Skip to main content

Now, don’t look like you’re handling hot reindeer.

The Lemon Drop Kid
(1951)

(SPOILERS) That ghastly poster (the one at the foot of the page) makes it a wonder anyone actually saw The Lemon Drop Kid, a remake of the 1934 movie of the same name – kind of, in that it was also based on the Damon Runyon short story – but this time reconditioned for Bob Hope. Hope is generally reviled these days, largely based on his later period of very resistible stand-up/Republican cheerleading/USO-ing unsuspecting troops and compering gigs like the Oscars – and for other, less widely broadcast reasons I shall mention tangentially – but there was a golden period, around 1939 to 1952 when he was consistently appearing in some of the quippiest, meta-est comedies around. The Lemon Drop Kid isn’t quite one of those, casting Hope as the small-time swindler who does the right thing in the end – it’s Christmas! – but it definitely has its moments.

Sidney: Santa Claus doesn’t drink.
Gloomy Willie: Oh no? Well, how come he’s always falling down chimneys?

Hope was reaching the end of his movie star run here, though. 1952 would be his last gasp, with Road to Bali and Son of Paleface. Which was directed by Frank Tashlin, latterly a Lewis mainstay who contributed both the screenplay and uncredited direction to The Lemon Drop Kid. Son of Paleface is given as one of the Top Ten of its year, but there was no danger of that happening again.

Sidney: That judge didn’t look honest to me.
Cop: For eighteen years, he’s been a member of the bar.
Sidney: That’s what I mean, drinking on duty.

Hope would drop off the generational radar in the ’60s, except as a figure of scorn, out of touch with the new generation and increasingly despised for his pro-military stance. Perhaps his suggested MKUltra activities – as an “Illuminati pimp” – were also an underlying source of animus. He was known as a serial womaniser, so such skills would undoubtedly come in handy there. And he played golf with Presidents; you need more than just a strong follow-through if you’re going to mingle in such circles.

The Lemon Drop Kid finds Hope’s titular character (real name: Sidney Melbourne) offering the final glassy stare of a master hypnotist as he tells bride-to-be Brainey Baxer (Marilyn Maxwell) “Relax, I have everything planned”. Somehow, Hope was still getting regular starring gigs until the end of the ’60s, despite profound audience disinterest, which may have been testament to the influence he exerted.

Gloomy Willie: You’re going to dump all those nice old ladies out on the street at Christmas time? I wouldn’t do that to my own mother.

In The Lemon Drop Kid, he’s only a couple of years shy of fifty, and that once snappy patter – an inspiration for the also no-longer-reputably-rated Woody Allen – is less vibrant than it had been (another decade on, and see how tired Road to Hong Kong is). Sidney’s mainly known by “the Kid” here, getting in over his head after he cons the wrong gal betting on the horses, whose money belongs to gangster Moose Moran (Fred Clark). Owing $10,000, he persuades Moose to give him until Christmas to get the money together.

Returning to a very blizzardy New York – he steals a body warmer from a dachshund – an initial scheme to pose as a Santa and collect donations (for himself) flounders after he is nicked for “collecting money for charity without a licence”. However, this gives him the idea for setting up a “genuine” charity, the “Nellie Thursday Home for Old Dolls” (Nellie, Jane Darwell, being an old acquaintance, whose hubby is in the clink, so denying her access to an old folks’ home). Naturally, the Kid doesn’t plan to see the scheme through, but enough neighbourhood hoodlums have a high regard for Nellie that they join him in his mission. Along with old flame Brainey.

Everything appears to be going swimmingly until Oxford Charlie – “Communist!” snarls the Kid after Charlie turns down a request for financial assistance – decides to muscle in on the Kid’s territory, kidnapping Nellie from Moose’s casino (which the Kid is using for the home). Naturally, all works out in the end; the Kid dons drag, posing as Mrs Herbert Beesly, and enters the home to steal back the cash; when Moose and Charlie are arrested, and the judge promises to keep an eye on him, the Kid replies “You don’t have to, judge. I’m turning over a new leaf. I’ll never be caught again”.

Gloomy Willie: Well, what’s a cow doing inside the house?
Sidney: Milton Berle’s on tonight.

There’s a smattering of the kind of one-liners you’re used to from Hope, but without the consistency of previous fare. In court, asked where his lawyer is, the Kid replies that he’s in Washington “trying to fix a parking ticket for President Truman” (I’m not sure on the topical relevance; Truman did avoid a speeding ticket a couple of years later, though). Interrupted by a mooing cow in the last scene, he instructs “Quiet, Crosby”. And while there are elements of the cowardly, shameless Hope character, they’re somewhat soft-pedalled on this occasion: “Riff-raff” he snarls after being greeted with jeers in the cells (“Santy Claus hasn’t been a good boy this year”).

Cab Driver: Mother, you don’t have to tip me.
Sidney (as Mrs Herbert Beesly): No? Well, here, have a cigar.

There are also a few of the traditional sleights at his character’s expense (but no Fourth-Wall breaking): “He’s as big a hoodlum as the Lemon Drop Kid!” says an old lady of Charlie, much to Mrs Beesly’s affront. And then, in the tradition of giving others the best lines: “You still have your hourglass figure, dear. But most of the sand has gone to the bottom”.

Sidney: Adjust boots, bellies and beards.

As seasonal comedies go, The Lemon Drop Kid does the job, but rather like the later Scrooged, it doesn’t find its star on peak form (thankfully, there’s none of the horrifying mawkish gush that afflicts Bill Murray in that picture’s final minutes, though). The Lemon Drop Kid is also notable for the first celebrated appearance of Silver Bells – allegedly changed from Tinkle Bells because it might be considered an allusion to taking a whizz – albeit, Crosby’s croon with Carol Richards became a success between filming and release, necessitating reshoots of a grander musical number in order to capitalise. None of the proceeds going to the Nellie Thursday Home for Old Dolls.


Popular posts from this blog

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

You ruined every suck-my-silky-ass thing!

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) (SPOILERS) Warner Bros has been here before. Déjà vu? What happens when you let a filmmaker do whatever they want? And I don’t mean in the manner of Netflix. No, in the sequel sense. You get a Gremlins 2: The New Batch (a classic, obviously, but not one that financially furthered a franchise). And conversely, when you simply cash in on a brand, consequences be damned? Exorcist II: The Heretic speaks for itself. So in the case of The Matrix Resurrections – not far from as meta as The New Batch , but much less irreverent – when Thomas “Tom” Anderson, designer of globally successful gaming trilogy The Matrix , is told “ Our beloved company, Warner Bros, has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy ” and it’s going ahead “with or without us”, you can be fairly sure this is the gospel. That Lana, now going it alone, decided it was better to “make the best of it” than let her baby be sullied. Of course, quite what that amounts to in the case of a movie(s) tha

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018) (SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless  Heat  rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but  Den of Thieves  is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

It’s always possible to find a good moral reason for killing anybody.

The Assassination Bureau (1969) (SPOILERS) The Assassination Bureau ought to be a great movie. You can see its influence on those who either think it is a great movie, or want to produce something that fulfils its potential. Alan Moore and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen . The just-released (and just-flopped) The King’s Men . It inhabits a post-Avengers, self-consciously benign rehearsal of, and ambivalence towards, Empire manners and attitudes, something that could previously be seen that decade in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (and sequel Monte Carlo or Bust , also 1969), Adam Adamant Lives! , and even earlier with Kind Hearts and Coronets , whilst also feeding into that “Peacock Revolution” of Edwardian/Victorian fashion refurbishment. Unfortunately, though, it lacks the pop-stylistic savvy that made, say, The President’s Analyst so vivacious.

This guy’s armed with a hairdryer.

An Innocent Man (1989) (SPOILERS) Was it a chicken-and-egg thing with Tom Selleck and movies? Did he consistently end up in ropey pictures because other, bigger big-screen stars had first dibs on the good stuff? Or was it because he was a resolutely small-screen guy with limited range and zero good taste? Selleck had about half-a-dozen cinema outings during the 1980s, one of which, the very TV, very Touchstone Three Men and a Baby was a hit, but couldn’t be put wholly down to him. The final one was An Innocent Man , where he attempted to show some grit and mettle, as nice-guy Tom is framed and has to get tough to survive. Unfortunately, it’s another big-screen TV movie.