Monday, December 26, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

"Silver Bells," composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, is perhaps my favorite Christmas song of all time, and it originated in the Bob Hope film THE LEMON DROP KID.

I saw the movie for the first time this evening. Unfortunately, I found most of it tedious going, but it does have some bright spots, including Lloyd Nolan, Marilyn Maxwell, and most of all, that beautiful song.

The plot, such as it is, is a bunch of Damon Runyon nonsense about the Lemon Drop Kid (Hope), who owes mobster Moose Moran (Fred Clark) a lot of money. The Kid goes to New York and comes up with a money-making scam involving a home for old ladies. Hope hides money in a statue, Hope dresses as Santa Claus, Hope dresses as an old lady, and so on. Yawn. The plot lumbers around without going much of anywhere. Maybe I was having an off viewing night, but this movie just didn't click with me.

It's interesting that both the Christmas films I've watched this week involved leading characters who are scammers or moochers. However, Victor Moore makes his character in IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947) likeable and sympathetic -- quite a feat since, as I wrote in my post on it, I've never cared for Moore -- but Hope's character is just a deadbeat who preys on others endlessly. There is absolutely zero explanation for why his girlfriend (Maxwell) finds him so irresistible, when he takes advantage of her good nature time after time. He's just an unpleasant person looking out for No. 1.

Though I can't say any of the story engaged me, I enjoyed the performances by Lloyd Nolan and Marilyn Maxwell, who bring the dull goings-on to life whenever they're on screen. I also thought Andrea King was quite funny as Moose Moran's Southern belle lady friend.

The highlight of the film is the introduction of the song "Silver Bells." According to an article on the Turner Classic Movies site, Hope was dissatisfied with director Sidney Lanfield's static original staging of "Silver Bells." Frank Tashlin rethought the scene as a stroll through the city streets and directed what appears in the final film. The evocative, nostalgic sequence is beautifully done. (Perhaps I should note, for those who care about such things, that there's a very brief bit with Chinese children which is politically incorrect by modern standards.) When the song swells to its lovely conclusion, it feels as though it should be the end of the movie. Alas, there's still half an hour of the film's 91-minute running time left to go.

Frank Tashlin would go on to direct another Christmastime film, SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954), a stylish and colorful movie which I just enjoyed again on Christmas Eve.

The supporting cast of THE LEMON DROP KID includes William Frawley, Jane Darwell, Jay C. Flippen, and Ida Moore.

THE LEMON DROP KID has had several DVD releases. I watched a DVD released in 2000. It was released again in 2010 as both a single title and as part of the Bob Hope Collection.

It's also come out multiple times on VHS.

THE LEMON DROP KID can be streamed by Amazon Prime members at no additional charge.

The movie was just shown for the first time on Turner Classic Movies.

Bob Hope films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940), MY FAVORITE BLONDE (1942), STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM (1942), VARIETY GIRL (1947), MY FAVORITE SPY (1951), and BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961).


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Laura, I think I like this one a tad more than you do, though I agree with many of your reservations. Still, there's a very brief bit involving Tor Johnson and a manhole cover that just kills me each time I see it.

There was an earlier version from the 1930s starring Lee Tracy, which I've never seen, though I would love to.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, Kevin! The 1930s version would be interesting to compare. I wasn't familiar with it and was amused to learn on IMDb that William Frawley was also in the original version!

Best wishes,

4:37 PM  

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