Each year the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar takes a look at the perhaps lesser-known Christmas films. The ones that we don’t make a point of re-watching each year as festive tradition. With that in mind this year the Calendar, with slight inspiration from last year’s selection of The Curse Of The Cat People, delves into the world of forgotten classics, the ones that may have been slightly left behind in exchange for the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life and The Bishop’s Wife.
After spending Christmas at home and in the workplace let’s take a further shift with this year’s calendar as we look at the spread of festive goodwill in the open streets in 1951’s The Lemon Drop Kid.
As Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell strolled through the busy, snow-covered New York City streets, past various false-bearded charity collectors, singing Silver Bells I found myself feeling a sense of Christmas spirit that I haven’t felt for a long, long time. The scene coincidentally occurred just as midnight of December 1st had arrived – perhaps boosting the effect of the moment. It comes in a moment of calm where everything appears to be going right for Hope’s titular Lemon Drop Kid (although ‘Kid’ might not always fit Hope’s lemon-drop-lacking Sidney Milburn, especially as he was nearing 50 towards the release of this film). In fact, the successful charity collectors are largely collecting for him. Under the guise of raising money for an old people’s home, Milburn is secretly trying to collect the thousands of dollars he owes to a local gangster (Fred Clark) who he caused to bet on the wrong horse in the build up to Christmas.
Already owing money to various other figures Milburn assembles a team to go along with his scheme so that he’ll have what he needs before his Christmas deadline. However, as more figures are brought in to the piece, mostly in aide of helping a local old woman they all appear to have a connection to (Jane Darwell). The kind-hearted spirit of seasonal helpfulness increases and runs rife throughout the film as a bigger effort is put in and the money shifts from being raised for Sidney’s scheme to actually being used for the retirement home that everyone has their hearts put into – named after their mutual connection, The Nellie Thursday Home For Old Dolls.
In general the film increases and spreads the Christmas spirit it holds as it travels along its path. Through the humour that comes from the efforts of Hope’s character, as his heart too becomes set on more charitable causes, and the work other characters are, initially with suspicion for what the Kid really wants, putting in there’s plenty to get hooked on in terms of festive cheer and warmth. It’s certainly a film to take you by surprise when going in to it, particularly if you know nothing about it. All simply adding to the overall tone, style and feeling as an unlikely group comes together to dress as Santa, ring bells, sing carols and raise money for those in need. It’s perhaps a traditional Christmas path and theme now, but it’s still effectively put together throughout The Lemon Drop Kid. Maybe it’s down to Hope’s central performance, and maybe it’s just the increase air of festivity and goodwill throughout. Either way, there’s a sense of warmth to the film that catches you up in its lack of cynicism, without feeling overly tacky or sentimental.
The Lemon Drop Kid can be found in the following places:
Or, you might have a physical copy of the film available to watch. To see if there are any other places to watch the film, and to see where it’s available to buy, rent or stream in your country, it’s always best to take a look at the film on JustWatch.