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Cagney's Century

Something caught my eye a few weeks ago on the remembrance page of weekly Variety, the show business paper. The remembrance page -- my name for it, not necessarily theirs -- lists the people who died the previous week or two with appropriate obituaries.

The page also features ads acknowledging someone who had passed away recently or even a long time ago. And there it was, a little box citing the dates July 17, 1899 - July 17, 1999. And, the name: James Cagney.

Of all the wonderful people in our collective movie memory, Jimmy Cagney sure deserves our attention. He was the quintessential tough guy. Up there on that big screen, snapping his fingers, pushing his gat (or gun if you want to be more pristine) and pushing the grapefruit -- don't forget the grapefruit.

Remember him screaming in between the flames, "Top of the world, Ma!"

He cloaked all his characters in the Cagney mystique, his own method of acting, which said "Look me in the eye, bub, right here. I got something to tell you. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't."

I can't help it, but the movie I think more of us liked almost more than anything else was Yankee Doodle Dandy. George M. Cohan, the singing-dancing subject of the film, was interpreted by a song-and-dance man who won't let us forget him. He's unforgettable this year particularly: the 100th celebration of James Cagney.

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