In the first days of VHS in our family – we’re talking about the early 1980s – there weren’t very many outlets from which a person could pop along and rent a video for the evening. Filling that particular hole around our area (if you’ll excuse the expression) was a man and his suitcase. I couldn’t tell you what the man’s name was nor could I tell you how it was that he became known to my parents; all I can say is that he would turn up every seven days with his suitcase of videos and as a family we would pore over the titles and select a handful of these marvellous things to hire for the week. I don’t remember many of the films we rented in this way either but one film – or, actually, a series of films – did stick in my memory.
Lemon Popsicle was released in 1978; the sequels that I remember were Going Steady and Hot Bubblegum, although it turns out there were many, many more. Even though I knew it was a foreign film back then it’s only now that I’ve researched the series of movies that it turns out these were Hebrew; moreover, this film has something of a cult status, apparently. My memory of the films was that they were 1950s America-based but it transpires they were actually based in Israel.
So, what’s the plot?
The main protagonist of Lemon Popsicle is called Benji (played by Yftach Katzur); he spends most of the film looking a little broody or moody or baffled or frustrated like this:
As a typical 1950s-era movie teen Benji, along with his two friends Bobby (the handsome one) and Hughie (the chubby one), is interested in having sex. Unlike his two friends, however, Benji has his eyes set on one particular girl: Niki. His friends are less discerning and none of them are experienced which means that the film progresses through two sexual adventures – one with an immigrant woman who has no qualms about playing around while her sailor boyfriend is at sea; the second with a prostitute – in order that the boys can gain some sexy sex knowledge.
Unfortunately for Benji, his handsome friend and the object of his affections also get together, and things get even more serious when she falls pregnant and Bobby isn’t interested in helping out. Benji – our nice hero – comes to her rescue and sells some things to pay for an abortion for Niki. She’s happy, he’s happy, everyone’s happy. Not so fast! The film ends with a party and it’s here that Benji sees Niki in the arms of Bobby again. The message of the movie, therefore, appears to be that nice guys finish last.
So, a far more serious movie than I remembered which touches on some strong subjects – sex, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, the unfairness of life, the benefits in being handsome, the importance of having keyholes that can look directly onto a bed – and showcases an interesting, if fanciful, look at an America-modelled Israel in the 1950s.
Notably interesting parts from Lemon Popsicle now that I can pay some real attention to it include the first sexual scene in the film in which the immigrant woman “entertains” the three boys; there was more than a passing similarity to the prostitute scene in Biloxi Blues. Both feature an uncomfortable experience, a bedroom with boys waiting outside, someone in a naval uniform, even the staircase leading up to the apartment. The accompanying music was very good too so the movie’s worth checking out if the American music of the era appeals to you.
The other area of note is that I had no memory of the main girl Niki at all; her friend with the pig tails and glasses (and horrendously-dubbed voice) on the other hand lit up neurons all over my brain. Dolly from Moonraker also sticks in my mind. Aren’t predilections fun?
Lemon Popsicle was not the sex-comedy movie I remembered; there was less sex and less comedy than my younger self was convinced was there but the film was a lot better for it. Well worth a watch. I’ll have to get around to re-watching the sequels in the near future.