Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

Jeannot Szwarc directs Dudley Moore, John Lithgow and David Huddleston in this Christmas “classic” about the creation of Santa and a runaway elf who makes some dangerous magic candy canes.

A Christmas perennial. I remember going to see it as a child, in a cinema so rubbish it had no foyer. You had to wait in its cold, wind inviting shared doorway, shared with a smoky snooker club. Then I remember watching it again at our church community centre. A bizarre three coloured lightbulb projection system was used that you only saw at youth clubs and caravan parks. A big wooden box, a plywood piano of image generation, was rolled out in front of the children seated on hard floor and we peered at a murky, dim picture for two hours. And then it was on ITV, programmed with so many adverts it devoured a whole afternoon. Every Christmas, Santa Claus: The Movie in all its gaudy, uneven glory.

I know everything wrong with this film. The two, basically unrelated halves. One a Father Christmas Begins that brushes over the fact the Clauses and his mortal reindeer freeze to death in the first ten minutes. The second a dry run of Elf, where Dudley Moore’s accident prone toy making creature teams up with an exploitative capitalist. The two plots are cleaved down the middle by a homeless kid watching people eat McDonalds and enjoying a can of Coca Cola. The film literally takes a half time break to show us what happens in a fast food restaurant in 1985, getting us salivating for a post cinema Big Mac. Big Macs were massive in 1985. The Salkinds are infamous for producing two movies out of one production shoot, conning actors out of double fees and recycling sets and costumes. This is the opposite. Two barely connected stories, smashed together by a product placement sequence.

Dudley Moore, has the most screentime over both sections… and is dreadful in this. Every other line a pun on the word “elf”. Elf improvement, Elf and safety, Elf determination. Pffffffff. Lithgow is a belter though as the smarmy capitalist bad egg, B.Z.. A pantomime villian for a movie that doesn’t realise it is a pantomime. As for The Big Lebowski himself as Santa… he kinda gets lost in his own movie. He does help a homeless kid but then leaves him on the street two winters in a row. A more realistic film would show what a burnt out shell that street urchin becomes from being abandoned to the doorways by Santa for the other 364 days of a year.

It is too much movie, none of it holds together well, with loads of creepy toy making montages whenever the energy threatens to drop to flatline. Yet I regard it fondly. For a bad film it never bores. I know all its beats back to front. Like Christmas dinner with the family you know it is not the most pleasant dining experience but it reorders your soul, brings you back to a comfortable place, easier to digest than a new experience. Having justified the film in a hippy dippy way, I’ll conclude by saying I’d never ever watch this beast of cheese outside of December. You shouldn’t either.


My Top 10 Christmas Movies

1. Die Hard (1988)
2. Trading Places (1983)
3. Lethal Weapon (1987)
4. Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

5. Batman Returns (1992)
6. Bad Santa (2003)
7. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
8. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
9. The Nightmare Before Xmas (1993)

10. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

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