Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Lemon Drop Kid

Perhaps this is an oddball Christmas movie because it's not very Christmas-sy. However, it is the movie where a little song called "Silver Bells" made its debut. The movie definitely takes place in the winter at Christmas time—there are too many outdoor scenes with snow and bell-ringers dressed as Santa to deny that—but it's really just an out and out comedy.

The story was based on a story by Damon Runyon, and it had been made into a film before in 1934, and a radio adaptation in 1949. However, this film deviates quite a bit from the original. Ruyon's setting of horse races and the gambling around them only opens the film as the Lemon Drop Kid  (Bob Hope) convinces people to bet on each horse, each promising him some of their winnings.

After gangster Moose Moran's girlfriend loses a $2,000 bet that would have won five times the amount thanks to the Kid's phony tip, Moose gives the Kid until Christmas Eve to pay him $10,000. The Kid heads to freezing New York, to rejoin his girlfriend Brainy Baxter (Marilyn Maxwell). During some misadventures trying to raise the money, the Kid meets his old friend Nellie Thursday (Jane Darwell) who is about to be evicted as she waits for her imprisoned husband to be released.

Finally, the Kid gets an idea. He opens a retirement home for women like Nellie, in Moose Moran's old casino, clumsily titled "The Nellie Thursday Home for Old Dolls." The Kid has his old gangster friends dress up like Santas to raise funds for the home. However, Brainy's old boss Oxford Charlie hears about the scheme and tries to pull it away from the Kid by taking the women to a new home. He also steals the Kid's money and exposes his plot to his friends.

The Kid manages to break into the home by dressing up as an old lady, stealing the money back. After getting help from Nellie once again, the Kid manages to get away from Moose and Charlie by setting a trap for them, ending with them getting arrested. The Nellie Thursday Home is open again, ready to welcome Neillie's husband home as the Kid proposes to Brainy, deciding to settle down at last, though his methods might still not be quite so honest.

Overall, the movie is still really fun and very humorous, and perhaps it rightfully doesn't maintain its position as a holiday classic with its lack of a real Christmas theme, though the fact that the Kid sets up a home for homeless old women is very kind indeed. Still, it has the debut of "Silver Bells."

By the way, recognize Gloomy there?
That's William Frawley, famous as Frank in I Love Lucy, and yes, this makes him the first one to sing "Silver Bells" in the movie. (The Kid hums it earlier.)
 And recognize Nellie?
Jane Darwell would later come out of retirement to play the Bird Woman in Disney's Mary Poppins.

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