Today is the day when we’re allowed to wallow in nostalgia, sentimentality and (for us Brits) just a bit of faux US patriotism. And what better way of celebrating the 4th of July than remembering Jimmy Cagney, the “tough-guy” actor with a heart of pure Jell-O who brought George M. Cohan’s Yankee Doodle Boy to glorious singing, dancing, life on the big screen? Watch him in action here.
For all its patriotism – verging upon jingoism – the film ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ contains nothing that’s mean-spirited, bigoted or nationalistic in the worst sense. This is almost entirely due to Cagney’s warm, generous personality that somehow comes through the screen straight at you even after all those years. And, remember, it was released in 1942, just after America joined WWII. There is no doubt that Cagney (a member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League) saw the war as a great anti-fascist struggle.
It has long been wrongly believed, by both left and right, that Cagney was a member of the US Communist Party or at least a fellow-traveller. He wasn’t. What he was (until old age, anyway) was a consistent liberal, a friend of the working class and organised labor and an actor whose image and roles gave heart and legitimacy not just to Irish immigrants in the US but to all the ethnic groups that comprise that great, though flawed, nation.
The Yankee Doodle Boy’s patriotism was big-hearted and inclusive. Today’s the day to celebrate it.