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The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Brainey Baxter, Oxford Charlie, Sam the Surgeon, Straight Flush Tony, Moose Moran and The Lemon Drop Kid. Names like these are music to my ears when watching a Damon Runyon story adapted for the big screen. Sign on Bob Hope as the title character alongside sexy Marilyn Maxwell as Brainey and the next thing you know you’re settling in for a fun tale of gangsters and con artists gift wrapped around the Christmas season.

Bob is once again king of the one liners and cowardly self deprecating humor as Lemon Drop. He’s going to find himself in hot water at the local horse track as he goes about selling tips on an upcoming race. For a cut of the profits he cons a different bettor into placing a wager on each horse in the race so he’ll have the field covered and be sure to collect from one of his marks. The problem is that one of his marks turns out to be the moll for Moose Moran (Fred Clark) and she drops $2000 on the wrong horse. When Hope gets hauled into see Moose by a couple goons (film buffs note John Doucette here) he’s given till Christmas to make good on the $10K that Moose would have collected on the wager that his gal was supposed to make.

Bob’s in trouble and he’s off to New York to see his gal Marilyn and put the bite on anyone who can give him a handout. It won’t be long before she catches on to his latest scam and when he gets arrested for panhandling, she’s a good mind to let him rot in the local jail. Marilyn as it turns out is a dancer at a local nightclub run by Oxford Charlie better known to film fans as Lloyd Nolan. Playing to form, Nolan is himself a gangster and knows all too well that Hope is a not to be trusted schemer.

When Bob discovers that Oscar winner Jane Darwell as Nellie Thursday is being evicted from her rental for overdue payments, he comes up with an underhanded idea to raise money for “old dolls” in need of a home using Darwell as the catalyst. With a city permit in hand he gathers all sorts of shady characters including William Frawley, Jay C. Flippen and even Tor Johnson of Ed Wood fame to join him in donning Santa Clause suits ringing bells at street corners around the city with donation boxes front and center. In no time at all he’ll raise the 10K and make off with the money saving his own skin and leave the senior gals homeless in the gutter.

With Bob looking like a genuine philanthropist he’s back in Marilyn’s good graces prompting Bob to comment, “Honey don’t ever lose me. It would ruin yah.” Time for a Christmas song and why not join in with Bob and Marilyn singing the standard Silver Bells written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. According to trivia sites, Bing Crosby released the Christmas Classic to radio in October of 1950 and it became a staple of the Hope Christmas specials in the years that followed.

Of course Bob’s world is going to get turned upside down when Nolan decides to muscle in on his scam by kidnapping Darwell and the old girls and by letting Hope’s army of Santa’s know that he wasn’t on the level at all and planned to make off with the money raised for the “old dolls.”

Yeah Bob is once again the heel who just might make good before the final fade out.

This film did very little to change my mind that Hope is truly one of the greats when it comes to tossing off one liners and playing the coward yet firmly believing he’s God’s gift to women. His site gags are always a hoot like in this one where he’s freezing on the streets of Broadway and spots a Dachshund wearing a sweater. By the time a bus passes the camera lens the poor little wiener dog is bare naked and Bob’s got an extra layer of clothing on under his coat. Might be a bit flee infested though as he takes to itching.

Bob grooming himself in a hotel foyer is a gem or how about his being in a black dress doing his best to impersonate an old gal on a bicycle. Looks like he’s doing his best to imitate Margaret Hamilton as she’s riding her bike in the skies just prior to turning in to the Wicked Witch of the West. Finally let’s not forget Bob’s best pal Bing either. A cheap shot is headed your way before the credits roll and it’s bound to curl you’re lips into a smile assuming you’re aware of the ongoing in-jokes and cheap shots between the two even when they weren’t on screen together.

While I haven’t seen an earlier version of the same title made in 1934 starring Lee Tracy and Helen Mack also released by Paramount, it’s interesting to note that the prolific character actor William Frawley appeared in that version as well.

Lemon Drop’s director was Sidney Lanfield who already had a number of Hope comedies under his belt having directed My Favorite Blonde, Where There’s Life and Sorrowful Jones. Another name comedy buffs are sure to recognize is the script co-writer, Frank Tashlin. He’d wind up with numerous writing and directing credits to his name before his career wound down in the late 1960’s including Hope films and working on various projects with Jerry Lewis. Miss Maxwell wasn’t quite done with Bob yet either. She’d appear in his 1952 military comedy Off Limits where the duo were also joined by Mickey Rooney.

Not always a holiday favorite when lists are handed out, this is a worthwhile addition to anyone’s seasonal viewing experience and with the inclusion of street corner Santa’s and the song Silver Bells to hum along with why not give it a go for either the first time or a nostalgic revisit. It’s available in a nice DVD set of Hope films from Shout Factory.

4 Comments »

  1. I have very limited patience with Hope, I admire his devotion to the troops but have never found him particularly amusing, I was charmed by this one however when I happened upon it a few years ago.

    Marilyn Maxwell and the full complement of character actors that the film is loaded with helped a great deal. Silver Bells is also one of my favorite Christmas songs and I loved the way it was staged, though it was too bad it wasn’t in color. It has a warm Christmas feeling and it’s nice to have a holiday film to recommend to others that isn’t well known but it both decent and pretty accessible.

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