James Cagney won his Oscar from his second nomination for portraying George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
This is a biography from the 40's so George M. Cohan has very few flaws. The only flaw one could really say he has at all is a lack of modesty about his talents as a performer, and a writer. This is only shown as all that negative of a thing when he is a kid, so really there is barely anything negatively said about George M. Cohan. James Cagney really does not really portray all that complex of a character in George M. Cohan. Who is Cohan, well he is a nice enough guy, who loves his family, loves his wife, loves his country, and most certainly loves show business. There really is not all that much there in terms of Cohan as a man, but what there is Cagney does realize, he really suggests everything he needs to about Cohan.
When there are somewhat more dramatic scenes required Cagney is up to the task, such as the dramatic death scene of George's father, sure it is perhaps a bit hokey, but Cagney certianly is good anyways. There are not really many more dramatic scenes besides that one, but he is also charming enough in his scenes with Joan Leslie as his wife. The focus of this performance though are the almost endless dance, and singing scenes that he is in, in his many reenactment of Cohan's actual songs, and plays. Cagney certainly is not a great singer, or even a great dancer, but this is not opera, or ballet, it is vaudevillian in style so what Cagney does do fits for the part.
In all of these scenes Cagney always has a very high level of energy which he infuses into the part in every single one of these scenes that certainly is notable. Cagney completely throws himself in the part in every scene and every single different song, or dance number of the Cohan repertoire. James Cagney performance is really not a complex one, and most of his scenes do consist of his various songs and dances, but everything in the part that there is Cagney does well in context of the film. Cagney certainly has a particular style in this film that certainly is old fashioned, but in its old fashioned way this performance most certainly works.