In 2007, the American Film Institute revised their previous 1998 list of the 100 best American films of all time. This weekly column will explore my thoughts on select films from this list, mostly following along with the Unspooled Podcast, which inspired my journey to complete the AFI Top 100. You can also follow my progress with my ranking and watchlist. This week’s film is Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), #98 on the list.
I must confess, the greatness of Yankee Doodle Dandy completely eludes me. That’s not to say it’s a bad film by any measure. It’s a delightful musical biopic centered around a standout performance, but I cannot fathom how its legacy has endured all these decades later. It’s not formally breathtaking or inventive like other musicals on the list, and the hopeful story of a real-life Broadway star and songwriter bringing joy to his country during a time of despair, though certainly impactful and relevant for the time of its release during WWII, doesn’t carry the same resonance today. Even with a film like A Clockwork Orange, which I dislike considerably, I can understand where people find value and importance, but Yankee Doodle Dandy seems to be solely celebrated for its Oscar-winning performance by James Cagney. He deserves the praise, because he imbues the role with such a passion and vigor, it’s impossible not to be enchanted throughout, but his performance alone doesn’t make the film an all-timer.
Does It Belong on the List?
Maybe if it were a list of the most entertaining and charming American films, there would be a solid argument for its inclusion (I’d still raise objections), but on a list of the greatest American films of all time? Absolutely not.