Bob Hope takes the lead in "The Lemon Drop Kid," an adaptation of a short story by Damon Runyon, famed author, newspaperman, and sports columnist. Runyon's works have been turned into a variety of films. "Guys and Dolls" was based on several of his stories while his "Little Miss Marker" was adapted several times. The first was in 1934 with Shirley Temple then again in 1949 as "Sorrowful Jones" with Hope and Lucille Ball. The latter film was directed by Sidney Lanfield who also happened to be at the helm for this film. "Lemon Drop Kid" was previously brought to the screen in 1934 with Lee Tracy in the lead. I have not seen the original, but by all accounts, it was a more faithful translation of Runyon's short story. This version of "Lemon Drop Kid" is a breezy blend of screwball comedy, holiday cheer, and old-fashioned values.
Hope stars as Sidney Melbourne, better known as the Lemon Drop Kid due to his predilection for the yellow candies. He's a slick, fast-talking huckster with a new money making scheme for every day of the week. We meet up with the Kid at a race track in Miami. The Kid is feeding gullible folks phony inside information in the hopes of getting a kickback from their potential winnings. One woman he has conned turns out to be the girlfriend of mob boss Moose Moran (Fred Clark). When the horse Kid touts comes in dead last, Moose gives him until Christmas to come up with the $10,000 now owed.
Lemon Drop makes his way from the sunny shores of Florida to the bitter winter of New York City. There, he tries to hit up old associates to raise the money he needs to pay Moose. He goes to another gangster named Oxford Charley (Lloyd Nolan) who turns him down flat. Kid's former flame, Brainy Baxter (Marilyn Maxwell), a showgirl in Charley's employ also turns him down. Kid finally comes up with a plan to get the dough when he runs into sweet-natured Nellie Thursday (Jane Darwell), a nice old lady being evicted from her apartment.
The Kid moves Nellie and other helpless, elderly women into an abandoned casino formerly run by Moose. He rechristens it the Nellie Thursday Home for Old Dolls and turns it into a licensed charity. The Kid gathers a team of fellow hustlers and low-level crooks, putting them out on the snowy streets as dime-store Santas to solicit for the cause. At first, the Kid is bent on taking the money and running, but a monkey wrench is thrown into the works when Oxford Charley wants in on the scam too.
Runyon was renowned for his unique writing style which employed old-timey slang and characters with colorful names. The latter is on display here as "The Lemon Drop Kid" is populated by supporting characters like Honest Harry, Straight Flush Tony, and Pickle Nose. The dialogue doesn't have that Runyon flavor to it and the plot is pretty thin. Honestly, the story is mainly there to serve Hope as he spouts a rapid succession of one-liners. Hope may not be the most nuanced actor, but he didn't need to be. You don't watch a Fred Astaire movie for his acting, you watch it for his dancing and you watch a Bob Hope movie for his quips.
Thankfully, the entire film isn't resting solely on Hope's shoulders. He gets some solid back-up from his co-stars, like the lovely Marilyn Maxwell and a pair of veterans in Jane Darwell and William Frawley. Darwell is probably best remembered as Ma Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath" and went on to work with Henry Fonda again in "The Ox-Bow Incident" and "My Darling Clementine." Frawley, who also happened to star in the 1934 "Lemon Drop Kid," plays an old curmudgeon by the name of Gloomy Willie, a role not too far removed from Fred Mertz. Also appearing is professional wrestler and Ed Wood player Tor Johnson as (what else?) a professional wrestler.
Hope performs a pair of duets with his leading lady, Maxwell, with the first being "It Doesn't Cost a Dime to Dream," a lullaby sung to the old lasses. The second is "Silver Bells," composed for the film by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. The song has gone on to become a Christmas staple.
The video is presented in its original fullscreen aspect ratio. "The Lemon Drop Kid" was previously released on DVD by BCI. I don't have that version on hand so I can't compare, but Shout has done a decent job with their transfer. The picture is a little soft at times and there's some noticeable grain. On the other hand, you won't find too much print damage.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. The audio is decent with dialogue coming in clearly.
When you think of Bob Hope movies, the first likely to spring to mind are the "Road To" films with Bing Crosby. Solo, "My Favorite Brunette" or "Son of Paleface." "The Lemon Drop Kid" isn't one of Bob Hope's best, but it's an easy-going affair helped by Hope's jokey charm and a little dash of slapstick humor.