YANKEE DOODLE DANDY
Right up front, let me say that if you are reading this review, then you better plan on buying this DVD. Unless you happened upon this review of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY ($27) by accident, you are amongst those interested in acquiring this classic motion picture, and are eager to know if the DVD is any good. Well, good isn’t the word for this disc; great would be a getter description, if not wonderful. Okay, so I am jumping the gun a bit for those of you that may have never seen YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. However, those already well versed in this sublime bit of silver screen entertainment should already be placing orders for the excellent DVD release.
Without a doubt, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY is one of the finest examples of patriotic Hollywood flag waving ever produced in tinsel town. Made during the Second World War, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY was clearly designed as a morale booster for the troops overseas, as well as those that remained on the home front. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY tells the story of performer/writer/composer George M. Cohan (James Cagney), who over the course of his career had created such enduring and inspiring works as Grand Old Flag and Over There. And for his patriotic efforts as a composer, Cohan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The film traces Cohan’s theatrical career, which allowed Cagney ample opportunities to display his prowess as a song and dance man- performing many of the songs that Cohan made famous. In addition to its musical attributes, Cagney’s memorable turn as Cohan earned the screen icon an Academy Award as Best Actor. The fine supporting cast of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY includes Walter Huston, Joan Leslie, Richard Whorf, Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp and Jeanne Cagney.
Warner Home Video has made YANKEE DOODLE DANDY available on DVD in a truly superb looking black and white transfer that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. Undeniably, this is the absolute best that YANKEE DOODLE DANDY has ever looked in a home presentation or on broadcast. Warner should be congratulated for producing a transfer that really does justice to James Wong Howe’s marvelous black and white cinematography. The presentation is very clean- showing very few blemishes or other signs of age. Modest amounts of grain appear in places, but it helps to maintain a film like appearance, rather than that of video. The image itself is rather crisp looking and pretty nicely defined. Blacks are rich and velvety, while the whites appear clean and totally stable. Contrast is excellent, with the picture producing a nice variety in its grayscale. Additionally, the image produces a nice sense of dimensionality. Digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern.
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY comes with a surprisingly good Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack, which would seem to have been digital cleansed to remove all noticeable traces of background hiss and other audible anomalies. Fidelity certainly has its age related limitations, but as a musical from 1942, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY sounds truly delightful with modest amounts of amplification applied. Dialogue reproduction is very good, with everything being completely understandable and the voices maintaining a strong sense of character. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been encoded onto the DVD.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the nice complement of supplemental materials that have been spread across both discs of this Special Edition release. Disc one starts off with a running audio commentary featuring film historian Rudy Behlmer, who provides a highly detailed look at the film’s production, as well as the personalities involved. Also included on disc one is a Warner Night At The Movies, which recreates the full experience of going to the cinema in 1942. Hosted by Leonard Maltin, this Warner Night At The Movies 1942 offers a trailer, newsreels, a patriotic wartime short subject, plus a cartoon and the feature presentation. Disc one also includes a James Cagney trailer gallery.
On disc two, one will find the bulk of supplemental programs. Let Freedom Sing! The Story of Yankee Doodle Dandy runs forty-five minutes and looks at the life George M. Cohan, as well as the making of this classic musical biography of his life. Also clocking in at forty-five minutes is James Cagney: Top of the World, a profile of the legendary star hosted by Michael J Fox. You, John Jones is a theatrical short featuring Cagney that is a bit heavy on the wartime propaganda. John Travolta Remembers James Cagney allows the actor five-minutes to reminisce about knowing the silver screen icon. A couple of properly themed Looney Tunes cartoons are also included on the DVD, namely Yankee Doodle Daffy &Yankee Doodle Bugs. The Audio Vault features some recordings of outtakes and rehearsals, as well as the 10/19/42 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Show featuring a performance of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. Finally the Waving the Flag Galleries offers various production materials, from George M. Cohan sheet music to stills and poster art.
As I stated at the start of this review, you better plan on buying this DVD. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY is indeed one of the great screen entertainments from the golden age of Hollywood, in addition to being one of James Cagney’s finest films. Warner has done a tremendous job with the DVD, offering a superb presentation and a terrific complement of extras. Absolutely recommended.
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