Christmas on the silver screen

Joel van der Veen
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Yeah, I know — this marks three Christmas columns in a row, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a fourth one follows next week, testing my readership’s patience and tolerance for Yuletide-related yammering.

But as I write this, it’s Thursday night, and I’ve just polished off three stories. With mere days remaining until Dec. 25, there’s little else on my mind. So please bear with me.

This week, the conversation in our newsroom briefly turned to holiday films, as my colleagues listed some of their favourites.

My family has a few of our own, including The Santa Clause, the live-action adaptation of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and the dreaded It’s a Wonderful Life.

That last descriptive may have raised a few eyebrows, but I’m sure some of you are shuddering at the thought of being cajoled into watching it one more time.

Personally, I dread it because, as much as I love the movie, watching it with my family turns me into an inconsolable bag of mush, crying my eyes out as the rather tragic, frustrating life of George Bailey plays out in glorious black and white.

The older I get, and the further I progress into adulthood, the harder it becomes to handle. Were it not for the film’s ultimately uplifting message, and (spoiler alert for the eight people in North America who haven’t seen it) the triumph of George’s family and neighbours rallying around him in the final scene, it would be too depressing to stand.

There are lots of Christmas favourites that I’ve either never seen or haven’t watched from beginning to end: Elf, Scrooge with Alastair Sim, and White Christmas, to name a few. Most sacrilegious of all, I don’t think I’ve ever viewed A Charlie Brown Christmas from start to finish.

Some of the purported classics have disappointed me. I was especially let down by Scrooged, starring Bill Murray, whose evil laugh, as depicted on the VHS case, seemed to indicate such promise. Others, like A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, lived up to their reputations.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol terrified me as a child, especially when Scrooge McDuck, “the richest man in the cemetery,” is shown his future grave, which apparently doubles as some sort of portal to hell.

But the one I’m looking forward to most is Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a bonafide clunker of a film that became a sort of weird personal tradition after I taped it off the TV one year.

For those unfamiliar with this gem, it tells the story of a Martian plot to kidnap Santa Claus in an attempt to spread Christmas cheer on their unhappy planet. The film was shot in 1964 on a $200,000 budget in a disused airplane hangar in New Jersey.

Two people involved with the production went on to later and greater fame: actress Pia Zadora, who plays a Martian child, and music director Milton DeLugg, who became the bandleader on The Gong Show. That should be enough of a warning for most of you.

Key points to watch for: a spelling error in the opening credits, ill-fitting uniforms on all the Martians, and the climactic fight at the end, where (spoiler alert) four children armed with toys successfully defeat a man equipped with a disintegration ray.

The movie certainly belongs in the “so bad it’s good” file. It’s mindless, but somehow it brings joy to my heart each year.

I’m not sure how such a terrible flick became a personal tradition, but hey — apparently I have a weakness for Christmas turkey. Good night, everybody!

Joel van der Veen can be reached at 691-1256.

Geographic location: North America, New Jersey

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