Immediately preceding Christmas we watch the Christmas classics like A Christmas Carol, The Bishop’s Wife, The Nativity Story, and It’s A Wonderful Life. But before that time we watch lesser Christmas movies like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Home Alone, A Christmas Story, The Santa Clause, and a few others. It is to this class of Christmas movies that I would recommend every family add the following movies: The Lemon Drop Kid, A Christmas Wish, and The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.
The Lemon Drop Kid is a Bob Hope movie from 1951, in which Hope plays a racehorse promoter/con-man with a weakness for lemon drops. After getting into trouble by accidentally promoting the wrong horse to a mobster’s wife, Hope then spends the rest of the movie trying to raise money to pay off the mobster. Eventually Hope gets a bunch of Santas to collect money in street-side kettles for a rest home for “old dolls,” planning to skim some money to pay his debt.
Bob Hope’s humorous quips and one-liners are a delight: discussing the horses at a race-track, Hope says “half these horses should be in wheel-chairs,” and later, when encouraging a portly woman who is to stay in his rest home, Hope tells her to keep her “chins up.”
Towards the end of the movie, Hope’s loveable rogue character softens up and becomes good, and along the way the viewer gets to see some endearing mobster characters in action, including the one played by William Frawley, later known to TV viewers as I Love Lucy’s Fred Mertz. Hope and his fiancé, played by Marilyn Maxwell, debut the Christmas song “Silver Bells” in this movie, and for a comedian Hope has a surprisingly nice singing voice.
Overall, while The Lemon Drop Kid has some good Christian themes like forgiveness and redemption, the movie has so much humor that it can be seen any time of the year, just for the laughs.
Anyone who has had a prayer answered in a quirky way can identify with A Christmas Wish (formerly known as The Great Rupert), a Jimmy Durante movie from 1950. The movie involves a rich family who rents a shack attached to their house to a poor family that includes the character played by Jimmy Durante, his wife and their daughter, Rosalinda. Rosalinda has grown out of her only pair of shoes and cannot walk without experiencing pain. The head of the rich family has just been notified that an investment he made in a gold mine just paid off big, and he would receive $1500 every week. The miserly man decides to hoard the money by hiding it behind the wall that adjoins the shack.
At the end of her rope, Durante’s wife prays for some financial help from God, explaining that “Rosalinda needs shoes.” Just at that moment the miserly man next door thinks he is hiding his $1500 behind the wall, but a squirrel that lives in that wall space sees the money coming into its lair, so it throws the money out. Surprised and shocked, Durante’s wife sees hundred dollar bills coming down, and she figures the money is coming down from Heaven.
The poor wife and her miserly landlord keep up this routine for several weeks, allowing Durante’s family to live quite comfortably. But they know they must stay in that shack and pray that “Rosalinda needs shoes” every Thursday afternoon. Eventually the poor family has bought several local businesses and live off the dividends. They begin to tithe some of their income to a charity that involves, fittingly, shoes for poor children.
As the movie ends, the landlord is notified that the gold mine is now out of gold and his house burns down. Jimmy Durante’s character magnanimously decides to rebuild his landlord’s house and the two families become good friends.
It is a great story that involves prayer and God’s great sense of humor, and Jimmy Durante gets a few funny lines into the script. My only reservations with the movie are that it involves a prayer, not a “wish,” and the “Christmas” portion of the movie is confined to the first third of the movie. Still, Durante plays the piano and sings “Isn’t It A Shame That Christmas Comes But Once A Year,” which should have become a perennial Christmas song.
The Homecoming: A Christmas Story was the 1971 pilot for the successful TV show, The Waltons. The plot revolves around the Depression-era Walton family who is awaiting the return home of their father after they hear of a bus-crash in which he could have been involved. John-Boy takes off on a desperate search of the nearby area, familiarizing the viewer with his neighbors and the friendly and colorful characters who populate the later TV series. John-Boy also has some time for introspection regarding his father and his father’s misplaced hope that John-Boy would someday become a successful hunter. Happily, the father arrives home safely and the Walton family has a poor but love-filled, family Christmas celebration.
Signaling the father’s acceptance of John-Boy’s plans to become a writer instead of a hunter, John-Boy’s father gives John-Boy some writing tablets as a Christmas present. This movie has several prayers by various characters, and the birth of Jesus is recounted, a rarity in many Christmas films nowadays.
The Homecoming: A Christmas Story ends with the characteristic “goodnights” between all the Walton family members that also occurred at the end of the Waltons TV show. As we watched this movie with our home-schooled daughter, my wife and I devised a good word-math problem: if nine members of a family all say “goodnight” to each other, how many “goodnights” are there total? The correct answer was arrived at by realizing that each of the Walton family members only said goodnight to other family members, not to themselves. Hence nine times eight, or 72.
Our daughter did not get the answer right, so we will try again next year, probably around November 1.