Neo – Neocon has started a series of posts on propaganda in wartime; her latest is focused on the famous “Four Freedoms” paintings Norman Rockwell did during WWII.
By odd synchronicity, we’d just watched James Cagney’s WWII film “Yankee Doodle Dandy” – it turns out that Littlest Guy shares our affection for musicals, so we’re bringing him from Sondheim to Singin’ In The Rain to Yankee Doodle Dandy as a quick tour d’horizon.
And about fifteen minutes into YDD, I picked up the Netflix sleeve to see when it had been made – and noted, as I’d expected, that it had been made during WWII.
The naked patriotism – bleeding over to jingoism – of the film can be captured in two quotes and an image.
The image is the poster for the film (lifted from Tim Dirks site “The Greatest Films” – http://www.filmsite.org/ as are the cites) seen here:
One quote from the start of the film:
George: (smiling to himself) I was a pretty cocky kid in those days – a pretty cocky kid. A regular Yankee Doodle Dandy, always carrying a flag in a parade or following one.
President: I hope you haven’t outgrown the habit.
George: Not a chance.
President: Well that’s one thing I’ve always admired about you Irish-Americans. You carry your love of country like a flag, right out in the open. It’s a great quality.
George: I inherited that – I got that from my father. He ran away to the Civil War when he was thirteen – the proudest kid in the whole state of Massachusetts.
President: So you’ve spent your life telling the other forty-seven states what a great country it is.
One from the end:
President: Why, I wanted to hear the story of your life. It has a direct bearing on my sending for you. Do you know what this is?
George: The Congressional Medal of Honor.
President: Let’s see what the inscription says: ‘To George M. Cohan, for his contribution to the American spirit. Over There and Grand Old Flag Presented by Act of Congress.’ I congratulate you, Mr. Cohan. (He hands the medal to George) I understand you’re the first person of your profession to receive this honor. You should be very proud.
George: Oh, I am proud. In fact, I’m flabbergasted. First time in my life, I’m speechless. Are you sure there isn’t some mistake?
President: Quite sure.
George: (modestly) But this medal is for people who’ve given their lives to their country or done something big. I’m just a song and dance man. Everybody knows that.
President: A man may give his life to his country in many different ways, Mr. Cohan. And quite often he isn’t the best judge of how much he has given. Your songs were a symbol of the American spirit. Over There was just as powerful a weapon as any cannon, as any battleship we had in the First World War. Today, we’re all soldiers, we’re all on the front. We need more songs to express America. I know you and your comrades will give them to us.
George: Mr. President, I’ve just begun to earn this medal. It’s quite a thing.
Add the lyrics to one of his songs:
Johnnie, get your gun, get your gun, get your gun
Take it on the run, on the run, on the run
Hear them calling you and me, Ev’ry son of liberty.
Hurry right away, No delay, Go today,
Make your daddy glad to have had such a lad,
Tell your sweetheart not to pine, To be proud her boy’s in line.
Over there, Over there,
Send the word, Send the word, Over there
That the Yanks are coming, The Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming ev’rywhere.
So prepare, Say a prayer,
Send the word, Send the word, To beware
We’ll be over, We’re coming over,
And we won’t come back till it’s over, Over There.
You’ll have a funny set of reactions to the film if you watch it today – first, you’ll be gobsmacked by the fact that Jimmy Cagney is a hoofer! …and quite a good one.
Then you’ll get a sense of the true datedness of the film from the inferences on race and gender…”… about you Irish-Americans.”
But a part of it is that I can’t imagine a film today that wore our flag so nakedly on its sleeve.
And I wonder whether and how we can fight or win a war without doing so.