28 June 2004 | theowinthrop
Hope's quest and Cagney's sequel and a tragic scene not lost
This film precedes BEAU JAMES by two years, and can be seen as a kind of warm-up for that Hope biography. As I mentioned in my comment there, Hope was hoping to find a film property that he could demonstrate his dramatic abilities in, so that he could possibly get a nod for an Oscar nomination. So the two biographies and the serious toned THAT CERTAIN FEELING have a certain individuality among Hope's comedies and films missing in the others.
Eddie Foy Sr. was one of the great comics of his era. His career was actually older than that of his friend and rival George M. Cohan, for Cohan was born in 1872 and Foy was already a travelling vaudevillian at that time. In fact he would be involved in a famous western event in 1881. Playing shows in Tombstone, in the Arizona territory, Foy came afoul of Ike Clanton and his gang, and was almost killed by them while on stage. The incident is suggested in John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE when Alan Mowbray (as a windy Victorian actor) is threatened by the Clantons. In the film GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRALL, the local Tombstone theatre has posters up for Foy's performance. However the director of that Paramount film did not think of having Hope perform a cameo in the Lancaster-Douglas film as Foy.
THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS follows Foys personal life, and how he allows his professional interests (tours, bookings) to keep him from the woman he loved and married - and whom he loses when she prematurely dies while he is on tour. His sister-in-law (the wife and her sister are Italians) has never liked Foy. The death of the wife leaves Foy with his seven kids, but his sister-in-law wants him to give up his career, and watch the kids grow up. He doesn't want to do so, so he decides to put the kids into his act. The problem: the kids can't act, sing, or dance like their old man can. Still he perserveres, and the act becomes a success because of it's very awfulness (it's so comically bad, it's good). But the sister-in-law tries to take the kids away from Foy by legal means, leading to a court scene.
Cagney appears as Cohan at a Friar's Club roast for Foy (their entertainer of the year). The four minute scene includes a graceful soft shoe involving the two troupers Cagney and Hope. It is a wonderful moment in the film. And the film, as a dramatic comedy, does hold up well. Given time, perhaps Hope could have found a suitable film for an Oscar nomination, but he was a busy man, and he did not have the time.
One final point. This month was the centennial for the burning of the steamboat GENERAL SLOCUM, the worst disaster in the history of New York City before September 11, 2001. The SLOCUM killed 1031 people by burning or drowning. It got into movie history at the start of the film MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (best recalled for the first pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy, and for the fact that John Dillinger was shot down by FBI men after leaving his secret location to see Myrna Loy's performance). The SLOCUM sequence is grisly well done in that 1934 film. But seven months before the SLOCUM Disaster, the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago killed six hundred people. It was the worst theatre fire in American history. Eddie Foy Sr. was playing in MR. BLUEBEARD in the theatre that day, and helped rescue many or the audience by calming them down. Although not much of the disaster is shown, it does appear (the only time I am aware of that it appears at all) in this film, THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS.