Tom Jolliffe evaluates the positives of a couple of festive turkeys…
For every festive slice of gold, there are a number of films which don’t quite hit the right notes. There’s been something about the Christmas movie in years gone by that has often felt like they’re pumped out to be ready for the season. It’s like cheap toys and Christmas jumpers. There’s an easy formula to follow, with ramping up the complication before the resolution that brings about a warm and fuzzy conclusion. Hallmark have been specialists in churning out maudlin but warming Christmas films. Hollywood on the other hand has often enjoyed repeating the Scrooge formula, where the protagonist(s) must learn the true meaning of Christmas. They might be warring with neighbours or taking family and loved ones for granted but come the end, they realise what’s important.
Maybe it’s me but I’ve watched some utter dross when it comes to Christmas. The kind of comedies that almost pass muster because they’re seasonal and because you watch them at Christmas. Maybe it’s the tinsel tinted glasses, but I kind of enjoyed Fred Claus, Christmas with the Kranks and Deck the Halls but only because I watched them at the right time. They certainly fall into the slightly cynically made category, maybe even lazy. However, I’m going to defend a couple of films in particular. They’re in many ways, as bad as some other generic Crimbo Turkeys, but there’s just something about them. First up is:
Santa Claus: The Movie
This is a film that kind of split audiences down the middle upon its release. It’s not that great. It’s slightly shonky, much like the toys that megalomaniacal business mogul B.Z (played with so much ham you could serve him us as your Christmas Gammon, by John Lithgow) convinces a naïve and frustrated elf (played like he knows it’s ridiculous by Dudley Moore) to help produce. The plot is simple. Christmas and Santa are under threat. A couple of kids (one a street urchin, the other a rich girl) band together with Claus to save the day and save Christmas.
I’ll admit, my fondness for this film is drenched in nostalgia. Released 35 years ago, I first saw it at a very young age on video and loved it. When you’re young and into Christmas (as most kiddos are) then you’re perhaps a little easy to please. It came at a good time for me. It was kind of new and around a time there weren’t a slew of Santa themed movies. I wasn’t tending to look back much on older (better) Christmas films. Many of my festive associations were films like Masters of the Universe, Raiders of the Lost Ark, James Bond or Labyrinth, none of which are actually Christmas films (they just seemed to be on every December). As a film about Santa, this was the one I grew up on.
Retrospect in adulthood was initially not too kind. I could see the seams. It wasn’t as dazzling as I remember, but once you’ve seen the (metaphorical) wires/strings, you can go back again and start looking at the things you did love. Dudley Moore was effortlessly engaging of course. Lithgow was so hiss worthy and horrible to a kid growing up, but in watching as an adult, I can appreciate the theatricality of it. The big plus point in this film though, was the titular icon himself. Say what you might about the film but David Huddleston made an excellent Claus. That is always a big plus point (in recent years Kurt Russell has made a brilliant Clause too). The effects are a mixed bag but endearing (not least the reindeer). In the end, the film has the requisite ending as sweet and warming as a mug of mulled wine. You’ll chomp on a few stray cloves but it’s still enjoyable to watch. For all it’s problems it has plenty of charm to glide on.
Jingle All The Way
Obliterated by critics and seen as something of an embarrassing blot on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s CV, Jingle All The Way carried the Turkey tag for many years. It was like the last Turkey left on the farm; not fit for consumption. Then something happened. It suddenly found an audience; a very select cult audience who revelled in the horrible message, the succession of misfiring gags and clumsy ideas. Every gag was broad, and some of the mid-90’s stereotyping is oafish to say the least.
So what is there to like about a film that got so much wrong? There’s certainly the ‘so bad it’s good’ element. Additionally, the film has some nuggets. Arnold was hammered by critics but he’s never less than game for the material. Even for a character so horrendously misguided, in a film that seems to idolise commercialism and materialism, Arnold has a certain earnestness. There’s an enjoyable cameo from Jim Belushi as a black market mall Santa who sells cheap knock off toys. It’s there that Arnold finds himself fighting The Big Show (dressed as a Santa) and Verne Troyer, a little and large double team. So many characters in Christmas films aren’t intended to be dreadful, but there’s a distinct ignorance among the (consistently) affluent characters like Howard (Ahnuld) or say the McCallister parents in Home Alone. They’re so blinded by their material comfort to what actually matters. Somehow, Arnie remains likeable. Perhaps because he’s…well, Arnie.
The major strength in the film lies with the aplomb with which the late Phil Hartman plays the sleazy neighbour, Ted. It’s almost to the films detriment that he isn’t in more scenes particularly as Sinbad’s screen time is often irksome (and occasionally clumsily written). Somehow or another, Jingle All The Way has become a popular staple for many. It is still kind of terrible. However there’s something so enjoyably misguided and awful about the films core message (that only gets resolved in a rather blasé way right at the end), that it brings no shortage of mirth. It’s the Anti-Christmas film.
What are your thoughts on Santa Claus: The Movie and Jingle All The Way? Which maligned Christmas films do you think need to be reappraised? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth, or hit me up on Instagram…
SEE ALSO: Iconic Characters Who Deserve Their Own Christmas Movie
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.