Christmas in July: Santa Claus(1959)

 

Well, it’s July, and nothing is more natural or appropriate than to take a few minutes to talk about…Christmas. I hope the headline didn’t fool you into thinking “Christmas In July” was a

nything but, well, Christmas in July. To kick off this little micro-series, I thought I might take a minute to talk about the Christmas cinema classic, Santa Claus.

Now, before I take a moment to talk about this gem, I just want to be clear here. I am not discussing Santa Claus: The Movie, nor am I discussing the The Santa Clause series from Disney. What I am talking about is the 1959 Mexican-made movie with the plot you never knew you always wanted: The demon Pitch is trying to stop Santa Claus and Christmas, so Santa has to enlist the help of the wizard Merlin.

I’ll wait for you to process this.

Still waiting.

And you’re ready.

I couldn’t have made this up on a bet. I consider myself to be a fairly creative person, but this is probably the most out there concept I’ve ever heard of…and I’m a Grant Morrison fan. Despite the fact that it is a poorly, nay, an exceedingly badly dubbed movie from Mexico, it actually enjoyed several Christmas seasons worth of box office success and, at one time, was a television tradition on many stations nationally. Perhaps in the ostensible innocence of the American moviegoer at the onset of the 1960s and the twilight of the American Nuclear Family era, there was something resonant about this kind of TOTALLY BATSHIT INSANE CHRISTMAS MOVIE. After all, it wasn’t K. Gordon Murray’s only rodeo.

I’ll go over some of the points that make this flick nuts before I literally lose my mind holding it in my head for too long. To start, from the beginning it is incredibly low budget…even for 1959. Even though the director is Rene Cardona, I couldn’t help but think of that episode of the Simpsons when Mr. Burns hired “Señor Speilbergo” to direct his movie, because this thing is just all camp. After the unnecessarily long opening credits, we get a view of Santa’s workshop over the North Pole in a series of castles on clouds in outer space.

I’ll wait for you to process this.

Still waiting.

And you’re ready.

It opens with Santa bellowing the most evil cackle of a nightmarishly twisted St. Nick you could ever muster from your deepest, darkest, most primal scream from your first time on a mall Santa’s lap. He is setting up a nativity scene and then, taking note of the time, apologizes to it that he has to go to work in a strange choice of expository device.

We then get our first shot of Santa’s workshop, we see that it was apparently built by Aztec Muslims in India circa 1475, because the whole thing is straight up Taj Mahal, with Moroccan tile, angular wall designs, and pentagrams over the sweeping archways. Santa then resigns to “get to work” by sitting down at an organ with a text viewing screen that displays different country names such as: Mexico, The Orient, England, Africa, China, Japan, and South America with the most racist depictions of children from these places you could have managed without black face, taped eyes, or fake buck teeth. The narrator explains that each year, children from all over the world volunteer to help Santa build toys and sing emotionlessly in his winter wonderland sweatshop while he plays the organ and leers like a bearded pedophile.

We get a scene of the devils in *ahem* Hades, doing their best opening scene dance number from West Side Story in red cat suits until suddenly the flaming voice of Lucifer booms at one devil, Pitch, to stop Santa Claus from making Christmas happen. He does so by recruiting three mischievous boys that apparently he can “find easily” because the devil rolls like that.

So, through some devilish plan involving not giving a little girl a doll, Pitch angers Santa who CANNOT TRAVEL TO EARTH EXCEPT ON CHRISTMAS EVE (an unwarranted curse, I say!). So, as one would expect, Santa relies on his most trusted assistant…um…Merlin? Yeah. That one, from Arthurian lore. So Santa calls Merlin, and the wizard gives him sleeping powder, a magical flower, and a key that will allow him to open any door from Vulcan to Earth. Then he preps the mechanical reindeer. I swear I didn’t make any of this up.

Anyway, with this film I’m not sure where plot description ends and synopsis begins, so I’ll leave you with this—part of the schemes require a mystical Baby Jesus doll for a little girl who only ever wanted a doll. So, in the world of Space Santa, Merlin, and the spandex devils, they also have mystical messianic dolls. This flick is a trip.

I have to suggest that its worth watching at any time of year, and happens to be on Netflix, and it is available instantly. Also, I could never do any justice to the commentary of this movie added by the talking heads of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so if you can get your paws on a copy of that, I’d suggest it—it’s how I first became aware of this super strange work of cinema.

Now go! Enjoy! It’s my first Christmas in July present to you! I hope you like it, and if you don’t…just remember that it’s the thought that counts.

Feliz Julio!

 

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