Monday, December 26, 2016
SANTA CLAUS (1959)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, metaphysical*
I actually enjoyed this 1959 Mexican Santa Claus more than either of these other two Santa-flicks I reviewed in 2013, but only on the kinetic level, because SANTA '59 is a much more lively, colorful film than the other two. I rate its mythicity low, though, because even though it shows some chutzpah by having Santa faced off against a mischievous minion of the Devil, it's not so much a story as an assemblage of tossed-off slapstick scenes. Basically, Santa's mission is, as always, to deliver hundreds of toys to children on Christmas Eve, while it's the mission of Pitch-- inept servant of hell-- to foul him up.
The most coherent aspect of the rambling story speaks to a socio-religious motif close to Mexican culture: does God-- more or less taking the form of the eternally beneficent St. Nick-- care about the poor? One poor little girl, Lupita, dearly wants to own an expensive girl-doll. Pitch, who yearns to corrupt the goodness in all the children Santa wants to benefit, whispers in the girl's ear, tempting her to steal the doll. Lupita does steal the doll for a moment, but her decency asserts itself (much to the joy of Santa, watching from a celestial cloud) and she puts it back. The movie might have been stronger if it had centered more on Lupita's woes, but instead director Rene Cardona chooses to spend a lot of time with various "kids from around the world," all of whom are as dull as dirt. There's also a minor subplot about how Pitch suborns a trio of naughty boys to kidnap Santa, but despite the buildup, the subplot comes to nothing.
Santa's peculiar looking cloud-workshop is worthy of comment. It's obviously a bunch of very cheap props assembled in haphazard ways-- yet somehow, it was a lot more visually stimulating than the standard depictions of the Jolly Old Elf's workplace. The movie's highlights, simple as they are, are the one-upping contests between Santa and Pitch, in part because the actor playing the goofy devil, one Jose Luis Aguirre, really throws himself into the role, capering and gesticulating and generally stealing what show there is to steal.