I said I’d be looking at a weird Christmas movie this year, so here we go. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is a title that’s somehow both misleading and not misleading. Yes, there are Martians in this movie, and yes, it does mix Christmas with science fiction. But conquers is a very strong word. Then again, Santa Claus Inspires the Martians, or Santa Claus Brings Joy to the Martians, just aren’t nearly as good for titles.
While there isn’t a lot of information about the people involved in the creation of the movie, there is actually some detail on the production itself. The concept came from producer and writer Paul Jacobson, who mostly worked as a unit manager for Howdy Doody, and wanted to start working on features himself. He described it as a “yuletide science fiction fantasy”, and believed it could fill a gap in the market. “Except for the Disneys, there’s very little in film houses that children recognize as their own.”
Most of the movie was filmed on Long Island, in a studio owned by Joseph E. Levine. Jacobson described the studio as full of wonderfully cooperative technicians, which helped them get a lot of production value from their low budget. He also enjoyed the fact that they were able to film in colour, which still wasn’t very common with low-budget movies.
The movie ended up releasing in time for Christmas in 1964. Although the budget for the movie was roughly $200,000, there’s no information about how much the movie earned, beyond a New York Times article saying that the film “reaped a box office bonanza in a regular, multi theatre booking.” The movie received mostly negative reviews, with several reviews saying it’s so bad it’s good. It’s since entered the public domain, and has enjoyed a number of home video releases, regular TV airings even to this day. It even received a novelization in 2005 by Lou Harry, which included a DVD of the original film. The novel was written from the perspective of one of the children characters now as an adult.
As weird as this movie may sound, it is actually historically significant in a couple of ways. First, it’s the first documented appearance of Mrs. Claus on screen, coming out mere weeks before the TV special, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. It features the on-screen debut of Pia Zadora, who eventually became a fairly successful singer and is still performing today in Las Vegas. Another famous cast member is John Call, who portrayed Dr. Grimwig in the original theater run of Oliver!. He plays the big man himself in this movie. Oh, and the two Earthling kids are also portrayed by Broadway stars, as Victor Stiles portrayed a pickpocket in Oliver!, while Donna Conforti was a bit player in 1963’s Here’s Love, a musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street.
There’s no use in pretending this movie is good from a quality standpoint. It’s not. The dialogue is often wishy washy and cliché, the video quality is poor (not surprising given the low budget), and it’s just an overall silly movie. But that’s also the movie’s charm. The plot is basically that the Martian children are distracted by Earth shows, especially around Christmas time. They don’t know what play is like as they’re basically treated as adults from a young age. They don’t know what it means to have fun and joy. The leaders of Mars see this as a problem and decide the kids need to learn how to have fun, so they decide to kidnap Santa Claus. Of course with all the mall Santas around, they don’t know which one to kidnap.
They also kidnap a couple of kids after these kids inform them about the North Pole, just so they don’t warn anyone. What follows is a strange adventure on Mars where Santa builds a toy factory, one of the advisors to the … I guess king of Mars … decides that kids shouldn’t be allowed to be kids, and there’s some sort of final fight where a bunch of kids attack him with toys.
This movie is impossible to take seriously, but I imagine that’s the point. If you’re in the right mood, it’s entertaining and charming. It was clearly a creative idea, just one that doesn’t really deserve a full-length movie. At least, I can’t figure out how to turn it into a good movie, but as a special for a Sci-Fi kid’s show, why not?
Because this movie is public domain, you can easily find the full movie on YouTube if you wanted. If you’re in the right mood, it’ll probably be good for a laugh. At the very least, it’s got a really catchy theme song.
I’m hoping to look at both of the Fantastic Beast movies before the New Year. I have a week off of work between Christmas and New Year’s, so that shouldn’t be hard. I also hope to catch up on some video games in that week. I started Spider-Man for the PS4 back in July and I’m still working on it. Then I’ll kick off 2021 with Sean Connery Month to commemorate the late Scottish actor.