Damon Runyon and Bob Hope make a terrific combination in The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). Based very loosely on a short story by Damon Runyon, the film is filled with the usual Runyon collection of colorful and humorous, unlike crooks in real life, gangsters. Hope takes center stage as the Lemon Drop Kid, a cowardly and incompetent, in other words the personae Hope normally assumed in his film comedies of this period, racetrack tout. He dreams up a scam involving the establishment of an old age home for old gangster wives and molls in order to pay off gangster Moose Moran the $10,000.00 he owes him, and to escape Moose having surgery performed upon him sans anesthesia. In the end, nobler sentiments stir within him, and Hope foils the gangsters, saves the old age home and stages an affecting reunion on Christmas eve between an elderly gangster released from prison and his wife, Nellie Thursday, after whom the old age home is named. Hope is ably supported by a superb cast including Lloyd Nolan, William Frawley and Marilyn Maxwell. The song Silver Bells featured in the video clip at the beginning of this post, which has become a Christmas favorite, made its debut in this film.
What would Christmas be without Devil’s Island and escaped convicts? This is probably a Christmas movie to avoid unless, like me, you are blessed\cursed with a quirky sense of humor. On Christmas Eve 1895, three escaped convicts from Devil’s Island, portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray, fall in with a family who run a store. Initially planning on robbing and murdering them, the convicts instead end up helping the family and by the conclusion of the film decide to return to prison to serve out their sentences. Hearing the plot, I am sure you are aware that a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is required while watching the film.
John Wayne in a Christmas movie? Yep, The Three Godfathers in 1948! Another fruitful John Ford and John Wayne collaboration, the film was released in December 1948. Three bank robbers, John Wayne, Pedro Armedariz and Harry Carey, Jr., stumble across a dying woman and her newborn son in a desert in the American Southwest. The three outlaws, although they are attempting to elude a posse, promise the dying woman to look after her son.
As we get closer to Christmas I am going to do a few posts on some of the more obscure Christmas movies I have enjoyed. First up is The Bishop’s Wife from 1947. David Niven is an Episcopalian Bishop of a struggling diocese; Loretta Young (ironically one of the more devout Catholics in the Hollywood of her time) is his wife; and Cary Grant is Dudley, one of the more unimportant angels in Heaven, sent by God to lend the Bishop a hand. The film is a graceful comedy which effectively and quietly underlines the central importance of faith in God as we see in this little scene:
The film is a gem and it is a joy to watch at Christmas time.