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Santa Claus (versus the devil)

A bizarre flick from Mexico translated by K. Gordon Murray for children's matinees, in which Santa Claus is the envy of the CIA and avoids child labor laws by keeping his slaves in an orbital castle over the North Pole. Currently #44 on IMDB's Bottom 100 of worst films, beating out "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" by a wide margin. From everything I've heard, it's PD in Mexico, too, so the GATT monster didn't get this one!


Santa Claus is a 1959 live action Mexico motion picture featuring Santa Claus. In the film, Santa works in outer space and does battle with a demon sent to Earth by Lucifer to ruin Christmas by killing Santa and "making all the children of the Earth do evil." Santa Claus was directed by René Cardona and written by Cardona and Adolfo Torres Portillo. The original film was produced in Mexico and features primarily Spanish language dialog. A dubbed and slightly edited English language version was produced for United States release in 1960 under the direction of K. Gordon Murray. It was lampooned on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Plot

On December 24, Santa makes preparations for his yearly journey at his Toyland castle in space.<></> He plays the organ (music) while his children helpers from all over the world sing. Meanwhile, in Hell, Lucifer instructs his chief demon Pitch to travel to Earth and turn the children of the world against Santa.
In a busy marketplace, Pitch attempts to convince five children to "make Santa Claus angry": Lupita, a poor girl; Billy, the son of wealthy but negligent parents; and three troublemaking brothers. Pitch fails at convincing Lupita to steal a doll from a vendor but succeeds in convincing the brothers to break a shop window. Santa's child workers alert him to these events.
Unable to travel to Earth before nightfall on Christmas Eve, he instead uses equipment to watch Pitch and the children. One device allows him to view Lupita's dream, induced by Pitch, in which she is tormented by life-sized dancing dolls who entice her to steal. He also listens as the three brothers plot to break into Billy's home and steal his presents. They also attempt to write a letter to Santa claiming they have been good, but Santa's voice informs them that he can see all they do.
Merlin the Magicians in fantasy, Santa's most trusted assistant, gives Santa a sleep inducing powder and a flower that allows him to disappear. He then retrieves a magic item that will open any door on Earth from Vulcan (mythology) and prepares his mechanical reindeer. On Earth, the three rude boys plot to capture and enslave Santa. Meanwhile Lupita and her mother say a prayer and Lupita says that she has wished for two dolls, one of which she will give to Baby Jesus.
During Santa's journey, Pitch makes several unsuccessful attempts to sabotage Santa's delivery of toys in Mexico City, Mexico. Santa succeeds in reuniting Billy with his parents, who had left him alone to go to a restaurant. On a city rooftop, the three brothers prepare to capture Santa and steal his toys. They see Santa's sleigh in the sky and hurry indoors to find that they have only received coal. After a failed attempt to steal the sleigh, Pitch succeeds in emptying Santa's dream powder bag while Santa drops the disappearing flower.
Santa's trip is nearly complete when he is chased by a vicious dog outside a large house in Mexico. Finding himself without the powder or the flower he climbs a tree to escape the dog. Pitch appears and proceeds to wake the household and calls the fire department to report a fire at that location, so Santa will soon be seen by many people. With dawn approaching, Merlin assists with a last-minute escape and Pitch is defeated after being doused with the spray from a fire hose.
Before returning to the castle Santa makes one final stop, leaving a doll for Lupita. His labors now completed, Santa steers the sleigh back to the castle, content in the knowledge that he has brought happiness to all of the Earth's children.

Production

Santa Claus was produced by Guillermo Calderón and filmed at Estudios Churubusco in Mexico. Its running time is reported as 94 minutes. This appears to be the running time of recent home video editions of the English dub. At least one brief scene was cut from the English edition, and further footage was removed from individual prints as they aged and suffered damage. The original film was approximately three minutes longer than that now seen in the United States. Santa Claus was filmed in Eastmancolor with a monaural soundtrack.

Cast

  • José Elías Moreno as Santa Claus
  • Cesáreo Quezadas (credited as Pulgarcito) as Pedro
  • José Luis Aguirre as Pitch (Precio)
  • Armando Arriola as Merlin
  • Lupita Quezadas as Lupita
  • Antonio Díaz Conde hijo as Billy
  • Ángel Di Stefani as Vulcan
  • K. Gordon Murray (billed as Ken Smith) as the narrator
The English version of Santa Claus features only limited production credits and no cast information.< name=imdb></>

Critical reception

Santa Claus was considered to be a financial success over several holiday-season theatrical releases in the 1960s and 1970s. Broadcast of the film also became a holiday tradition at several U.S. television stations. The film garnered at least one award, winning the Golden Gate Award for Best International Family Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1959.
The film was featured in the 5th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. MST3K's send-up first aired on Christmas Eve, 1993. The devil Pitch became a recurring character on MST3K, played by Paul Chaplin.

Home video

Santa Claus was released on VHS by GoodTimes Home Video in 1992 and as a Region 1 DVD Video on November 1, 2004 by Westlake Entertainment Group. It was also released on DVD, on the Holiday Family Collection, by Mill Creek Entertainment in 2006.
The running time of each version is 94 minutes. The home video releases were transferred from theatrical prints of the film. These prints had suffered damage from age and routine use; as a result the home video releases contain several awkward splices and the color reproduction is poor.
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the film is currently available as part of the MST3K Volume XVI DVD set. The set also features extras including "Santa Claus Conquers the Devil: A 50-Year Retrospective", an original radio spot, a still gallery, and a teaser for "Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray in Colorscope".
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Category:1959 films
Category:Mexican films
Category:Films featured in Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes
Category:1950s fantasy films
Category:Santa Claus in film
Category:Spanish-language films
Category:Mexican Christmas films
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