The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies Blog-a-thon

Sally at Flying Down to Hollywood is hosting a 12 Days of Christmas Movies Blog-a-thon. Here's Java's entry.

Plot - “It‘s all the same to you whether Sam kills me now or doesn’t open me ‘til Christmas.”

A small-time swindler (Bob Hope), who has a penchant for sour candies, needs to pay off his debt to mobster Moose Moran (Fred Clark) by Christmas. He starts a ladies retirement home as a front for an illegal gambling den to raise the money. 

Based on a character in a Damon Runyon short story, the Lemon Drop Kid/Sidney Melbourne is even more crooked than Hope’s usual cads. Sidney steals change from Salvation Army charity buckets; impersonates a Salvation Army bell ringer to get donations and make money for his personal use; he even steals the sweater from a small dog to keep himself warm in a blizzard. Hilarious but unethical. He’s surrounded by charming seniors from the home, a lovely girlfriend (Marilyn Maxwell)  and the holiday season so that the audience will enjoy the character even more.

Will he get the money? Will he ever “go straight” so that his girlfriend will stop badgering him about his criminal habits? What will happen to the “old dolls” after Christmas?

It doesn’t matter. We’re here for the jokes.

Humor - “I‘ve always wanted to be a man-about-town, but not in little chunks.”
Claustrophobically set in studio back lots and sound stages, this comedy is, overall, not Hope‘s finest, but it is, of course, a must for Bob Hope complete-ists . Throughout this star’s many films, Hope usually rattles off funny one-liners or bumbles through hilarious slapstick set pieces. So we wait around for those choice bits.

And he does not disappoint here.

For instance, Hope often plays inept scoundrels with over-inflated egos, so it’s not unusual in his films for the character to pause and admire himself in the mirror. He does this in Lemon Drop while whistling and using comb, toothbrush and cologne. (“Ah. What a crime if you had to die.” “Aaahh! You doll you!”) He’s so gorgeous that he turns himself on. It’s ridiculous, but it makes me laugh every time.

Silver Bells - “It‘s Christmastime in the city.”

This is also a movie for Christmas song enthusiasts. The perennial favorite, “Silver Bells,” is introduced in this film. Award-winning songwriting team Jay Livingston and Ray Evans were under contract to Paramount and were instructed to write a Christmas song for Bob Hope’s film. They had not made a hit song in a while and felt a Christmas song in a world saturated with old standards was “doomed to fail.” Trudging ahead, they were inspired by a silver bell on Evan’s desk. They finally concentrated, not on snow, like Irving Berlin‘s “White Christmas,” but more on an urban atmosphere blended with the nostalgia of the old favorites.

“Ray and I stared at the bell and wrote a song we titled ‘Tinkle Bells,’” Livingston noted. “We thought we‘d insert it into the film and never hear it played again.” via1 via2

Mrs. Livingston pointed out a crude connotation with the word “tinkle” that the songwriters would not want associated with their song, so they redubbed it “Silver Bells."

Evans stated “the main reason this song became so successful is that this is the only song… that‘s about Christmas in a big city with shop lights and shoppers and the rest… we got that only because that happened to be the locale of the picture.” via

Lemon Drop makes no pretense that it’s anything other than a fluffy, feel-good, end of the year story. Even the credits are printed on gift cards hanging from a decorated Tannenbaum. There‘s the occasional firearm among the bulbs and confetti to remind the audience that there will be some shady customers in the film too. But the overture continues spiritedly - even when a gun is discharged on the tree - assuring us that none if this is serious.

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  1. Great post! This is a good one; I need to watch it again soon.

  2. I always seem to leave off The Lemon Drop Kid when compiling a list of favorite Christmas movies. I don't know why I do it--it's really a wonderful Yuletide gem.

  3. Tom and Ivan,

    I didn't think of Lemon Drop either until everyone else on the blog-a-thon had taken the ones we all think about first - White Christmas, etc.

    Then I went through my list of movies and, bam! ... it hit me, this is a Christmas-y film.

    Perhaps if they'd changed the title to something yuletide-ish we would think of it more often. As it stands, no one expected the song to be a hit, so they were profiting from the Damon Runyon pedigree. I counted his name used 4 times in the first minute and 35 seconds.

  4. This one is on my Netflix queue! Now I know that I have to push it toward the top! Great post!! I definitely need to watch more Bob Hope. This one looks great. Thank you so much for joining in my blogathon!!

  5. Sally,
    You're welcome. Thanks for dropping by.

    -- Java

  6. A heartwarming comedy. I love it!


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