As well as being loved by the critics, the film was a major commercial hit for Warner Bros. becoming the biggest box-office success in the company's history up to that time. It is patriotic, understandably so as it was released just after the Pearl Harbour attack on the US Fleet. The film brought in more than $6 million in rentals to Warner Bros. and almost doubled the earnings of Cagney's previous film, ' Captains of the Clouds'.
Cagney, himself earned his contractual $150,000 salary and nearly half a million dollars in profit sharing.
PlotThe movie gives a musical portrait of the amazing, upwardly mobile life story of George M. Cohan, the early 20th century entertainment legend who produced, directed, wrote and starred in his own musical shows. It follows several generations of Cohan's family and features several brilliant song and dance numbers with a magnificent performance from James Cagney, full of energetic vigour, who demonstrates beyond any doubt that he was not just an actor who could play gangsters, but also a very fine dancer and singer.
The movie begins in 1937 with George M. Cohan visiting President Roosevelt and, with the encouragement of the President, recalling his life story. It is these flashbacks which form the core of the film.
His rising fortunes are traced during WW1 when his patriotic songs like 'Over There' became nationally famous and his fame reaches its climax when Roosevelt presents him with the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Cagney, as Cohan, does an impromptu and utterly brilliant tap dance of jubilation down the White House steps.
ProductionGreat care was taken to make the sets, costumes, and dance steps match the original stage presentation wherever possible.. This was helped significantly by a former associate of Cohan's, Jack Boyle, who knew the original productions well.
Cagney's rather stiff-legged dancing style in the movie is not his own. He copied George M. Cohan's style to make the film more accurate. Twice he sprained an ankle while mastering the new style.
Joan Leslie turned 17 during the shoot and still had to attend school, causing various delays.
Actress Jeanne Cagney, who played the part of Cohan's sister, was James Cagney's real-life sister.
Main CastJames Cagney ... George Cohan
Joan Leslie ... Mary Cohan
Walter Huston ... Jerry Cohan
Richard Whorf ... Sam Harris
Irene Manning ... Fay Templeton
George Tobias ... Dietz
Rosemary DeCamp ... Nellie Cohan
Jeanne Cagney (sister of James) ... Josie Cohan
Frances Langford ... Nora Bayes
George Barbier ... Erlanger
S. Z. Sakall ... Schwab
Eddie Foy, Jr. ... his own father, Eddie Foy.
CreditsDirector ... Michael Curtiz
Producer ... Hal B. Wallis, Jack Warner, William Cagney
Writers ... Robert Buckner, Edmund Joseph
Uncredited .. Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein
Cinematography ... James Wong Howe
Music ... (Songs)George M. Cohan, (Score)Ray Heindorf, Heinz Roemheld
Release Date ... 29 May, 1942
Sound ... Mono (RCA Sound System)
New York premiere ... 29 May 1942
Distribution Company ... Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Running Time ... 126mins
Academy Awards3 Wins:
Actor ... James Cagney
Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture) ... Ray Heindorf, Heinz Roemheld
Sound Recording ... Nathan Levinson, Warner Bros. Sound Director
5 Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Supporting Actor ... Walter Huston
Director ... Michael Curtiz
Film Editing ... George Amy
Writing (Original Motion Picture Story) ... Robert Buckner