Many centuries ago, there lived a woodcutter near the Top of the World, and he was very well-liked in the community of those who braved the freezing conditions there, especially around the end of the year when he would turn up on his sleigh, pulled by reindeer and accompanied by his wife (Judy Cornwell), and distribute his own home made gifts around the children huddled against the cold. But one winter was harsher than the others, so when he set off that night he got into difficulties and he, his wife and the reindeer froze to death.
Merry Christmas everybody! No, that's not the greatest way to start your seasonal movie, but then at the time it was released nobody was much interested in Santa Claus: The Movie, as it was titled on the advertising. The reason for that was producers the Salkinds were hoping for a box office bonanza on the scale of Superman: The Movie, which they had also brought to the world, along with two lucrative sequels, so any connection they could make in the potential audience's minds with that blockbusting success would only be good for business. Make no mistake: this was pure, cynical moneymaking.
Which was naturally why it stuck in the craw of so many of the public in its day, and went on to be the sixth biggest money loser of all time, though curiously after a while those moviegoers who rejected this began to come around to it thanks to its regular showings years later on television. Yes, the wicked plan of the Salkinds had come to fruition and their ignominious disaster of epic proportions was now synonymous in many people's minds with the festivities as something they could relax with after a hectic few weeks buying presents, food and drink in preparation for the 25th of December.
But that didn't make it all right, and a film which ground to a halt halfway through to plug the wares of fast food and soft drink companies had a cheek trying to tell us about the true, non-commercial spirit of Christmas. Needless to say, not one mention of religion was allowed (Santa was assuredly not Saint Nicholas), not even of the pagan variety in light of the character's ancient and mysterious roots. Nope, all you got about him was that he was granted immortality to distribute toys every Christmas Eve, leaving Huddleston with precious little to work with aside from donning the red and white costume. This meant once that stuff had run out of steam halfway through (or actually, twenty minutes in) the writers struggled to concoct a proper plot.
What they came up with was an evil toymaker, BZ (John Lithgow), who hires Dudley Moore's newly rejected (due to a PR disaster) elf Patch to bring him a new line in toys. What he comes up with is candy which makes you float, but will also make you explode if it gets too hot; we don't actually see anyone do so, but this is so tacky and crass you cannot believe that it didn't cross the filmmakers' minds. As if that was not bad enough, events do not draw to a close on Christmas Eve itself for that special festive sensation, but a few weeks after as BZ plans a sequel to Christmas to generate more money. Being preached to by a sheer commercial enterprise such as this is galling to say the least - obviously every blockbuster wants to make major profits, but not every one had to be as hypocritical as this was. Even Jingle All the Way was more honest. And Moore's dreadful "elf" puns were enough to drive you to "elf-harm". Music by Henry Mancini.
As dreadful as everyone remembers. However, Huddleston makes a decent Santa and I've often noticed no matter how lousy a film he is in (and he was in more than his fare share) Dudley Moore remains an engaging and charismatic presence. I recall reading somewhere this was released in the summer, further wrecking its chances to find an audience. Er, if it weren't rubbish already.
28 Dec 2011
It had justifiably dropped out of sight after it flopped until lazy TV schedulers kept putting it on around Christmastime from the 1990s onwards, and now you're more likely to see it than many a better seasonal movie, which is not right at all. It's probably made its losses back due to that by now.