Thursday, December 6, 2012

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) - Hooray for Santy!

Poster for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (1964).

Some films you simply have to be in the proper frame of mind to enjoy. If you are feeling romantic, "Love Actually" might fit the bill. If you need to work out some aggression, "The Expendables" is handy. The only reasonable reason you might have for watching "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (1964), directed by Nicholas Webster, is to have a little fun with an obviously misguided attempt at having fun.

Martian children in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Pia Zadora, on the right, made her debut here in "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." Cinematic history!

Martians who dress all in green and wear vintage football helmets are worried about their children. "Something is happening to the children of Mars," the Martian leader Kimar (Leonard Hicks) notes portentously. It seems that all they want to do is watch "meaningless earth programs." Kimar and his gang go to see the old wise man, Chochem (Carl Don), "Ancient one of Mars." Chochem advises that the problem lies in the season: Christmas is approaching, and the children do not have a childhood. Everything is too serious for them, and they don't have any fun.

A robot captures Santa in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
I've seen worse robot costumes than that at... no, wait, no I haven't.

Kimar makes a snap decision to capture Santa (John Call) and bring him back home in order to spread joy and goodness on Mars. He orders his henchmen to prepare "Spaceship Number 1," whose interior looks uncannily like that of the Jupiter 2 from "Lost in Space." Kimar abducts Santa after finding him on the North Pole and brings him back to Mars over the objections of Voldar (Vincent Beck), a hard-liner who sees no point in this need for "frivolity" because Mars is supposed to be a "war-like" planet.

Santa and some Martians in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
This is one of the very few moments when Santa isn't laughing in "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."

Santa sets to work making toys for the Martian children. Voldar and his assistants, however, sabotage everything. Kimo's assistant Dropo goes to investigate wearing one of Santa's suits because he has taken a liking to the idea of Christmas. Voldar, mistaking him for Santa, kidnaps him.

Kimar in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Kimar turns out to be not such a bad guy at all.

Dropo escapes, and Voldar is foiled. Kimar arrests Voldar and his henchmen. Santa then has to figure out how to create a lasting solution to the problem of the Martian children.

Dropo in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Dropo engaging in a little Martian cross-dressing.

Clearly, this is not high art, and that is putting it mildly. As I said, you need to see this in the proper spirit. If you do, you might notice that the film has a very genteel tone that clearly marked it as a children's movie. On that level, and taking into consideration its age - it's still terrible. But it's also a whale of a lot of fun if you take it in the right spirit!

Kimar and Voldar in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Voldar and Kimar giving each other deep looks.

Take, for instance, the prime villain Voldar. I kept wondering why that name sounded familiar, and then I had it - Voldar = Beldar! You know, from "The Coneheads" starring Dan Aykroyd. The leads - Hicks and Beck - overplay their characters as if they are on stage (which, in fact, is where they had their day jobs). Beck in particular enunciates his lines as if he is trying to reach the very back of the theater. "They must not leave the ship," Kimar tells Voldar. Voldar's response? "Now? Or EVERRRRR????" Beck makes his character sound as much like Dick Dastardly as you can. Voldar goes on to deliver all of his lines like that.

Santa and the Martians in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Santa on Mars.

The colors are bad, the effects are jokey (a guy obviously wearing a polar bear costume makes a half-hearted attempt to attack the children, a guy wearing the absolute worst robot costume of all time captures the children, etc.), and the acting is rigid. All of which makes "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" a glorious treat! The funniest thing is that a few of the actors are almost recognizable, making you scratch your head thinking to yourself, "Now where did I see that elf before...." But, alas, you'll never put names to the faces in "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" without looking them up.

Martian children laughing in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Martian children engaging in a little of that dreadful frivolity.

This was a bargain-basement production, filmed by moonlighting Broadway actors in an abandoned Roosevelt Field aircraft hangar (whose walls you can see in the background if you look hard enough). As such, it is part of history, being filmed on the spot where Charles Lindbergh took off for Paris. Right after this was filmed, they tore down the hangar and broke ground for Roosevelt Field Mall, which remains there to this day and which some (such as me) consider the heart of Long Island. You definitely can recognize the New York/Long Island accents if you spent any time there.

Voldar gets the drop on Santa in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Seriously, Voldar is fabulous and holds this whole "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" crazy thing together.

Criticizing a film like "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is like beating up a corpse. What's the point? It is a children's show, not Shakespeare. Instead of beating that dead horse, it makes more sense to look for fun aspects that you might enjoy, and in "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" there are plenty. For example, the theme song is almost catchy in a rockin' sort of way. If this had been made as an animated film, it would be considered a classic and get shown on network television every December. Alas, it is live action, and thus forgotten. I can't recommend this, but if you are in the right mood, this is the perfect film for a little harmless fun. Put it on in the background (it is in the public domain, you can watch the whole thing at this link on Youtube without commercial interruption) while you catch up with some friends or relatives and it's absolutely fabulous.


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