Movies 1 & 2 / 100: The Sixth Sense and Yankee Doodle Dandy

I had to make some adjustments to the movie watching schedule because I have numbers 100 and 99 on the AFI list (Ben-Hur and Toy Story) on hold at the library, but they're still in transit from other branches. So on Wednesday we (re-)watched The Sixth Sense, which was the lowest movie on the list (#89) that we could stream on Netflix. Today, we rented Yankee Doodle Dandy (#98). Hopefully we'll get those library holds next week, and we've signed up for Netflix DVDs going forward to make things easier. 

The Sixth Sense

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan | Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette

I'd seen The Sixth Sense before -- in the 9th grade, on some day when my biology teacher didn't feel like teaching. This is a bit odd, looking back, as the movie has nothing to do with biology and is quite a bit creepier than anything else I remember watching in school. 

I didn't remember the movie terribly well, just that it had a creepy kind of vibe, that it involved a kid seeing dead people, and that I enjoyed it. I was a little taken aback when Pete and I sat down to watch the movie and he said, "I remember being surprised by the twist." 

"I ... I don't think I remember the twist," I replied. 

That wasn't true, because I spent the opening scene trying to reconcile it with what's revealed in the twist (which I'll leave out of this post, even though it seems like the time for spoiler alerts has passed). Pretty quickly I realized that I somehow just didn't remember that piece of information as a twist, although it definitely was. I think I'd predicted the twist when I fist saw it, so it didn't hit me that hard .... but maybe I'm remembering incorrectly, given how shocked everyone else says they were by it. 

Either way: I like Sixth Sense back then and I like it now. I wish I'd realized before I rewatched it that red was a motif to look for! Here's director M. Night Shyamalan talking about that -- but don't watch this one unless you've already seen the movie. 


Yankee Doodle Dandy

Directed by: Michael Curtiz | Starring: James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston

Oh, boy. 

I knew when I decided to do this project that I'd have to watch quite a few old movies. I knew that was going to be challenging for me. I resolved to approach it with an open mind. 

But that doesn't mean I'm going to like all of them. 

OK, I'll be nice and start by listing what I liked about this movie: 

  1. I've never seen James Cagney in anything, and it was interesting to first see him in a role that's pretty different from what he's known for (playing gangsters, or so Pete tells me). 
  2. Cagney's acting was pretty impressive. I won't deny that he plays George M. Cohan with a near-insane level of energy and dances and sings in a way that few could pull off. I'm trying, here, not to let my feelings about the character of George M. Cohan get in the way of appreciating Cagney's skill in portraying him. 
  3. It was interesting to learn a bit about the guy who composed songs like "Over There," "Yankee Doodle Boy," "Give My Regards to Broadway," and "You're a Grand Old Flag," and who, apparently, is considered "the father of American musical comedy," at  least according to Wikipedia.

Even though I'm trying to be more open-minded about movies made more than a few decades before my birth, there is a reason that a lot of older movies rub me the wrong way. I think a lot of people have nostalgia for "the good old days" when they watch them, even if they're "good old days" that the viewer wasn't alive to experience. But those days were only good for a certain kind of person. 

George M. Cohan in 1908. (Public Domain)

George M. Cohan in 1908. (Public Domain)

You know the kind of person I'm talking about. Someone like .... well, like George M. Cohan himself. Someone white. Someone male. Someone straight and cis-gendered. Someone born into a position of privilege in society. 

(To be fair on that last point, I don't know much about Cohan's socioeconomic background. It doesn't seem like his family was wealthy, per se. But he was basically born into the theater, and I haven't seen any indication that the family struggled financially.) 

These movies, with gentlemanly men and swooning woman and well-behaved "I want to be just like my pops!" kids, are supposed to be feel-good films, but they don't make me feel good. They make me cringe. 

All that can be overcome if the story is interesting enough to transcend the very of-the-era social attitudes. For me, Yankee Doodle Dandy just wasn't. 

So, then, here's what I didn't like about the film:

  1. Blackface. Its appearance in the film was relatively brief, but ... ew. 
  2. Other black characters were only seen as servants to rich white people. 
  3. Women crying, weeping, swooning, etc. During our first introduction to Mary, Cohan's wife, she thinks he's an old man because he was portraying one on stage and is covered in makeup and fake facial hair. In reality, Cohan's only 16 or 17, and when he starts removing these accessories she shrieks and is so shocked that she collapses into a chair. COME ON. She spends a good portion of the rest of the movie being teary-eyed because men are mad at each other or staring at Cohan with a worshipful gaze. Gross. 
  4. The proposal scene that leaves me torn between gagging and rolling my eyes: Shortly after arriving home, Cohan asks Mary to get him black coffee. She tells him she's ok with him giving a sentimental part he wrote for her to another actress because she wants him to succeed and because since the moment he took that beard off she knew he was a little boy who needed looking after. Then he asks if she'd "like a life-time job of looking after me." (ughghghghghghghg) After a second of swooning at this extremely romantic proposal, she jumps up because she's remembered the coffee might burn. 
  5. When Cohan is still a kid, he ruins a business deal for his parents in his signature cocky, obnoxious style. Even though Cohan's cockiness drives me crazy, the blame lies much more on the businessman than him. Nevertheless, his parents decide that obviously the problem is that they haven't been hitting him. 
  6. Excessive flag-waving jingoism. I know this was made shortly after Pearl Harbor and was used as something of a propaganda film, but it's just a bit over-the-top for me. 
  7. THIS LINE, which disgusts the Eleanor Roosevelt fan in me. (I actually liked this song and scene better than most of the movie, but that line. Ugh.)

My verdict on this one: Worth watching if you're really into vaudeville/physical comedy or a James Cagney super-fan. 

Let's have another patriotic film as a palate-cleanser, shall we?