AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to James Cagney (1974)
"The American Film Institute Salute to James Cagney" (original title)

TV Special  |   |  Documentary
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Actor James Cagney receives the Second Annual AFI Lifetime Achievment Award as co-workers pay tribute and clips from his films are shown.


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Title: AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to James Cagney (1974– )

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Credited cast:
Himself / honoree
Himself - Host
Himself (as Governor Reagan)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
John Armstrong (archive footage)


Retired superstar actor James Cagney receives the second annual American Film Institute Lifetime Achievment Award in 1974 ceremony hosted by Frank Sinatra. Although the actor had not appeared in a film in 14 years, he appears hale and hardy as he listens to tributes from the likes of co-stars Doris Day, Jack Lemmon, Bob Hope, and Ronald Reagaan and representing the AFI, Charlton Heston, Cicely Tyson, and George Stevens Jr. Clips from his many films including "White Heat," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and "The Public Enemy" are warmly received, and the actor recognizes the minor players like Frank McHugh, Mae Clarke, Allen Jenkins, etc., who helped contribute to his success. Written by

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Release Date:

18 March 1974 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to James Cagney  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


When recognizing Mae Clarke from podium, Cagney recalls that originally the script had called for an omelet, not a grapefruit, in the face. See more »


James Cagney: [Jokingly to Frank Sinatra] Oh, Frank, just in passing... I never said, 'You Dirty Rat." What I did say was 'Judy, Judy, Judy!'
See more »


Give My Regards to Broadway
Composed by George M. Cohan (1904)
Sung by Frank Gorshin, Kirk Douglas, and George Segal
See more »

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User Reviews

Top of the world, Jimmy!
6 October 2002 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

Each year since 1973, the American Film Institute has given its Lifetime Achievement Award to a prominent film star or director. To date, every recipient has been genuinely deserving, but the choice of whom to honour has been motivated by various factors ... such as whose name will sell the most tickets. The guest of honour must be a living person who is willing to attend in person and give an acceptance speech. The first four annual awards were given to male recipients: in 1977, the AFI decided it was time to honour a woman, but their committee's first choice (Katherine Hepburn) refused to accept the award in person, so they gave it to Bette Davis (who apparently didn't mind being second choice for an award based on gender). Cary Grant had a standing offer to receive the AFI award, but he was never willing to make an acceptance speech and so he was never chosen.

The first person honoured by the AFI was director John Ford. In 1974, their second award went to James Cagney. At the beginning of this star-studded evening, Charlton Heston read out one of Cagney's earliest press notices in 'Variety', from his days as a vaudeville hoofer: "James Cagney can dance a little, but the big time is not for him." (Heston mercifully neglected to point out that Cagney began his show-biz career as a chorus "girl" in a drag act!)

This very enjoyable tribute to Cagney alternates between film clips (from his many movies) and live tributes from some of Hollywood's greatest stars. Ronald Reagan (former governor of California, not yet President) presents a clip from "Boy Meets Girl" in which he and Cagney appeared together. To great applause, Reagan announces that the AFI film archives contain copies of every James Cagney film. Frank Gorshin (abetted by George Segal) does a burlesque imitation of Cagney, singing and dancing to "Yankee Doodle Dandy".

At the end of the evening, it's time for the great man to speak. To the tune of "Yankee Doodle Dandy", Cagney strides to the platform amid a standing ovation. As he mounts the stage, Cagney (well into his seventies) does a fast Maxiford shuffle (a tap-dance step). Then he sets the record straight: "I never said 'You dirty rat!' My line was 'Judy, Judy, Judy!'"

People who do imitations of Cagney (including Frank Gorshin) usually copy his distinctive shoulder hitch, but in fact Cagney used this in only one movie ("Angels with Dirty Faces"). In his acceptance speech, Cagney tells a very funny story about how he copied the shoulder hitch from a guy who stood on a street corner all day in the slum neighbourhood where Cagney grew up. (Without actually saying so, Cagney makes it clear that this man was a pimp.)

And, just to be accurate: in the 1932 film "Taxi!", Cagney said to actor David Landau: "Take that, you dirty yellow rat!" That's the closest he ever got to speaking the line he "never" said.

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