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Cinema Connoisseur: Santa vs. Satan showdown Yuletide classic


Satan’s assistant Pitch plots to convert this nice child into a naughty one in what is perhaps the greatest Christmas story ever told.

Allen Gaynor | Interrobang | Lifestyles | November 25th, 2013

Santa Claus (1959)

“He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town”
“He lives in outer space
He's abducted children of every race...
Wait, what???!”

There have been countless depictions of Santa Claus in film over the years. I'd reckon there have been more Santa films than Saw and Paranormal Activity installments combined. Everyone from Tim Allen to Whoopi Goldberg has had the opportunity to don the red suit. But there has never been a Santa quite like the one shown in the film I will be taking a look at this week, appropriately titled Santa Claus.

Santa Claus is a Mexican film released way back in 1959. Perhaps due to the fact that it is not a Hollywood production, certain Christmas film conventions are thrown by the wayside. For example, Santa is usually a resident of the North Pole. Well, not in this film. Here Santa lives in space. Just when you thought he couldn't get any more magical, he gets the E.T. treatment.

Elves are usually a staple in Santa stories, but are nowhere to be found in this movie. Instead, Santa is shacking up with Merlin The Magician and children from nearly every nation on Earth. We learn this in the opening moments of the film, as each group of children is introduced, while Santa enthusiastically plays a song native to their country on his organ. It's like the opening ceremony of the Olympics, only longer. Also his reindeers are not living breathing animals, but are mechanical facsimiles, operated by the turn of a magic key.

The fun and frivolity ends when Santa learns of a plot by Satan to turn children from nice to naughty. Satan has sent his assistant Pitch to Earth to tempt children to commit acts that will result in them getting nothing but a lump of coal in their stocking. Luckily most of the children take the high road, perhaps because they believe Santa is watching. And they are correct in that assumption. Santa has a large mechanical eye that he uses to spy on all of the Earth's children. Thanks to his buddy Merlin The Magician, he also is able to become invisible, and is in possession of magic dust that puts children to sleep. I'm having some serious reservations about taking my children to get their picture taken with this guy at the mall in a few weeks.

One child in particular stood out to me in the film: a little girl named Lupita, despite being quite poor, refuses to give in to Satan, even though she could land the doll she covets so dearly by doing so. Actually she wants two dolls, one of which she says she will give to Baby Jesus. Sadly, Jesus is never shown in the film, as I'm sure he would have also been given a complete character makeover. Perhaps in this world, Jesus is a two-foot tall robot from the planet Xargot who speaks only in haiku form.

Tired of being foiled at every turn by Santa, Pitch has one last trick up his sleeve. Santa may have access to the world's greatest magician, more gadgets than James Bond and legions of loyal children, but that's not going to help him when he comes face to face with a barking dog! I've always referred to canines as the Devil's beasts, it is nice to see my opinion seconded. Will Christmas be ruined forever, or does Santa have enough magic in his sack to overcome the odds? I'll leave it to you to find out. The whole film is available on YouTube, just type “Santa Claus 1959” and you will be able to watch it in English or Spanish.

Santa Claus is arguably Mexico's greatest and least harmful export. Sure, the creative team took some liberties with character of Santa, but I feel it was time to change things up, and make Santa more modern. I mean, it's 1959, people — the times, they are a changin'. So open up your mind, watch this film, and I guarantee you will have a Feliz Navidad.
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