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Christmas Watch: The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Join us Tuesdays and Thursdays in December for our Christmas Watch. Each time you comment and share a post, you are entered into a drawing to win a free paperback of your choice from Bear Manor Media. Rodney and Samantha recommend this Bob Hope comedy set at Christmas time.

S: “I always turn green this time of year." Bob Hope plays the Lemon Drop Kid, a con-artist who claims he can talk to horses and get tips on races. He gives tips on every horse in the race, and hopes the winning bet will remember him monetarily. For obvious reasons he makes more enemies than friends, and when he convinces a gangster's moll to change her bet from the winner to a loser, the gangster gives him until Christmas to cough up $10,000 or lose his life. I read the short story this is based on and it is much darker than this lighthearted film.

R: I think a lot of credit for why this Damon Runyon plot works so well for Hope is because the story was adapted by Ed Beloin. Beloin had spent a lot of time as a radio writer (he’s often credited with originating the jokes about Jack Benny’s eternal age of 39, during the eight years he spent as a writer on that program). Hope obviously trusted Beloin’s judgement, because he was used as a story-man on many of the better Hope vehicles of the late 40’s and early 50’s. By and large, Hope tended to play the same character in most of his films in the first half of his career, that being a smug, self-assured ladies’ man. Putting him in the role of an inept con artist doesn’t seem so out of place when viewed in the scope of his canon. He’s great in this.

S: I have never seen the original film with Lee Tracy so I can't compare them, but that film was not set at Christmas. This one is dripping with great holiday decorations and it introduced the classic carol "Silver Bells" by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. It is spotlighted to full effect as Hope and Marilyn Maxwell mosey down a festively decorated street passing children admiring store windows and Santas ringing bells for charity.

R: Aw, doesn’t that whole scene just ooze Christmas cheer? It’s a show stopping moment in the film, and was expanded after Hope and Paramount realized that they had a real hit on their hands. Pretty much what everyone hoped for was a bonafide Christmas hit, and Hope used his to full effect, singing it as a duet in all of his TV Christmas specials from here on out. As so often happens, the song has taken a new life apart from the movie. Most everyone knows this song, but the layman on the street probably wouldn’t know this movie. My understanding is that pretty much the only similarity between this film and the Lee Tracy vehicle is the presence of William Frawley, who starred in the 1951 version the same year he started I Love Lucy, so he was having a pretty solid year, I’d figure.

S: There is a great visual gag of Hope in his summer suit fighting against the wind in a snowstorm. It pushes him so hard, he slides down the street—and around the corner! Then he re-appears, assisted by two little girls. A dog walks by, warm in his winter sweater. So Hope steals it. That’s the epitome of this character, a greedy opportunist. And yet we are made to root for him. Is it because Bob Hope is that charming, or because he is surrounded by equally slimy characters?

R: There are a lot of great cartoon-y visual gags in this movie that take place amid the onslaught of great one-liners. I’d safely assume that Frank Tashlin deserves some credit for this. Tashlin had earned his chops as a cartoon director, primarily at Warner Brothers, before he turned his attention to live action films (notably the best Martin & Lewis films). All of his movies have these wild visual pieces in them, and while he isn’t credited with directing this film, it’s been rumored that he actually did co-direct it.

S: The scene in the store window where Hope gradually swipes the old lady costume reminds me of something that happened when I worked at Victoria’s Secret in the mall. A mom came in with her two young boys, and while mom was shopping, the boys got into the window and pulled the bra down off the mannequin. Someone came in from the mall to complain about it, while the boys were hiding in the curtains snickering.

R: That’s another one that I’d feel comfortable crediting Tashlin for, and it’s a very funny scene. It does move the plot along, but it could’ve been handled in a much less noteworthy way. Scenes in department store windows are pretty common in classic movies (an exceptional one with Charley Chase in Isn’t Life Terrible comes to mind), but this one is genuinely funny. I’m sure that your experience at Victoria’s Secret is just one in a long litany of tales of mannequins being maligned there, to the embarrassment and amusement of all, no doubt.

S: The constant reversing and replaying of the film in the bedtime scene seems like something out of a B-movie. The gimmick looks cheap here. In spite of the crude humor, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. It has a fantastic cast, Fred Clark and Lloyd Nolan as the tough guys, Maxwell as Hope's love interest, and a menagerie of sweet elderly women including Jane Darwell as Nellie.

R: If you love character actors, you’re going to love this cast. So many great folks pop up in this, even frequent serial heavy Gene Roth shows up in an uncredited role. Jack Kruschen and Emory Parnell are there too, as is Ed Wood favorite Tor Johnson. I love spotting these kinds of people in movies, so it was a real treat for me. Lloyd Nolan is almost always

fun, and Marilyn Maxwell is absolutely radiant. I also can’t forget Fred Clark, who I knew better as Harry Morton, the harried next door neighbor on the George Burns & Gracie Allen Show.

S: I give this 4 stars, a luxurious sable. This was a new film for me, and I imagine it will easily work its way into my annual viewing.

R: Definitely four stars for me. I think this movie is GREAT fun. There is an awful lot to like about this movie, and really very little to dislike. A real winner.

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