The Lemon Drop Kid: Bob Hope's Best Christmas Film

The Lemon Drop Kid. (LMPC via Getty Images)

Comedian, actor, and singer Bob Hope was a holiday fixture, with his annual Christmas television specials and numerous U.S.O. tours for American troops serving overseas, but he also starred in an underrated Christmas film in 1951. The Lemon Drop Kid made "Silver Bells" a Christmas classic and cemented Hope's position as the king of Christmas.

Adaptations And Remakes

The Lemon Drop Kid was based on a short story by Damon Runyon, but the 1951 movie bears little resemblance to the original story, really only retaining the title character's love for sour candies. An adaptation starring Lee Tracy was previously released in 1934, and William Frawley (famous for playing Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy) appeared in both films.

The Lemon Drop Kid. (Paramount Pictures)

The Lemon Drop Kid

The Lemon Drop Kid follows the predicament of the Kid, a small-time con man who ends up owing a lot of money to a big-time gangster. He fails to borrow money from his sometimes girlfriend and her boss, but then he notices a man dressed as Santa ringing a bell on the street corner. The Kid dons a Santa suit and tries to solicit donations himself but gets busted by the cops.

A few days in jail give the Kid time to develop a con. He sets up a fake charity named after an elderly woman in the neighborhood who was refused admission to an old folks' home and claims to be raising funds to open his own home for the elderly that accepts everyone. He hypes his new "charity" to all his petty criminal buddies, and soon, they flood the streets of New York City, wearing Santa suits, carrying donation buckets, and raking in the money. They don't realize the donations will really be used to pay back the mobster (and neither does his girlfriend).

Of course, the ruse is discovered, but the spirit of Christmas works its magic. The Kid turns his home for the elderly into a casino (with the elderly filling up all the gambling tables), a well-timed police raid takes care of the gangster and a few other villains, and the Kid strikes a deal with the judge to avoid jail time by going straight and focusing all his efforts on making the home a reality. Oh, and he gets the girl.

The Lemon Drop Kid. (Paramount Pictures)

"Silver Bells"

The Christmas song "Silver Bells" was written for The Lemon Drop Kid, sung by Hope and costar Marilyn Maxwell, who later often performed the tune during U.S.O. concerts. In fact, Hope adopted "Silver Bells" as his signature Christmas song. The song was originally named "Tinkle Bells," but during rehearsals, one of the producers' wives pointed out that "tinkle" is a euphemism for urination.

An Uncredited Director

The Lemon Drop Kid was directed by Sidney Lanfield, who had worked with Hope on five earlier films, but after production wrapped, Hope was unsatisfied with the scene featuring "Silver Bells" and contacted gag writer Frank Tashlin to discuss restaging the scene as the film's centerpiece. The end result was an elaborate new sequence that added needed polish to The Lemon Drop Kid, turned "Silver Bells" into a classic Christmas song, and launched Tashlin's career as a director, although he was not credited in the film. It also ended Hope's working relationship with Lanfield.