In this musical biography of the song-writing actor George M. Cohan, the patriotic themes are emphasized.
George M. Cohan (James Cagney) satirizes FDR in I'd Rather Be Right and is invited to the White House, where he tells the story of his life. On July 4 Vaudeville performer Jerry Cohan (Walter Huston) goes to the birth. Young George (Douglas Croft) performs with his parents and sister in Peck's Bad Boy. Jerry counsels conceited George and spanks him for losing them a job.
Grown George plays an old man. 18-year-old Mary (Joan Leslie) asks George for advice and dances for him. George tells her to sing his song and argues with the manager (Walter Catlett), hits him and is fired. George and Mary try out the song "Harrigan" for Dietz (George Tobias) and are rejected along with playwright Sam Harris (Richard Whorf). George hears that his family is blacklisted because of him and leaves the act. George sees Sam Harris with backer Schwab (S. Z. Sakall) and sings "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Schwab finances the show Johnny Jones. George sings "Give My Regards to Broadway" and tap dances. Jerry says he is not jealous of George's success, and they re-unite as the Four Cohans.
George writes a song for Mary. Sam takes George to see star Fay Templeton (Irene Manning), and George takes flowers from drunk Dietz and offends Fay. During her first act George writes "Only 45 Minutes from Broadway" for her, and Sam gives her "Mary." George asks Mary to marry. George and Eddie Foy (himself) trade barbs. George sings "Grand Old Flag" with a patriotic medley. George has several successes.
At the chicken farm of Jerry and Nellie Cohan (Rosemary DeCamp), Josie Cohan (Jeanne Cagney) tells George she is getting married. On his father's birthday George makes Jerry his equal partner. George writes a drama that flops. When the U.S. declares war, George tries to enlist but is too old. George writes "Over There." In the 1920s he has several hit shows. George's father dies, and George ends his partnership with Sam. George and Mary travel around the world and go back to the farm. Young people stop for water but never heard of Cohan. Mary tells George that Sam has a part for him. George plays FDR and sings "Off the Record." Roosevelt gives him the Congressional Medal of Honor. George goes out and joins soldiers marching to "Over There."
This celebration of Cohan's songs fictionalizes his
marriage but portrays his successful Broadway career with the
spirit and talent it deserves, rousing the audience to support
another patriotic war.