Variety, Vaudeville & Family Values – Rediscovering ‘The Seven Little Foys’ (US 1955 – 93 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - May 04, 2015
Variety, Vaudeville & Family Values – Rediscovering ‘The Seven Little Foys’ (US 1955 – 93 mins)

A film that used to play regularly on afternoon television, the quaint family-drama ‘The Seven Little Foys’ is an enjoyable sleeper that harks back to the times of variety shows and music halls, and features Bob Hope in one of his best performances as vaudevillian Eddie Foy, Sr.

Narrated by Foy’s second eldest son Charley, the story charts the life of Vaudevillian Eddie Foy, from his marriage to an Italian ballerina, their seven children together, and how after his wife dies he effectively added them to his already successful act.

‘The Seven Little Foys’ had Bob Hope in great form and showed that he could handle dramatic scenes with ease. He also got to show off his dancing skills, especially in the terrific show-stopping moment when Foy engages in a table-top dance-off with James Cagney’s acclaimed entertainer George M. Cohen. It’s a joy to watch two of cinema’s true legends go head to head, especially as both actors were in their fifties at this point. Another memorable scene was the one early on when, in true comic style, Eddie accidentally disrupts a performance of “Swan Lake” which his future wife is performing in, turning this serious ballet into one of his comic routines.

The film is not without its serious and even moving moments, including Foy’s neglect for his family, his wife’s early death, and when he is brought before the Children’s Court and has to testify in order to keep his brood with him.

Pretty Italian actress Milly Vitale played Foy’s wife Madeleine and would have a supporting role the following year in King Vidor’s epic drama ‘War and Peace’, before retiring from the screen in 1972. Screenwriter Melville Shavelson made his directorial debut here and had earlier written numerous Bob Hope movies including ‘The Princess and the Pirate’ (’44) and ‘The Great Lover’ (’49). Hope would also keep it serious the following year when he re-teamed with Shavelson for the 1956 biopic ‘Beau James’, which told the story of New York Mayor Jimmy Walker. One of my favourite Shavelson movies was the excellent domestic comedy ‘Yours, Mine and Ours’ (’68) with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball as parents to 18 children from their previous marriages. Not just adept at comedy Shavelson also produced and directed the all-star actioner ‘Cast a Giant Shadow’ (’66) featuring Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.

‘The Seven Little Foys’ is a touching Technicolor delight, with excellent period detail showing old-time barber shops, candy canes and bustling steam trains. With a winning Bob Hope, a terrific cameo from James Cagney, and one truly memorable scene, I think this is a gem that deserves its place alongside ‘The Cat and the Canary’ (’39) and ‘The Paleface’ (’48) as among Bob Hope’s finest work.

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