warner talkies, but the studio’s attempt to partially introduce color that year in the director’s commercially successful Al Jolson vehicle, “Mammy,” fell short of expectations. As Warner Bros. became the fastest-growing studio in Hollywood, so too did the director’s fortunes. With “The Cabin in the Cotton” (1932), Curtiz helped deliver the first of Bette Davis’ malicious Southern belles, while “20,000 Years in Sing Sing” (1933) presented her in a more sympathetic light as the girlfriend of noble Spencer Tracy, who sacrifices his life for the murder she committed.

Curtiz went on to helm two of the studio’s rare excursions into horror, “Dr. X” (1932) and “The Mystery of the Wax Museum” (1933), both all-color and exhibiting the influence of Lang and Murnau in their vividly atmospheric scenes. Despite his early penchant for Swedish naturalism, Curtiz followed in the footsteps of the great German studio directors, transporting his audiences to distant lands while all the time remaining on the back lots of Hollywood. He began his 12-film collaboration with Errol Flynn, who was often paired with Olivia de Havilland, in “Captain Blood” (1935). Together, both director and actor became synonymous with the swashbuckler genre, which reached its zenith with “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) – a film so popular that Flynn was inextricably tied to the character Robin Hood for the rest of his career. The pair worked together again on “The Sea Hawk” (1940), though by this time their relationship had become gravely strained, mainly due to Curtiz’s autocratic and sometimes demeaning behavior. They collaborated again on “Dodge City” (1939), which marked the first of three big-budget Westerns, and continued with perhaps their best, “Virginia City” (1940). After rounding out the Old West trilogy with “Santa Fe Trail” (1940, Curtiz directed Flynn in the mediocre “Dive Bomber” (1941). By this time Flynn had had enough of working with Curtiz and effectively ended their prolific association.

One actor who apparently did not mind the director’s imperious ways was Claude Rains, who appeared in 10 Curtiz films, including three sentimental small-town soapers, “Four Daughters” (1938), and its two sequels “Daughters Courageous” (1939) and “Four Wives” (1939). These films also introduced actor John Garfield to the public. He also elicited some of the finest work from both Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, the former giving a bravura performance as the tough and sardonic, ultimately soft-hearted boxing manager of “Kid Gallahad” (1937), and providing perhaps an even richer portrayal as the intellectual, rampaging captain of “The Sea Wolf” (1941), the quintessential adaptation of the Jack London novel. As for Cagney, Rocky Sullivan in “Angels with Dirty Faces” (1938) represented a high point from the actor’s gangster oeuvre, and his Academy Award-winning turn as George M. Cohan in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942) stands at the very pinnacle of his career. Certainly a high-point in Curtiz’s career as well, the overly patriotic musical earned the director an Oscar nomination for Best Director and entered the annals of Hollywood as a cinematic classic.

Though Curtiz’s prodigious output slowed some during the 1940s, his films often reflected the efficiency of the studio system at its best, and “Casablanca” (1942), the classic that earned him his only Oscar as Best Director, was a shining example of what could go right in that setting. Originally scheduled as a low-budget melodrama starring Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan, “Casablanca” acquired some cachet when Warner Bros. upgraded it to major-budget status, and brought in Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as the leads. The supporting actors were all first rate, led by Rains as Vichy police chief Louis Renault, Paul Henreid as resistance leader Victor Lazlo, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt and Dooley Wilson, playing that haunting melody again for Rick – the character in which Bogie, more than in any other, established his iconographic screen persona. Longtime Curtiz screenwriting collaborators Julius and Philip Epstein, fresh from scripting the director’s “Mission to Moscow” (1943), worked alongside Howard Koch on a script that was reportedly only half done before shooting began, with the famous scene between Bogie and Bergman at the end allegedly being written the night before it was filmed. Though initially a mild box office success, “Casablanca” grew in stature to become a Hollywood classic widely considered to be one of the finest films ever made.

“Casablanca” was a tough act to follow, and while the war film “Passage to Marseille” (1944) rounded up some familiar suspects like Bogart, Rains, Greenstreet and Lorre, it fell far short of its precursor. There still remained the wonderful noir classic, “Mildred Pierce” (1945), which earned Joan Crawford a Best Actress Oscar, but after that film’s success, consensus had it that the master fell victim to the sheer volume of his output. People continued going to his movies, and in fact some of his biggest moneymakers were ahead. “Night and Day” (1946), a sanitized biopic of Cole Porter (Cary Grant) that paled in comparison with “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and the optimistic “Life with Father” (1947) were both upbeat fare that enjoyed healthy box office. The Bing Crosby-Danny Kaye vehicle “White Christmas” (1954) turned out to be the biggest commercial success of his career, which was made for Paramount soon after he ended his 28-year run with Warner Bros. Curtiz went on to direct more than 20 more pictures, including his excellent film noir, “The Breaking Point” (1950), his last collaboration with John Garfield, and the Elvis Presley vehicle, “King Creole” (1958), which The King cited as his personal favorite of his many films. He continued churning out picture after picture like “The Hangman” (1959), “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1960) and “Francis of Assisi” (1961), though by this point it was clear that his best days were behind him. In the saddle nearly to the end, Curtiz died of cancer on April 10, 1962, just six months after the release of his final film, “The Commancheros” (1961), a well-paced actioner with John Wayne as a Texas Ranger out to bring in a gang illegally supplying liquor and guns. Though he may not have demonstrated an easily identifiable style, Curtiz left behind an impressive body of work possessing an incredibly consistent narrative energy.


  • Francis of Assisi (1961)
  • The Comancheros (1961)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960)
  • A Breath of Scandal (1960)
  • The Man in the Net (1959)
  • The Hangman (1959)
  • King Creole (1958)
  • The Proud Rebel (1958)
  • The Helen Morgan Story (1957)
  • The Scarlet Hour (1956)
  • The Vagabond King (1956)
  • The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956)
  • We’re No Angels (1955)
  • The Boy from Oklahoma (1954)
  • The Egyptian (1954)
  • White Christmas (1954)
  • The Jazz Singer (1953)
  • Trouble Along the Way (1953)
  • The Story of Will Rogers (1952)
  • I’ll See You In My Dreams (1952)
  • Jim Thorpe: All-American (1951)
  • Force of Arms (1951)
  • Young Man with a Horn (1950)
  • The Breaking Point (1950)
  • Bright Leaf (1950)
  • My Dream Is Yours (1949)
  • Flamingo Road (1949)
  • The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949)
  • Romance on the High Seas (1948)
  • The Unsuspected (1947)
  • Life with Father (1947)
  • Night and Day (1946)
  • Mildred Pierce (1945)
  • Roughly Speaking (1945)
  • Janie (1944)
  • Passage to Marseille (1944)
  • This Is the Army (1943)
  • Mission to Moscow (1943)
  • Captains of the Clouds (1942)
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • Dive Bomber (1941)
  • The Sea Wolf (1941)
  • Santa Fe Trail (1940)
  • The Sea Hawk (1940)
  • Virginia City (1940)
  • Daughters Courageous (1939)
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Four Wives (1939)
  • Dodge City (1939)
  • Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
  • Four’s a Crowd (1938)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  • Gold Is Where You Find It (1938)
  • Four Daughters (1938)
  • Stolen Holiday (1937)
  • Mountain Justice (1937)
  • The Perfect Specimen (1937)
  • Kid Galahad (1937)
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
  • The Walking Dead (1936)
  • Black Fury (1935)
  • Little Big Shot (1935)
  • The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)
  • Front Page Woman (1935)
  • Captain Blood (1935)
  • The Key (1934)
  • Mandalay (1934)
  • British Agent (1934)
  • Jimmy the Gent (1934)
  • Private Detective 62 (1933)
  • The Keyhole (1933)
  • Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
  • Goodbye Again (1933)
  • The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
  • Female (1933)
  • The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932)
  • Doctor X (1932)
  • The Woman from Monte Carlo (1932)
  • Alias the Doctor (1932)
  • Cabin in the Cotton (1932)
  • 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)
  • Dämon des Meeres (1931)
  • The Mad Genius (1931)
  • God’s Gift to Women (1931)
  • The Matrimonial Bed (1930)
  • A Soldier’s Plaything (1930)
  • River’s End (1930)
  • Bright Lights (1930)
  • Under a Texas Moon (1930)
  • Mammy (1930)
  • The Madonna of Avenue A (1929)
  • Hearts in Exile (1929)
  • The Glad Rag Doll (1929)
  • The Gamblers (1929)
  • Noah’s Ark (1929)
  • Tenderloin (1928)
  • A Million Bid (1927)
  • Good Time Charley (1927)
  • The Desired Woman (1927)
  • The Third Degree (1926)
  • Der Goldene Schmetterling (1926)
  • Fiaker Nr. 13 (1926)
  • Die Sklavenkonigin (1924)
  • Harun al Raschid (1924)
  • Eine Spiel ums Leben (1924)
  • Namenlos (1923)
  • Die Lawine (1923)
  • Der Junge Medardus (1923)
  • Sodom und Gomorrha (1922)
  • Frau Dorothys Bekenntnis (1921)
  • Satan’s Memoirs (1921)
  • Die Gottesgeissel (1920)
  • Die Dame mit den Sonnenblumen (1920)
  • Boccaccio (1920)
  • Der Stern von Damaskus (1920)
  • Die Dame mit dem schwarzen Handschuh (1919)
  • Liliom (1919)
  • A Skorpio I. (1918)
  • A Vig ozvegy (1918)
  • A Napraforgos holgy (1918)
  • Lu, a kokott (1918)
  • Kilencvenkilenc (1918)
  • Lulu (1918)
  • Az Ordog (1918)
  • 99 (1918)
  • A Fold Embere (1917)
  • Ezredes, Az (1917)
  • Tatarjaras (1917)
  • Az Utolso hajnal (1917)
  • Makkhetes (1916)
  • A Magyar Fold Ereje (1916)
  • A Karthausi (1916)
  • Az Ezust kecske (1916)
  • Doktor Ur (1916)
  • A Medikus (1916)
  • Akit Ketten Szeretnek (1915)
  • Bank Ban (1914)
  • As Ejszaka Rabjai (1914)
  • Az Aranyaso (1914)
  • A Tolonc (1914)
  • Hazasodik az uram (1913)
  • Rablelek (1913)
  • Ma es Holnap (1912)
  • Az Utolso bohem (1912)

Here is a curated selection of links for additional insight/information:

  • Cultivate Cinema Circle info-sheet – link
  • “The public has been well advised for months that Warner Brothers were filming the life of George M. Cohan, with all the old Cohan songs and bits from his memorable shows. And the fact that cocky James Cagney would play the leading role has been a matter of common knowledge and of joyous anticipation all around. So the only news this morning is that all has come out fine. The picture magnificently matches the theatrical brilliance of Mr. Cohan’s career, packed as it is with vigorous humor and honest sentiment. And the performance of Mr. Cagney as the one and original Song-and-Dance Man is an unbelievably faithful characterization and a piece of playing that glows with energy.True, Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph, the script-writers, have taken some liberties with Mr. Cohan’s life. They have juggled facts rather freely to construct a neat, dramatic story line, and they have let slip a few anachronisms which the wise ones will gleefully spot…Indeed, there is so much in this picture and so many persons that deserve their meed of praise that every one connected with it can stick a feather in his hat and take our word—it’s dandy!” — Bosley Crowther, The New York Times [1942] – link
  • “When Astaire refused the role of Cohan as not right for him, the rights were picked up by Warner Bros., who cast resident star Cagney in the role with Cohan’s blessings. Cagney, in particular, was eager to play Cohan because he was, at the time, suspected of being a communist sympathizer due to his union activities (he was president of the Screen Actors’ Guild) and because of his open support of the New Deal. He wanted to show his patriotism on screen, and the George M. Cohan story was the perfect vehicle to do this. Yankee Doodle Dandy, with its many flag-waving musical numbers, proved just the ticket for World War II-era audiences and became the top-grossing movie of its year, as well as Warners’ top-grossing movie to that time. It was nominated for Academy Awards in eight categories, including Best Picture and Director (Curtiz), and won three Oscars, including one for Cagney as Best Actor.” — Roger Fristoe & Jeff Stafford, Turner Classic Movies [2003] – link
  • “While—as far as I can tell—Cohan was much more vocal about his love of baseball than politics, he was probably not as liberal as portrayed in the film. The film’s narrative is structured on Cohan being summoned to the White House to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal because his songs did so much to boost morale during World War I and when he meets President Franklin Roosevelt, he chats with him amicably telling his life story. The film, then, is flashbacks based on his conversations with FDR. Cagney-as-Cohan also makes a comment about being a good Democrat, even as a youngster. In real life, an-increasingly conservative Cohan was no great lover of Roosevelt and his socially and economically liberal policies.” — Felicia Elliott, The Cinessential [2017] – link

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