Family Movie Night

by Karyn Bowman

The other week, I came across an old clip of Bob Hope and James Cagney on YouTube. They were tap dancing on a table in a Men’s Club, not a strip joint but a real men’s club.

It is from the movie The Seven Little Foys (1955) about Eddie Foy and his seven children who could dance. Cagney makes an appearance in the movie but he refuses to be paid. Apparently, Eddie Foy would regularly feed those actors and dancers who were poorly paid. Cagney was in that group and felt he was repaying Foy for his kindness.

However, that is not all we know about Cagney. 

“You dirty rat, you” is perhaps the most famous phrase associated with Cagney. It comes from his days of being a gangster in movies in the early 1930s. The movie that typifies this era is Public Enemy when Cagney shoves a grapefruit half in Mae Clark’s face during a pique of anger.

James Cagney, Image from

He would represent all that was rough and ragged in the bootleg era with this movie, setting the standard for gangster movies. The strange thing is Cagney never said that phrase. According to Cagney himself, he said (perhaps jokingly) “Judy, Judy, Judy” which is attributed to Cary Grant.

While Cagney did many of these types of movies, he also performed in musicals and was a good hoofer. The first was Something to Sing About in 1937 in which the tagline was “A Cagney You Have Not Seen! Dancing…Romancing and Packing a Real Wallop!”

Five years later, Cagney would portray George M. Cohen (writer of the songs “Over There” and “You’re A Grand Old Flag”) in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1942. This movie has many memorable scenes but one of the best may be when Cagney tap dances down the stairway in the White House. It is a simple moment that was ad-libbed by Cagney but the director loved it, keeping the piece in the movie.

This movie would give Cagney his only Oscar win. Pearl Harbor occurred during the time of filming this movie. Cagney is reported to tell the crew on the first day back that more than ever it was important to do their best, that America needed to be bolstered during these hard times. 

Cagney would continue acting until 1961. His last movie was One, Two Three about a Coca-Cola executive in Berlin who is trying to introduce the soft drink to the Russians while preventing his boss’ daughter from marrying a communist. This will not do for one of the biggest companies in capitalist America. It is a tour de force for Cagney.

After this, Cagney appeared in about four movies until his death in 1986. He stated he had lost his enthusiasm for acting and decided to leave it.

Cagney was one of the best actors ever to grace Hollywood’s movie sets. During his career, he was only overshadowed by Clark Gable. Most of his movies are tame by today’s standards and can be watched by most in the family.

Makes me want to find one to watch and remember his talent.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.