Thanks for Mystery Science Theater 3000, there are two archly important Christmas themed bad movies: “Santa Claus,” a Mexican film which we’ll talk about next year, and this film … perhaps the oldest Yulemala film around. It’s a candy colored doozy and may actually encapsulate the entire concept in one swift stroke.
Plot: Children on Mars are sad this Suptober (as December is known on the Red Planet). They won’t eat their food pills. They all need to use the sleep spray (um, yeah … ) They’ve become obsessed with television broadcasts from earth. One in particular concerns a mister S. Claus as he prepares for his yearly deliveries. Kimar, Boss of Mars, and his Council Chiefs consult Chochim, the ancient one. He tells them the children need fun and only Santa can teach them how to do it (um ..)
So Kimar and the Council Chiefs make for Earth to kidnap Santa Claus. After picking up a couple of kids, Billy and Betty, and scaring the Strategic Air Command half to death, they get the Claus to Mars. Once there, Santa sets up an automated toy factory. Oh, but wait … one of Kimar’s Chiefs, Voldar, doesn’t like fun and tries to kill the funny little man in a red suit at every opportunity.
Eventually, Voldar is defeated once and for all thanks to the aid of Dropo, the stupidest man on Mars. Santa convinces Kimar to take him back to Earth and names Dropo, previously a useless drain on the Martian economy, his surrogate on Earth.
Analysis: Dropo … he’s damn near a Torgo except, I think, the film wants him to be the breakout character. This means everything scene with him is obnoxious, forced, and just plain wrong.
You’ll notice the plot synopsis is kind of short. There’s a good reason for that. The movie is mostly filler. I’m not kidding. Once the Martians get to Earth, a lot of screen time is eaten up by stock footage of the air force on manuevers and meaningless news footage explaining the stock footage is a response to a UFO. There are also several plot cul-de-sacs, including a robot that chases Billy and Betty around the North Pole and never comes up again. Structurally, the film is sequence after sequence of Voldar trying to kill Santa Claus, Billy and Betty defeating his plans, and Dropo doing “wacky” stuff.
Visually, the movie is kind of like that episode of “The Brady Bunch” where Greg moves into Mike’s office: technicolor trippiness. There’s lots of holiday colors in the background and every set looks borrowed from another production. Since the movie is in the public domain, it’s not well preserved. So the washed out look of the film just makes the whole thing kind of depressing.
And that’s the key thing with this film. Every one is trying very hard to be whimsical. That is to say, what a bunch of adults in the late sixties thought kids would find whimsical. From the notion of food pills, Santa’s relentless joyfullness, to the endless air force stock footage, to Dropo. Even Voldar’s cartoonish villainy is all aimed at a mythical child who is rock stupid. I guess kids were stupider back then. I’ve watched episode of “He-Man” in stunned horror recently. It’s so poorly made and I ran home from school to watch it when I was young. That’s from the 80s. Go back a few decades and either kids were truly foolish or all the grown-ups had the worst opinion of them.
As Santa Claus, actor John Call is a non-starter. While the character is meant to be always happy, infecting the serious Martians with his glee, he doesn’t really make an impression. Now that’s a strange thing to see, a Santa Claus who is invisible in his own film.
The person I feel for the most is Leonard Hicks, who plays Kimar. He’s clearly trying to keep some dignity in his performance. The poor guy only has two credits on his IMDB page and this film was his last. I guess the pressure of working with a guy in a polar bear costume, a cardboard robot, and Dropo were just too much for him.
According to IMDB, a large number of the cast came from a Broadway production of “Oliver Twist” which just reflects the sad state of theater in the mid 60s.
And with that, Yulemala ends for this year. Next week, the class of 2011 assembles for “The Best of Yakmala!”