We’re here now for The 2nd Happy Holidays Blogathon, hosted by Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, and to celebrate the holidays, we’ve got double the fun! First, we have the classic Disney short Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952), and then we’ve got our main feature, the 1951 Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell comedy The Lemon Drop Kid!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952)
(Available to stream on Disney+)
(Length: 6 minutes, 56 seconds)
Mickey and Pluto bring home a Christmas tree. Unbeknownst to them, Chip and Dale are living in that tree, and proceed to cause trouble for Pluto. As a fan of Chip and Dale, I can tell you right now I’ve seen this one many a time, and it never gets old! Their antics as they go up against Pluto never fail to bring a smile to my face (admittedly, I prefer their other Christmas short, Toy Tinkers with Donald Duck, but this one is still fun)! And, the quick cameo for some of the other big Disney characters at the end (Minnie, Donald and Goofy) brings the whole gang together! Seriously, while this may be one of the later Walt-era cartoon shorts, it still goes to show that they were still great!
And Now For The Main Feature…
(The Kid): “St. Nick don’t smoke.”
(Santa Claus in line): “I thought I was supposed to be Santy Claus.”
(The Kid): “Santy Claus, Kris Kringle, St. Nick, it’s all the same guy.”
(Santa Claus in line): “Oh, I get it. He don’t give his right name either.”
(The Kid): “Oh, now that’s sweet, you’re going to do a big business.”
(The Kid pulls a bottle out of Gloomy’s Santa suit)
(Gloomy): “Well, it’s cold out there in the street.”
(The Kid): “Santy Claus don’t drink.”
(Gloomy): “Oh no? Well, how come he’s always falling down chimneys?”
(Host): Now that we’re done looking at the Santa Claus legend from a few different “viewpoints,” let’s talk about the movie. In 1949, Bob Hope had made Sorrowful Jones, a movie based on a Damon Runyan story. With his role well-received by audiences and critics, he looked for another Damon Runyan story to do and chose the short story “The Lemon Drop Kid.” For the movie, he went with his director from Sorrowful Jones, Syndey Lanfield, but got involved in the production himself as usual. After seeing the director’s cut of the movie, Hope thought something wasn’t quite right, and he convinced Paramount to hire Frank Tashlin to do rewrites (although he only agreed to do it if he could direct the retakes, which they consented to). But, enough about the film’s background. I’ll hand it over to the narrator to tell the story!
(Sounds of horses’ hooves in the background. Narrator stands with binoculars looking out at the audience.)
(Narrator): “Annnnnd it’s Hogwash in front, Applejack second by a neck. They’re coming into the stretch. It’s Hogwash and Applejack. C’mon, Applejack!” (Note: for the benefit of my reading audience, I’m borrowing this quote from the 1962 Foghorn Leghorn cartoon The Slick Chick, since it seems appropriate for the situation)
(Narrator): Huh? What? Oh, right. The plot description. Can’t we do that later? I’m in the middle of a good race here!
(Host): Okay, you’ve had enough. You better get started for New York City, and we’ll have you pick up the story from there, while I start with the events in Florida.
(Narrator): Oh, fine. (leaves the stage)
(Host): (mumbles under breath so as not to be heard) And be sure to dress warm, it’s cold up there! (Normal voice). We’re at a racetrack in Florida. Sidney Milburn, otherwise known to all as “The Lemon Drop Kid” (Bob Hope), is touting, trying to fool some gamblers into parting with their potential winnings, by trying to get at least somebody cheering for (and betting on) every horse in the race. All is looking good until he spies a woman about to make a $2000 bet. He persuades her to choose a different horse than the one she was planning on, but, once the race starts, he learns that she is the girlfriend of mobster Moose Moran (Fred Clark) and was making a bet for him. When the horse loses (and the one Moose had tried to bet on wins), some of Moose’s thugs bring the Kid to see Moose. Moose is indeed quite angry at having lost $10,000 (the amount he would have been paid since the horse he had wanted to bet on won the race), and threatens to have one of his goons, Sam the Surgeon (Harry Bellaver), kill off the Kid. Thinking fast, the Kid says that he can get the money for Moose if he had until Christmas. Moose decides to let him try, but reminds him that he can’t get away. So, off the Kid heads for New York City.
(Host runs off the stage in a cartoonish fashion, leaving behind a puff of smoke)
(In blows a cold wind, a regular blizzard, with the narrator walking through, wearing winter gear)
(Narrator): You thought I wouldn’t be prepared, didn’t you? Well, I heard him, so there!
(Host): (from offstage) Darn it!
(Narrator): Anyways, back to the story. In New York City, they’re getting hit with a big blizzard, and yet the Kid is still wearing the same outfit he was wearing in Florida (unlike me). He runs into his friend, Nellie Thursday (Jane Darwell), who is having money troubles of her own with her landlord demanding his rent. He learns from Nellie that her husband Henry will soon be released from jail, but she won’t have a place for them to stay, as the old folks homes she had applied to turned them down on account of Henry being an ex-con. Moving on, the Kid makes his way to the apartment of his girlfriend, Brainey Baxter (Marilyn Maxwell). She’s still a little mad at him for conning her out of a fur coat before he left for Florida, but he works on her sympathies and gets some money to get a “marriage license” (although he really wants the money so he can gets his winter clothes out of hock). Once he gets his winter outfit, he goes to see Brainey’s boss, nightclub owner and mobster Oxford Charlie (Lloyd Nolan) to get the money to pay Moose, but he is turned down. As he leaves the nightclub, the Kid sees a Santa Claus collecting money for charity, and decides to do the same thing himself. However, he is quickly arrested by a cop and charged with panhandling.
(The Kid): “That judge didn’t look honest to me.”
(Policeman): “For eighteen years, he’s been a member of the bar”
(The Kid): “That’s what I mean, drinking on duty.”
(Host): (Walking back onstage) Don’t worry, everyone. In spite of the Kid’s opinions, that judge was quite sober (and honest) when he sentenced the Kid to ten days in jail (since he couldn’t pay the fine). On his way to his cell, he runs into Nellie, who has been arrested for trying to take her husband’s picture out of her room after she was evicted by her landlord.
(Narrator): Hey, I thought I was telling this part of the story! Anyways, while in jail, the Kid gets an idea on how he can get the $10,000 together. Brainey soon bails him out, and threatens to take him to get a marriage license, but he detours her while he gets together a group of other con men. His plan is to put together a “home for old dolls” as he puts it, for Nellie to live in when her husband is released. They get together a few other homeless older women from around Broadway, and are there to welcome Nellie when she gets out of jail. Afterwards, the Kid gathers all the men together in their new Santa suits to collect the money to help “fund the old dolls home” (but they don’t know the Kid’s real reason for trying to collect the money).
(Host): And this takes us to one of my favorite moments in the whole movie: the song “Silver Bells.” It surprised me to learn that this was one of the moments that was changed by Frank Tashlin. According to TCM, director Sydney Lanfield had staged it in an empty casino with all the cast members standing together, almost as if they were a choir. That was a scene that Bob Hope didn’t like, and it was restaged by Tashlin on the city streets, with Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell walking the streets singing it. For me, it’s a scene that has stuck with me. For a while, I actually preferred this moment to the song “White Christmas,” as I used to have this scene on repeat on DVD (mostly around this time of the year) while I worked on homework back when I was in high school and college. While I don’t like it quite as much as I did then, it’s still one of the better scenes in the movie, and one I always look forward to watching (not to mention watching all the con men trying to raise money in their Santa suits in the lead-up to the song).
(Narrator): Yes, indeed. A wonderful song. Getting back to the story, Brainey decides to quit her job in Oxford Charlie’s nightclub for a while to devote more time to helping out at the home. As she leaves, she tells Oxford Charlie how much money they had raised in such a short time. Putting two and two together, he gets his own idea. Figuring that wherever Nellie Thursday lives is where the “Nellie Thursday Home For Old Dolls” is (and therefore, the place that will get the money collected), Oxford Charlie has his men kidnap the old ladies and Brainey and has them brought to his mansion. When the Kid finds out that everyone was kidnapped, he and a few of the guys go over to get them back, but Oxford Charlie reveals the Kid’s reason for collecting the money to everybody (all while the Kid sneaks away to avoid being pummeled by the other con men). With Christmas fast approaching, will the Kid have a change of heart (and find a way to help everyone out), or will he taken apart by Sam the Surgeon?
(Host): In between the previously mentioned song “Silver Bells” and the story’s Christmas Eve deadline, there is no doubt about this movie’s qualifications as a Christmas film! I know I enjoy watching this movie around Christmastime, with Bob Hope’s antics and quips continuing to make me laugh every time I watch it! I’ll admit, his cross-dressing gag near the end of the film is probably a bit dated at this point, but he still does it in such a way as to have me laughing the whole time (even with the rear screen projection during the brief period he is riding a bicycle)! The rest of the cast is pretty good, too, with Fred Clark as a tough gangster, who certainly makes you think twice about crossing him, Jane Darwell who garners sympathy for her character as she tries to survive and get ready for her husband’s upcoming release from prison, plus William Frawley as one of the more prominent crooks conned into helping out as one of the Santas out collecting for the home. But, as I said, this film’s rendition of “Silver Bells” is one of the film’s best and most touching moments, easily making the movie worth seeing just for that alone! But, yes, I certainly enjoy and recommend the rest of the movie, too!
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
And if you are interested in joining in on my month-long “Star Of The Month” blogathons for 2021, whether for next month (Doris Day), February (Clark Gable) or beyond, please be sure to check out my Coming Soon In 2021: “Star/Genre Of The Month” Blogathons post to sign up!
Film Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
(original review of The Paleface) (update) – Bob Hope – My Favorite Spy (1951)
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