Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > YANKEE DOODLE DANDY – George M. Cohan, Ray Heindorf, and Heinz Roemheld

YANKEE DOODLE DANDY – George M. Cohan, Ray Heindorf, and Heinz Roemheld


Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1941 Warner Brothers Studios was seeking ideas for a new musical production. They finally conceived of a musical biopic film about the legendary American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and theatrical producer George M. Cohan. They secured Cohan’s blessing and studio executives Jack L. Warner and Hal B. Wallis would manage production with a $1.5 million budget. Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph were hired to write the screenplay and Michael Curtiz took the reins to direct. The cast included James Cagney as George M. Cohan, Joan Leslie as Mary Cohan, Walter Huston as Jerry Cohan, Richard Whorf as Sam Harris, Rosemary DeCamo as Nellie Cohan, and Irene Manning as Fay Templeton.

The film is set in the early years of WWII and reveals George Cohan coming out of retirement to play President Roosevelt in the musical “I’d Rather be Right”. A meeting with President Roosevelt results in a flashback to Cohan’s birth as his father performs on a Vaudeville stage. It then follows his life as a boy who joins the family act. His success as a young man results in cockiness, as he burns his bridges and departs to work on his own. He eventually forms a very profitable partnership with a struggling writer Sam Harris, and marries Mary, a young singer dancer. He rises to the top, brings back his parents and has a great career. After retiring a number of times, her returns to take on the role of President Roosevelt. As he departs the White House, he joins a military parade singing a song he wrote called “Over There”, ending the story on a happy note. The film was a smashing commercial success, earning a profit of $6.5 million. Critics were effusive in their praise, and the film earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Writing Original Story, Best Film Editing, Best Supporting Actor, winning three for Best Actor, Best Sound Recording and Best scoring for a Musical Picture.

Given that the film was a biopic musical about George Cohan, whose music would be better suited than his? Although he was credited as composer, it was actually Director of Music Ray Heindorf, with assistance of Heinz Roemheld, who managed the music. They adapted his songs, provided new orchestration and imbued them with a more modern sensibility. As a musical, the film offered a narrative arc of Cohan’s life from young boy to Broadway legend. As it recounts his amazing story, his songs underpin, and bring this amazing man to life. Cohan was an irrepressible optimist, ever brimming with confidence, and this was embodied in his songs, which spoke with forthright, unbridled patriotism, and the quintessential American “can do” mentality. The score lacks traditional leitmotifs, instead relying on song melodies to drive the storytelling and stage acts, with instrumental renderings providing continuity and bridges between the various acts. What is immediately noticeable is how seamlessly the songs flow together with no noticeable transitions during the many medleys. Lastly, cues coded (*) offer music not provided on the album.

“Main Title” offers a wonderful score highlight, which features an orchestral rendering of a parade of several song melodies. We open boldly with Max Steiner’s classic Warner Brothers fanfare, which supports the display of the studio logo. We flow into “Yankee Doodle”, which supports the display of James Cagney’s credit. Next comes the iconic celebratory Cohan hit, “Yankee Doodle Boy” that initiates the roll of the opening credits, which display in “star and stripes” against patriotic imagery. At 0:39 we are graced by the dance-like gentility of “Mary’s A Grand Old Name”. We conclude at 1:09 with the festive happiness “Off The Record”. In a masterstroke Heindorf perfectly establishes the tone of the film! (*) “I’d Rather Be Right” reveals the close of Cohan’s latest play, which two critics like, but intend to pan for his audacity of playing the President. Heindorf supports with the dance-like melody of “I’d Rather be Right”. In the after-party Chan receives an urgent invitation to meet with the President at the White House. Strings of concern support a change of scene to the White House, supported by a refrain of “America”. As Cohan strolls to the White House entry guard house “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy” supports his progress. He meets and banters with President Roosevelt and reminisces about his early days and we flash back to his birth on the 4th of July in 1878 with his commentary.

“Early Years Sequence” reveals a 4th of July parade in Boston 1878 supported by an orchestral rendering of the American anthem “Columbia The Gem Of The Ocean”, rendered as a marcia pattriottica. We segue at 0:37 into “The Dancing Master” as we see Cohan’s father Jerry performing live on stage singing and tap dancing to the spritely danza felice. At this point in the film, an intervening scene separates the album cue as Jerry steps out and “Columbia The Gem Of The Ocean” reprises as the parade marches by. He convinces an army wagon to take him as his wife was having a baby and he reaches Nellie and greets his newborn son, George. The anthem resounds with canon fire as he shouts out the window – “It’s a boy!” Years later the Cohan’s, now a family of four, continues to entertain and at 1:22 the album cue resumes with young George performing “The Dancing Master” routine. At 2:15 we segue into “While Strolling Through The Park One Day”, which supports the charming and adorable little Josie Cohan performing a song and dance act to its melody. At 2:35 we conclude with a happy-go-lucky performance of “A Georgia Camp Meeting”, with the family in black face.

“I Was Born In Virginia” reveals a new gig called “Peck’s Bad Boy” at the Brooklyn Theatre in 1891. They perform the playful song and dance act singing the second stanza of the Cohan song. It all great fun and at 1:06 the family begins whistling the melody. At 1:30 the act concludes to ecstatic audience applause as the orchestra reprising the melody with a flourish. “The Warmest Baby In The Bunch” reveals Mary, George’s future wife performing her first number for the show as she sings and dances to the chorus of the infectiously happy-go-lucky tune “The Warmest Baby in the Bunch”. “Harrigan” reveals Cohan down on his luck, desperately trying to secure a gig. He and Mary try out a new number for a publishing company called “Harrigan”. A piano prelude commences at 0:22 and ushers in their plucky song and dance act. “Yankee Doodle Boy” reveals the indefatigable George again trying to sell his musical to a prospective producer. He plays the piano and sings the iconic song’s second stanza, a song brimming with confidence and happiness. This time he succeeds and finally gets his shot at a comeback.

“Little Johnny Jones Sequence” offers an infectiously happy score highlight, which elicits you to get up and join in the fun! It reveals opening night of the musical. We open with an orchestra tune-up, followed by a grand prelude, which launches George singing with great fun and unbridled happiness, “The Yankee Doodle Boy”. At 3:02 George leaves the stage for a costume change, and we shift to festive orchestral musical narrative, which supports six male dancers. Sliding strings support their jumps and it is all buoyant and fun. At 3:29 George returns supported by the chorus happily singing “Good Luck Johnny” as he mounts a horse and prepares to enter the race; at 3:43 the race bugle summons the riders, with the starting gun at 4:02 starting the race. Heindorf supports with flight music and the Yankee Doodle Dandy melody as the chorus exhorts their hero to win. He loses the race and we segue sadly at 4:44 into “Little Johnny Jones Special” with the chorus singing. We conclude at 5:12 with disappointment as the chorus hums the “Yankee Doodle Dandy” melody as George recites the final two stanzas of the song, which ends the scene as the curtain comes down, concluding with a flourish, as the chorus sings; “For he was that Yankee Doodle Boy”. At 5:45 an orchestral prelude supports female dancers on a ship’s deck, and at 6:13 we flow into “Fin” as they sing and dance to the aspirational lyrics. As George disembarks to remain in London, the orchestra sustains the song’s melody until 7:27 where we segue into “Give My Regards to Old Broadway” sung sentimentally by George.

The chorus reprises this singing the words from their perspective as they steam away. At 9:12 an ascent motif carries a fireworks streamer skyward and as it explodes George begins a happy-go-lucky dance to the melody of “Give My Regards to Old Broadway”. We conclude in splendid fashion with the chorus reprising the final four lines. The success of the musical pays for the rebirth of the “Four Cohan’s” act as we see them again dancing and signing a medley on the stage in the buoyantly romantic “Medley”. We open with “Oh, You Wonderful Girl”, and at 0:18 segue into “Blue Skies, Gray Skies”, concluding at 0:30 with “The Belle Of The Barber’s Ball”.

“Mary’s A Grand Old Name” reveals George and Mary having an intimate moment together as he comes up with a new tender song dedicated to her, as he sings and she accompanies on the piano. Mary reprises by singing the second stanza. “George And Faye” (*) reveals George and Sam trying to recruit mega star Faye Templeton for their new musical. She is initially dismissive, yet when he writes a song for her during Act 1, she warms to him and agrees. During the extended sequence Heindorf supports with and orchestral rendering of “Off The Record”, which plays unobtrusively in the background. “Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway” reveals George playing the song on piano with him singing it with typical Cohan happiness.

“George Breaks the Bad News” (*) reveals Sam closing the deal with Faye by gifting her the song “Mary’s A Grande Old Name”, which she immediately falls in love with. George is flustered as the song was always intended for Mary to sing. He arrives home with flowers and a box of chocolates only to find her singing the song at the piano. He manipulates her into saying he should agree to whatever terms Faye demands. The melody shifts to violin and strings when he discloses, that he had given Faye her song. She stuns him saying that she knew that already when he showed up with flowers and chocolates! “Fay Templeton Medley” offers a wonderful score highlight. It is opening night for Harris and Cohan’s “Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway” at the New Amsterdam Theatre. We begin with an orchestral prelude, which ushers in Faye singing with a sterling soprano voice, the tender and sentimental “Mary’s A Grand Old Name”. The song assumes a dance-like iteration for a wonderful performance. At 1:43 we segue into “Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway” sung by a chorale of six women with dance-like gentility. Seven men join the stage at 2:20 and begin whistling the playful melody of “So Long, Mary”. Faye joins them singing the lyrics, with the men singing the refrain. It is a splendid vocal performance, which ends in a grand flourish as her train departs.

“You’re A Grand Old Flag” offers a magnificent patriotic score highlight. It reveals the grand opening of Cohan’s new musical “George Washington Jr.” We open with a grand patriotic orchestral prelude, which ushers in the bugle declared US anthem “To The Colors” as we see a military guard hoisting the flag. At 0:28 snare drums militare usher in a military band as George sings one of his most iconic songs, the timeless patriotic Americana of “You’re A Grand Old Flag”. After an inspired performance we segue into a drum and fife rendering of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” as a troupe march across the stage. After a reprise of “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, we flow into a stirring baritone vocal rendering of the Hallelujah refrain of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” by William Gillespie in front of a set of the Lincoln Monument statue. Solemn wordless chorus then supports the closing lines of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. At 3:19 we flow into a male chorus rendered Confederate anthem “When Johnny Come Marching Home Again”. At 3:34 we segue into “We’re one for all and all for One” and “America” as we see people of all walks of life marching in unison, extolling patriotism. A snare drum militare bridge follows as George and a flag bearing women’s patriotic troupe is joined on stage by actors dressed as Uncle Sam and the Statue of liberty. Heindorf ushers in a rousing marcia Americana empowered by a choral rendering of “You’re A Grand Old Flag”! We close fervently singing the final words of “Auld Lang Syne”, which closes with a patriotic flourish!

“On Tour” (*) reveals “George Washington Jr.” a hit with the public, with Cohan taking it on an American tour. A montage of scenes of the tour unfolds, supported by dance-like happiness of a choral rendered “Like A Wandering Minstrel” song. We flow into a spirited rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” as we see George and Mary celebrating New Year’s at a restaurant. His next play, a dramatic non-musical fails miserably and he pulls it after five performances. A dramatic and foreboding musical narrative full of increasing alarm unfolds as newspaper headlines display “Sub Sinks Lusitania” followed by “US DECLARES WAR”! A scene change to a U.S. Army recruiting office is supported by a dramatic quote of “America”. George attempts to enlist, but at 39 he is too old.

In “Over There” we have a rousing patriotic score highlight. We see gears moving in George’s head as a military ban’s patriotic anthem seems to inspire him. At 0:29 later that evening, we see George playing the piano on an empty stage with the melody for “Over There” slowly coalescing. At 1:03 we flow seamlessly into George and Mary performing “Over There” his new act live on stage for soldiers. The iconic WWI patriotic anthem of America gets an inspiring performance which ends grandly when the soldiers join as a rousing chorus! After the show, newspaper headlines declare “Over There” America’s victory hymn, a song which earns Cohan, immortality. A rousing orchestral exposition supports a montage of the war, which culminates with “ARMISTICE! WAR ENDS”. The album version significantly truncates the orchestral rendering of the song.

In “Medley” Cohan writes new musicals, but continues to embrace pre-war culture and sensibilities. We open with the contralto vocals of Frances Langford singing the playfully romantic “In A Kingdom Of Our Own”. At 0:21 we flow into the tender and nostalgic “Love Nest,” after the first two lines we flow into tenderly romantic and dance-like “Nellie Kelly, I Love You,” and at 0:49 we flow into upbeat confidence of “The Man Who Owns Broadway” and “Molly Malone.” The film shows a theatre billboard displaying “George M. Cohan’s In The Merry Malones” and at 1:06 we segue into waltz-like “Billie”. The orchestra sustains the melody but ends suddenly on album. In the film a sad musical narrative unfolds as we see Jerry on his death bed, with George coming home in time for a final conversation before he passes.

“The Break-up” (*) reveals headlines stating the dissolution of the legendary 15-year partnership of Cohan and Harris, supported by a plaintive orchestral quote of “Give My Regards to Old Broadway”. As the two men reminisce a wistful “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” supports, ending with a reprise of “Give My Regards to Old Broadway”. We close with genuine friendship warmth as the two men shake hands for a photo op. We segue into “World Tour” (*) as George and Mary set sail on a world tour with a buoyant musical narrative followed by a film and musical montage; London features a quote of “Rule Britannia”, the German Alps – yodeling, for Hong Kong, dramatic pentatonic horns orientale, which ushers in a Chinese instrumental rendering of “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy”, and finally, New York City supported by “America”. In “Back At The Farm” (*) Heindorf provides a pastorale as George reads the paper and relaxes on the front porch. A car arrives carried by “Forty-five Minutes Form Broadway”, filled with teenagers who George discovers, have never heard of him or his music. Later that evening a wistful musical narrative unfolds as he tells Mary that he has been forgotten. We flow into a sentimental rendering of “Forty-five Minutes Form Broadway” as Mary informs him that Sam has requested, he return as the lead in his new play. Mary asks him also, he agrees, and we end comically as he admits to her he had heard her phone conversation and already called him back to take the part.

Fanfare dramatico resounds in “Off The Record” as we see a theatre billboard display Cohan’s triumphant return in “I’d Rather Be Right”. We launch into confident and buoyant musical narrative as we see him performing on stage. At 1:20 he begins dancing and the orchestra take up the melody with a festive and upbeat rendering, which supports his dazzling footwork. At 1:59, we return to him singing, and we conclude with a final orchestral quote as Cohan leaves the stage to rousing audience applause. We return to the President’s study where he stuns Cohan by handing him the Congressional Medal of Honor for his patriotic expression of the American spirit with his songs “Over There” and “Grand Old Flag”. As he expresses his deep gratitude and departs, we flow into “Finale And End Cast” carried by a reserved, yet confident rendering of “Yankee Doodle Boy”, which slowly begins to swell with confidence, and the indomitable American spirit as George happily begins dancing down the stairs. At 0:33 as he takes his coat to leave, drums militare join and usher in a rousing orchestral rendering of the “Over There” anthem as a proud marcia Americana. Male chorus joins at 0:59 as does George marching with the soldiers and we conclude with a grand flourish of patriotic pride! Bravo!

I would like to thank George Feltenstein and Rhino Records for remastering and reissuing George M. Cohan’s music for “Yankee Doodle Dandy. The quality of the archival monaural recording has been expertly maximized, and while it does not achieve current 21st century audio standards, it never-the-less provides a wonderful listening experience, which does not diminish the brilliance of Cohan’s music. George M. Cohan was a seminal figure in the evolution of American theater music and has rightfully received in my judgement the honorarium, “Father of Broadway”. No man in the history of theater has so consistently tapped into the very essence of the American “Can Do” experience as Cohan, fully emoting its indomitable, irrepressible spirit and optimism, with patriotic songs, which have endured and stood the test of time. In musical act after musical act, as good as the dancing and performances were, it was ultimately Cohan’s music, which brought the audience to its feet. The songs “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dany”, “Give My Regards to Old Broadway” and “Over There” are legend, earning him immortality as they take their exalted positions in the Pantheon of great American theater songs. Folks, this film is fun, one of the most happy, patriotic and entertaining Hollywood musicals in cinematic history. I commend Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld for masterfully weaving a musical narrative, which propelled this film to greatness. I highly recommend you purchase the exceptional Musical score for your collection.

Buy the Yankee Doodle Dandy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title: Warner Bros. Signature/Yankee Doodle/Yankee Doodle Boy/Mary’s A Grand Old Name/Off The Record (1:53)
  • Early Years Sequence: Columbia The Gem Of The Ocean/The Dancing Master/While Strolling Through The Park One Day/At a Georgia Camp Meeting (3:12)
  • I Was Born In Virginia (2:05)
  • The Warmest Baby In The Bunch (1:10)
  • Harrigan (2:01)
  • Yankee Doodle Boy (0:33)
  • Little Johnny Jones Sequence: The Yankee Doodle Boy/Good Luck Johnny/Little Johnny Jones Special/Fin (10:23)
  • Medley: Oh, You Wonderful Girl/Blue Skies, Gray Skies/The Belle Of The Barber’s Ball (0:42)
  • Mary’s A Grand Old Name (1:53)
  • Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway (1:01)
  • Fay Templeton Medley: Mary’s A Grand Old Name/Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway/So Long, Mary (4:39)
  • You’re A Grand Old Flag (5:42)
  • Over There (3:26)
  • Medley: In A Kingdom Of Our Own/Love Nest/Nellie Kelly, I Love You/The Man Who Owns Broadway/Molly M (1:29)
  • Off The Record (3:13)
  • Finale and End Cast: Over There/Yankee Doodle Boy (2:46)
  • You Remind Me Of My Mother (Outtake) (1:29) BONUS
  • Medley: Oh, You Wonderful Girl/Blue Skies, Gray Skies/The Belle Of The Barber’s Ball (Piano Only Version) (0:42) BONUS
  • Give My Regards To Broadway (Rehearsal) (1:08) BONUS
  • You’re A Grand Old Flag (Rehearsal) (1:38) BONUS

Running Time: 51 minutes 05 seconds

Rhino Records R2-78210 (1942/2002)

Songs written by George M. Cohan. Score composed by Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld. Conducted by Ray Heindorf. Song arrangements by Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Score produced by Ray Heindorf and Leo F. Forbstein. Album produced by George Feltenstein.

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