Film Reviews

Cagney as Cohan in The Seven Little Foys

I was trying to think of a new category of posts to write about, since that helps to keep me in line, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to put together the fact that I’ve named my film blogging site The Vintage Cameo and that maybe, hmm, I don’t know, I can perhaps highlight some literal vintage cameos? To be fair, I didn’t even really “come up” with it–I was just watching The Seven Little Foys and was surprised by the sudden James Cagney appearance.

The Seven Little Foys is an odd little picture, to be sure. Overwhelmed with the responsibilities of packing a wife and seven children on the road as he travels, Eddie Foy (played by Bob Hope) sets them all up in a nice little suburban enclave… as he returns to the vaudeville circuit. And he not only married his wife so she’d be in an act with him, but also uses the kids to the same effect. I don’t think there’s even a moment where he realizes, hey, after all this time, he really DOES love her–though perhaps the seven children were considered proof enough. Not especially feel-good, and Eddie can’t really be described as “likable” in any sense of the term, but it’s a very interesting dramatic turn, especially for Hope.

Anyway, the above Cagney cameo occurs as Eddie goes out on the town to receive his “Father of the Year” award from the Friar’s Club, which is apparently awarded based on quantity of fatherhood. Part of what makes it so great is that it’s not just a Cagney cameo, but in fact an actual reprisal of his character from Yankee Doodle Dandy, George M. Cohan. There’s some great, lightning-fast verbal sparring, as well as a charming tap number on the table. The direct Dandy reference is a great little treat for the viewer, especially considering this film came 13 years after Cagney’s first swing at the role–ample time for the character to be absorbed into pop culture.

Cagney’s participation in the picture came from two main sources, according to him: he’d put on a few pounds in the years after Yankee Doodle Dandy, and the intensive dance practice for the routine helped slim him down; and in his early days as a starving actor, he’d always been able to count on the Foys for friendly table and a meal (Cagney on Cagney, via TCM).

I love that this builds the continuity of this particular parallel movie universe–where Cagney is  Cohan and Hope is Foy, and it all just makes sense.

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