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  Lemon Drop Kid, The A Time for Giving
Year: 1951
Director: Sidney Lanfield, Frank Tashlin
Stars: Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, Jane Darwell, Andrea King, Fred Clark, Jay C. Flippen, William Frawley, Harry Bellaver, Sid Melton, Ben Weldon, Ida Moore, Francis Pierlot, Charley Cooley, Tor Johnson
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Small-time con man the Lemon Drop Kid (Bob Hope) lands in hot water when he gives a bad horse-racing tip to the girlfriend of mobster Moose Moran (Fred Clark). When the horse loses, Moose gives the Kid till Christmas to pay back the money he lost or his thugs will tear him apart. Searching frantically for a fast way to make big money, the Kid hatches an outrageous scam involving a phoney home for old ladies and some pals in Santa suits collecting for a bogus charity. After all, Christmas is the time of giving to the needy and the Kid figures no-one is more deserving than himself.

Author Damon Runyon’s comical crime stories of streetwise guys and dolls were unique in combining cynicism with sentimentality. His work was well served by the movies including the Frank Capra classic Lady for a Day (1933), several versions of Little Miss Marker beginning with the 1934 film that made Shirley Temple a star and most famously the spectacular musical Guys and Dolls (1955). Paramount studios had adapted Runyon’s short story The Lemon Drop Kid back in 1934 - interestingly, supporting actor William Frawley appeared in both versions as different characters - before Bob Hope latched onto this as his second Runyon movie after Sorrowful Jones (1949) proved such a big hit. Like the earlier film this was also directed by Sidney Lanfield, who helmed several vehicles for the great comedian including My Favourite Blonde (1942), Let’s Face It (1943) and Where There’s Life (1947) although it is worth pointing out that he was also responsible for pairing Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce for the first time as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939).

However, at Bob Hope’s request Paramount hired Frank Tashlin to bolster the gag quotient with additional scenes. In his first live action directorial work Tashlin stages some fast-motion slapstick along with a mildly saucy sight gag with a nude mannequin and a mechanical Santa that evoke his animation background. The pair extended these cartoon sensibilities when they re-teamed the following year for one of Hope’s funniest films: Son of Paleface (1952). Tashlin also directed the most famous among the film’s handful of musical sequences, in which Hope and love interest Marilyn Maxwell (allegedly off-screen as well as on) stroll through the snowy streets of New York singing that yuletide standard “Silver Bells.” Strangely derided today, both song and sequence are really quite charming and went on to be a big hit for none other than Hope’s frequent sparring partner: Bing Crosby. The sequence underlines The Lemon Drop Kid’s status as one of the more idiosyncratic Christmas movies, capturing the spirit of the season through its tale of redemption yet retaining enough grit to sidestep the saccharine.

First glimpsed getting a racing tip literally straight from the horse’s mouth (“Thanks baby, take two carrots from the petty cash”), quip-master Hope takes to the Runyon-esque rapid patter like a duck to water. The opening scene alone wherein the Kid effortlessly cons a succession of gullible marks by adopting different personae proves Hope was far more gifted an actor than many acknowledged at the time. Co-star Marilyn Maxwell ably holds her own as the well-scripted, feisty if long suffering squeeze, Brainey Baxter. Love those names. Keep an eye out also for Ed Wood regular Tor Johnson as - what else? - but a Swedish wrestler. In keeping with Runyon’s offbeat combination of hard-boiled with soft-centred, the plot exhibits compassion for the downtrodden and disenfranchised of New York through the character of Nellie Thursday (Jane Darwell), an old lady evicted from her home whom the Kid cynically latches onto as the perfect front for his charity scam. As a Runyan adaptation this is admittedly less faithful than the 1934 film and the Kid’s climactic conversion is less convincing (“I’m turning over a new leaf, I’ll never be caught again”) but the gags are routinely hilarious including Hope on the run disguised as a little old lady being rescued by a helpful boy scout.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Frank Tashlin  (1913 - 1972)

American director whose films were heavily influenced by his years spent working in cartoons. In his 20s and 30s, Tashlin worked at both Disney and Warner Brothers in their animation studios, before moving into comedy scriptwriting in the late 1940s, on films like Bob Hope's The Paleface. Tashlin moved into directing popular live-action comedies soon after, with Hope in Son of Paleface, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, and most notably Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? These films were full of inventive, sometimes surreal touches, and used many of the techniques Tashlin had learnt as an animator. Continued to work during the sixties, but without the success of the previous decade.

 
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