Picturing Justice, the On-Line Journal of Law and Popular Culture

John Wendt
teaches Sports and Entertainment Law and Business Law and is the MBA Director for Sports and Entertainment Management at the University of St. Thomas. A national and international arbitrator he also sits on the International Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.


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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."

Feature article

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.

A 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….horseowners, 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 bets.

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 go."

Kid: "Why? What am I doing?"

Cop: "Touting again."

Kid: (Pointing to the horse that just ate the lemon drop from behind his ear) "Touting? Him?"

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 for $2,000.

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 on me."

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 Christmas.

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 so sloppy."

Moose: "Dead, I write 10 Grand off the books. Alive, a possible asset."

Sam: "What if he runs away?"

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 own name.

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

Sprung 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 it…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 Moose."

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 Mrs. Baumgarden."

Kid: "Singing Solly's mother-in-law."

Brainey: "Singing Solly donated her."

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 Kid Hogan.

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 own version:
"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 Home!'"

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 money.

Ever the touter, the Kid thanks the Judge:

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

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