Another Bob Hope Classic:
The Lemon Drop Kid
by John Wendt
Bob Hope's movies may not be
subtle in terms of laughs, but they are subtle in terms of law
and legal issues. As with the Son
of Paleface, the legal issues in The Lemon Drop Kid
are almost hidden in the backdrop in terms of laughter. With
The Lemon Drop Kid you have issues of: gambling; aliases;
debt collection; usury; mobsters; casinos, licenses to practice
medicine; creative accounting, tax issues, licenses for charities;
evictions, kidnapping, business organizations; and even gifts
given under duress.
remake of the 1934 film, this 1951 classic is based on a story
by Damon Runyon:
"This is a racetrack
in Florida, Damon Runyon frequented such racetracks, for it was
there that he met many of the people that he wrote about
trainers, jockeys, grooms, gamblers, pickpockets.
There are many sources from
which those who bet receive their information, about the horses,
Damon Runyon wrote about an interesting source of mis-information
called "The Lemon Drop Kid."
It's a story of the Lemon Drop
Kid (Bob Hope) stuck between the law and mobsters and a beautiful
girlfriend/fiancée. Hope plays a racetrack tout, Sidney
Melbourne that more often goes by the name of "The Lemon
Drop Kid" named after his love of the candy.
Living literally from tip to
tip, at the Florida track the Kid offers tips to rubes with the
promise that when "their" horse wins, they will return
the favor to the Kid in the form of a percentage of their winnings.
Of course, the Kid covers the entire field to cover his own
As one of his schemes he even
hides a lemon drop behind his ear so that it looks like a horse
is giving him a tip. When accosted by the local constabulary
the Kid tells them that even if was true that he was touting
it will tough for them to prove in court.
Cop: "C'mon, Kid. Let's
Kid: "Why? What am I
Cop: "Touting again."
Kid: (Pointing to the horse
that just ate the lemon drop from behind his ear) "Touting?
Cop: "Now listen, Kid.
We've seen you use some pretty wild schemes."
Kid: "Why? Is it a crime
that this horse has a sweet tooth for lemon drops?"
Cop: "Yeah, but you're
using it so that these crazy horse players will think the horse
is giving you a tip."
Kid: "Oh, you know it,
and I know it, and the horse knows it. But, it will sound pretty
peculiar in court."
However, the Kid is soon in
bigger trouble when he mistakenly gives a bad tip ("bet
on Lightning Streak") to Stella (Andrea King) the moll of
mobster Moose Moran (Fred Clark). Of course, Lightning Streak
literally walks in last and Ironbar, Moose's original bet, wins.
The Kid runs to the cops to
arrest him to keep him from Moose, but the local cops say:
Kid: "Put me in jail!
Please put me in jail!"
Cop: "Are you kidding?
What kind of new racket is this? Are you trying to make chumps
out of us?"
Kid: "Well, I'm a citizen.
I pay taxes. I've got a right to be put in jail! Slap them
(handcuffs) on me
Now, I just touted Moose Moran by
mistake. I touted him off a winner. He'll kill me!"
Cop: "Well, you know it
and we know it and Moose Moran knows it. But, it will sound
very peculiar in court."
Moose's thugs grab the Kid
and Moose wants him to pay up $10,000 even though the bet was
Kid: "10 Grand! But
I thought you only lost 2."
Moose: "Yeah, but the
horse won! He would have paid me 10 Grand."
Moose: "It's not the
money. I just don't like having all the smart guys get the laugh
Moose introduces the Kid to
one of his special thugs, who specializes in taking things out
of people, Sam the Surgeon (Harry Bellaver).
Kid: (to Sam) "Are you
a genuine doctor?"
Sam: "Practically. Would
have graduated if I didn't drop a forward pass my senior year."
(A comment on intercollegiate athletics?)
The Kid stalls for some time
and Moose gives the Kid until Christmas to pay back the money
he lost or Sam the Surgeon will "open" the Kid for
Kid: "It's all the same
to you whether Sam kills me now or doesn't open me 'til Christmas.
And if I get the money you're 10 Grand ahead. You see, Moose,
picking up 10 Grand will be fun for you and killing me will be
Moose: "Dead, I write
10 Grand off the books. Alive, a possible asset."
Sam: "What if he runs
Moose: "We'll find him."
Kid: "Yeah, I hear you
can find people so good that after you find them nobody else
can find them."
Moose: "Kid, I've got
some property in Long Island, a casino."
Kid: "Oh, I know the
place. They closed it down for repairs. The roulette wheel
started paying off."
Moose: " I'm coming up
north to peddle it. You have the money for me Christmas Eve
or Christmas morning you'll find your head in your stocking."
With only weeks until Christmas
the Kid flees to New York and sees various Santa Clauses on the
corners raising money. The Kid dons a Santa costume to raise
money to save a life, namely his own. Busted by the police for
panhandling he is hauled into court where the bailiff calls.
"Sidney Melbourne, Sidney Melbourne." The Kid has
been using his alias so long that he doesn't even recognize his
Kid: "Panhandling! I
was standing on a corner with my bell and kettle like hundred
of other everyday, average, American Santies."
Judge: "You were collecting
money for your own personal gain. Those other men are working
for charity. It's an organized charity and has a city license."
In court he also sees his old
friend Nellie Thursday (Jane Darwell) who is being taken to court
for nonpayment of rent and now being evicted. Nellie can't get
into an old folks home because her husband, (Henry, Sing Sing,
Class of '31 and the greatest little safecracker) is a con.
And after 20 years he's being paroled on Christmas Eve
on bail by his fiancée, Brainey (Marilyn Maxwell) so that
they can get married, the Kid again buys some time because he
comes up with just the right scam - Christmas Collections for
a legitimate charity, the "Nellie Thursday Home for Old
Dolls." The home is located in Moose Moran's closed casino.
When Sam the Surgeon pays the
Kid a visit, the Kid reveals his true intentions, i.e. to make
off with the donations and pay off his debt to Moose.
Kid: "You know Nellie
Thursday. She's in here. She's got no place to live. She tried
to get into an old folks home, but they wouldn't take her on
account of her husband's an ex-con. Now, here's the idea. I
borrow Moose's casino. I pretend it's an old folks home. I
stick Nellie in there with a bunch of old dolls. With them in
Now, this part is kind of tough, but I figure if I can
work it out I can pop the city into giving me a license to collect
for charity. I further figure I can get every mug on Broadway
to help me do the collecting. They all love Nellie. She's such
a grand, old doll."
Sam: "You're trying to
unload a mob of old dolls on Moose's casino?"
Kid: "Shhh! It's only
until Christmas Eve. By then I've collected enough to pay off
Sam: "This is the most
legal double cross I've ever heard. But, what happens to the
old dolls after Christmas Eve?"
Kid: "Oh well. Can I
help it if suddenly the collection money gets lost and the old
dolls can't afford to stay in the casino? Moose will have the
dough and I'll be in the clear."
Sam: "You're doing to
dump all those nice old ladies out on the street at Christmas
time! I wouldn't do that to my own mother."
Kid: "Any bookie in town
would give you 3 to 1."
The Kid and his friends bring
Nellie Thursday to her new home in Moose's casino and the place
that used to be for swells now has the motto that "Any broken
old doll on Broadway is welcome."
Brainey: "You remember
Kid: "Singing Solly's
Brainey: "Singing Solly
Kid: "Yeah, she'd be
much happier here. It always a strain on a marriage - a married
couple with a mother."
Mrs. Baumgarden: "Yeah,
but it was my house!"
The Kid enlists some pals to hit the street corners of New York
dressed as Santas accepting donations for Nellie Thursday's Home.
Only Damon Runyon could come up with characters such as Straight
Flush (Jay C. Flippen), Gloomy Willie (William Frawley), Little
Louie (Sid Melton), Singing Solly (Ben Welden), Goomba (Charles
Cooley), Super Swedish Angel (Tor Johnson), No Thumbs Charlie
(Tom Dugan) and, of course, Society Kid Hogan played by -- Society
Society Kid: "I thought
I was supposed to be Santy Clause"
Kid: "Santy Clause -
Kris Kringle - St. Nick. It's all the same guy!"
Society Kid: "Oh, I get
it! He don't give his right name, either!"
Gloomy (William Frawley), as
one of the street corner Santas, probably has the best line of
the movie. A little girl asks him (as Santa) if he is coming
to her house and, "Are you going to bring a doll?"
Gloomy says, "No, my doll's working Christmas Eve."
Another highlight of the film
is the classic Christmas song, Silver Bells. Gloomy has his
"Silver Bells, Silver Bells.
Let's put some dough in the kitty.
Chunk it in, Chunk it in,
Or Santy will give you a mickey
In the meantime, Brainey's
boss, Oxford Charlie (Lloyd Nolan wearing size 14AAAA Oxfords)
has decided to muscle into the racket. Oxford Charlie has income
tax problems of his own and owes the government over $31,000.
("You mean to say all that dough I pay for protection ain't
deductible!) He also finds out that collecting is big money
and kidnaps Nellie, Brainey and the old dolls. "I know
that the license is made out to the 'Nellie Thursday Home.'
So I figure wherever Nellie Thursday is, that's 'The Nellie Thursday
Nellie escapes from Oxford
Charlie and the Kid sees her trying to hock her wedding ring
to raise some money for Henry. The Kid has seen the error of
his ways and sets a trap at the casino/old dolls home for Moose
and Oxford Charlie. Moose gets arrested for operating a gambling
joint and Oxford Charlie for trying to run away with the charity
Ever the touter, the Kid thanks
Judge: "And I'm going
to keep an eye on you, Mr. Melbourne."
Kid: "You won't have
to, Judge. I'm turning over a new leaf. I'll never be caught
again! Say, thanks for everything, Judge. If you ever want
a winner, just call me."
So, in the end, the old dolls,
Nellie and Henry get the home (with a built in safe for Henry),
the bad guys go to jail and Kid gets the girl.
Often when looking at law and
the underworld, Fritz Lang's classic M is the still the
film to be dissected and examined, but there is a role for comedy
and the law and that's what you have with The Lemon Drop Kid,
a true comedy classic.
Posted September 4, 2003