Not Manny Farber’s review published on Letterboxd:
From Warner Brothers comes another epic called Yankee Doodle Dandy which is an ear-shattering flag-waver that thunders like a Sousa march, jerks like a buck-and-wing and behaves like Jimmy Cagney, which adds up to a rather likable way of saying it’s American. It is a field day for the dynamic Cagney, whose volatile, cocksure toughness provides everything cinematic. He is in the film-acting tradition of Chaplin, with the athletic grace and gesturing of Fairbanks. There are no vacancies in his acting; whenever he is on the screen he is expressive. It is the mimicry of doing, in the way he uses his hands, even his fingers, and the strange, pugnacious thrusts of his body, with the sensitive use of the face of Chaplin and Gabin. Most essentially his is the sudden jerk into unexpected action, which makes him the screen’s unique aggressor. This is what makes the film entertaining for all of its two hours of mediocrity. It is indicative of Cagney’s vitality that so much tripe could seem so fresh.
Yankee Doodle Dandy is one of those he-could-do-no-wrong biographies, based on the life of George M. Cohan, that Warners hand out. It is even more Horatio Alger than the various lives of Paul Muni, since Cohan had complete censorship powers over what went in. There is the inevitable wise and tolerant everybody—wife, mother, father, friend, etc., and it is possibly the most repetitious picture ever made. It is so full of Cohan’s mouthy songs and stiff-legged, loose-armed, crazy tap dancing that halfway through you can’t recall anything of a plot. That may have been the intention, because the plot is mainly Jimmy being good to his family and situations that wind up with a gag having to do with quaint stage vernacular. It gets pretty wearisome at times, especially during the childhood and the talks with the President, and it sings Mary and I’d Rather Be Right four choruses too often. But before it kills you off there are exciting moments, as in the first half of the Yankee Doodle Dandy routine, which is a combination of Cohan’s style and Cagney’s go. There is a whirlwind scene among Cagney, Sam Harris and Mr. Schwab, the latter a comedy gem contributed by S. Z. Sakall as a dazed producer with a flabby, thick accent and that weird, inverted phrasing. The songs are good Tin Pan Alley, as they always were, with a nice roll to them and a simple brightness. But the thing that makes the picture fun in the early parts is the producers’ surprising integrity in capturing the spirit of the early razz-matazz stage show. It’s a change from the elegant grace of Astaire and Draper, and even more from the Busby Berkeley chorus colossals.
Excerpt from Farber's text titled War Horses
June 15, 1942