Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Santa Claus (1959)
Director: Rene’ Cardona
Writers: Adolfo Torres Portillo, Rene’ Cordona
Before Cuban born Rene’ Cardona hit his low budget directorial stride in the 1960’s with messy horror exploitation shockers such as Dr. Doom, Night of the Bloody Apes and Mexican wrestling absurdities like Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy and Santo Contra Los Cazadores de Cabezas ( “Head Hunters”) he directed this tender, warm hearted, and absolutely bizzaro Santa Claus film which relies heavily on Christian lore and literally elevates Santa to the celestial heavens above the North Pole in a floating crystal palace lined with silver and gold. From this vantage point he can keep his eye and ear focused on all the children of the planet. He is assisted by an absent minded wizard Merlin and a cheerful group of small children from all over the world. The opening scene introduces the children in what looks like a hastily thrown together Worlds Fair exhibit hosted at Disneyland. “Here are gathered the boys and girls of different races and creeds,” explains the omnipresent narrator, “They have come from many lands to help Santa bring joy and happiness to all of the Earth’s children.” They all sing and play music from their native lands and do so rather poorly. But what really catches the eye in Santa’s “Toyland” is the observation tower where a giant pair of lips reports, a creepy master eye surreptitiously observes, and a very big disembodied human ear listens. A machine the “Dream Watcher” is also employed to see into a child’s dreams. Pee Wee would have a blast in this place!
The Master Eye
The Conflict: In Hell, Lucifer assigns his minion Pitch with sabotaging Santa’s mission lest he be forced to eat chocolate ice cream instead of his required diet of hot coals. A long dance routine of Lucifer’s minions – reminiscent of the Right of Spring dance in the Big Lebowski - punctuates how serious he is about ruining Christmas. For Santa’s part, we know who he answers to and it’s not the FISA court and it’s not Dick Cheney but a higher power. One of the first things we see Santa do in his palace is fuss with his miniature nativity scene to get the baby Jesus positioned just right before his trip to earth. But Santa is also burdened with a punishment: If he doesn’t get his shit done by dawn his four hardworking Mexican reindeer will turn to dust!! Why only four? The others are in an ICE detention facility if you know what I mean. Santa f-ing Christ I love the tension in this story.
The Principle Players: Still in his crystal palace, Santa uses the Dream Machine to enter the mind of a rich Mexican child who wants nothing more than to be loved by his self-absorbed parents. He dreams of waking on Christmas morning and rushing downstairs to find two giant boxes next to the Christmas tree. Guess what’s inside? Is it Mr. and Mrs. Pee Wee Herman? No, you guessed it: His parents covered in blood. No, of course not, his parents covered in love and smiles. Santa then focuses the Dream Machine on a poor Mexican girl named Lupita. She wants nothing more than a doll. She is in the midst of her own Devil dream brought on by Pitch who blows on her – yes that’s what he does in this movie he blows on things to fan the flames so to speak - to induce a dream filled with creepy life size rag dolls emerging from 11 boxes into a room of fog to dance around poor little Lupita begging her to steal what she so covets. But Lupita resists because she is poor and good hearted and too ignorant to understand the advantages of white collar crime. Finally, there are three bad boys whom Pitch nudges to throw rocks through a department store window to get what they want. Easily influenced by the Devil they don’t deserve shit and Santa doesn’t bother to look into their minds at all but levels a stern warning from his crystal palace. This scares the boys and they skidaddle but their naughty impulses are nigh abated. Oh well F them. As a result, Pitch easily corrupts the boys as the story continues and later, when on earth, Santa will give them nothing but coal. Sooooooo Santa eventually gets his ass into the sleigh and sets off from his crystal palace larded with presents and a bag of tricks to distribute judgement.
Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag: Santa’s bag of tricks consist of a magic electrified key that will unlock any door on the planet, a beautiful flower with which to appear and disappear and “The Powders for Dreaming” that enable post hypnotic suggestions for those he decides need it. In the interest of time, money, and your own sanity the story sticks to the five kids introduced in Act 1.
Santa Gives Hope to Some: Santa drops by each of the kids houses and makes a special visit to the rich kids’ parents at a hoity toity restaurant. He wards off pitch at each turn except with the 3 bad kids. Granted the bad kids’ parents are never present but should they be punished for shitty parenting? Santa does however give extra attention to the rich kid. While his parents are out on the town Santa visits the somber child at his home with his heart aching for his parents to come home and be with him on Christmas Eve. He induces a dream state in the child and reminds him that his parents truly love him and will see the error of their ways. He then shows up as the waiter at the posh dinner the parents are attending and, as with the movie Ben Hur, we never see Jesus’ err Santa’s face, but we do see his arm extending a “Cocktail of Remembering” to the rich and forgetful SOBs. They partake and remember they miss something, their beloved child and rush home post haste to be with him. Santa then makes it to Lupita’s house where her parents look really depressed about their abject poverty on Christmas Eve. What can they do? The mother clutches her cross and prays for a miracle. Her prayers are answered as Santa leaves a doll on the door step. No time for dreams, lectures or cocktails just a doll that mysteriously appears at the nadir of their holiday misery. Not actually seeing Santa, the mother then thanks Jesus for the doll and at least one night of drunken recriminations is postponed. Two snowy white Merkins. Check it out over the holidays.