James Cagney

You’re A Grand Old Flag

 

 

Something for the weekend.  You’re A Grand Old Flag sung by James Cagney in the film biopic of George M. Cohan Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).  Cohan wrote the song in 1906 after an encounter with a Union veteran of Gettysburg who was carrying a torn American battle flag.  The old soldier smiled at Cohan and said the flag was “A grand old rag!”

 

I cannot have a post that mentions the film Yankee Doodle Dandy without showing the scene of Cagney as Cohan tap dancing down the White House steps.  Cagney did the scene completely impromptu. Continue reading

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

There are no great men, there are only great challenges, which ordinary men like you and me are forced by circumstances to meet.

Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

Earlier this week I was watching the movie The Gallant Hours (1960), starring James Cagney as Admiral William Halsey, Jr.  (Halsey hated the nickname “Bull” that the press fastened upon him during the War.)  The film focuses on the time in late 1942 to 1943 when Halsey was theater commander during the Guadalcanal campaign.  This was in tandem with my reading of the latest bio of Halsey, Admiral Bill Halsey:  A Naval Life, by Thomas Alexander Hughes.

Halsey is an interesting figure partially because his public image is so at odds with the reality.  During World War II Halsey was the “Patton of the Pacific”, a fighting Admiral who swore as he viewed the carnage of Pearl Harbor on December 7,  that by the time the US was done the only place that Japanese would be spoken was in Hell.  Halsey in the popular perception was a rampaging bull in a Japanese china shop.

The reality was different.  Halsey, who got his wings at the advanced age of 52, was an inspired commander of carriers.  Strike quick and run was his method in the early days of the War, when his daring carrier raids on Japanese held islands in the Pacific gave a very badly needed boost to national morale.  (“I hauled ass with Halsey” was a fond remembrance of veterans of those raids for decades after the War.)   However, unlike his unwelcome “Bull” image, Halsey was a thoughtful and careful planner, who paid close attention to such un-glamorous, but essential, topics as logistics and intelligence as he plotted every move his forces made.  He was also an officer beloved of his men because of his reputation of making sure that they were taken care of regarding food, leave and mail.  Throughout his career Halsey was known as a sailor’s officer who always looked out for the enlisted men under his command.  (A typical story told about Halsey by his sailors.  On board a carrier sailors were waiting in line for some prized ice cream.  An Ensign decides to cut to the head of his line.  He suddenly hears a stream of profanity directed at him.  He turns around to chew out the sailor cussing him.  He finds out that the man yelling at him is four star Admiral Halsey who has been patiently waiting his turn in the line with his men.) Continue reading

Angels With Dirty Faces: Fake Cowardice, Real Courage and Redemption

 

A profoundly Catholic movie, Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) is usually not perceived as such.  The tale of two slum kids, Jerry Connolly, Pat O’Brien, and Rocky Sullivan, James Cagney, who attempt to steal fountain pens from a train.  Sullivan, who can’t run as fast as his friend, is caught after the robbery.  Connolly wants to share in the blame for the theft, but Sullivan tells him not to be a sucker and takes all the blame.  Sentenced to a brutal reform school he embarks on a life of crime while his friend becomes a priest, assigned to the same slum parish which he and Sullivan attended as boys.

 

The priest and the gangster renew their friendship with Sullivan quickly becoming the idol of the slum boys that Connolly is trying to keep from a life of crime.  Connolly embarks on a crusade against the local gangsters, including Sullivan.  Sullivan murders his partner Jim Frazier, Humphrey Bogart, and Mac Keefer, George Bancroft, to save Connelly who they were planning to have killed to stop his anti-crime crusade.

 

Sullivan, who tells the authorities all he knows about the local criminal operations, is tried for these murders and sentenced to death.

The ending of the film is a powerful look at courage and redemption:

 

Father Jerry:  We haven’t got a lot of time.
I want to ask one last favor.
Rocky:   There’s not much left that I can do, kid.
Father Jerry:  Yes, there is, Rocky.
Perhaps more than you could do
under any other circumstances.
If you have the courage for it,
and I know you have.
Rocky:  Walking in there?
That’s not gonna take much.
Father Jerry:  I know that, Rocky.
Rocky:  It’s like a barber chair.
They’re gonna ask, “Anything to say?”
I’ll say, “Sure, give me a haircut, a shave
and one of those new electric massages.”
Father Jerry:  But you’re not afraid, Rocky?
Rocky:   No. They’d like me to be.
But I’m afraid I can’t oblige them, kid.
You know, Jerry, I think to be afraid,
you gotta have a heart.
I don’t think I got one.
I had that cut out of me a long time ago.
Rocky:  Suppose I asked you to have the heart, huh?
To be scared.
Rocky:  What do you mean?
Father Jerry:  Suppose the guards dragged you out of here
screaming for mercy.  Suppose you went to the chair yellow.

 

Continue reading

Fortnight For Freedom: Yankee Doodle

Fortnight For Freedom 2015

Something for a Fourth of July weekend:  Yankee Doodle.

 Originally sung by British officers to disparage American troops who fought beside them in the French and Indian War, it was seized upon by Patriots, given endless lyrics, and cheered the patriot troops and civilians during the eight long years of the Revolution.  After Lexington and Concord it was reported by Massachusetts newspapers that the British were suddenly not as fond of the song:

“Upon their return to Boston [pursued by the Minutemen], one [Briton] asked his brother officer how he liked the tune now, — ‘Dang them,’ returned he, ‘they made us dance it till we were tired’ — since which Yankee Doodle sounds less sweet to their ears.”

James Cagney did an immortal riff on Yankee Doodle in the musical biopic of composer and actor George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942):

Yankee Doodle plays in the background as Cagney at the end of the film, entirely impromptu, dances down the White House staircase:

Continue reading

Fortnight For Freedom 2013: Yankee Doodle

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have proclaimed a second Fortnight for Freedom from June 21-July 4th, and, as last year, The American Catholic will participate with special blog posts each day.

Something for the weekend.  Yankee Doodle.  Originally sung by British officers to disparage American troops who fought beside them in the French and Indian War, it was seized upon by Patriots, given endless lyrics, and cheered the patriot troops and civilians during the eight long years of the Revolution.  After Lexington and Concord it was reported by Massachusetts newspapers that the British were suddenly not as fond of the song:

“Upon their return to Boston [pursued by the Minutemen], one [Briton] asked his brother officer how he liked the tune now, — ‘Dang them,’ returned he, ‘they made us dance it till we were tired’ — since which Yankee Doodle sounds less sweet to their ears.”

James Cagney did an immortal riff on Yankee Doodle in the musical biopic of composer and actor George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942):

Yankee Doodle plays in the background as Cagney at the end of the film, entirely impromptu, dances down the White House staircase:

Continue reading

One, Two, Three

Tomorrow is Victims of Communism Day and I will be having a post on that subject.  In a lighter vein on the same subject is the hilarious Cold War comedy One, Two, Three (1961), starring James Cagney and directed by Billy Wilder.  It actually foreshadowed the trajectory of the Cold War fairly better than many a serious study.  As the film indicates the Soviets simply were unable to produce consumer goods of a high enough quality to keep their people satisfied, and the failure to do so, along with the lack of freedom, ultimately led to the rapid fall in the eighties of the last century of regimes that looked on the surface to be rock solid. Continue reading

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