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When you get the chance, check the poster that 20th Century Fox used to promote its 1947 Christmas classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ It shows Maureen O’Hara and her leading man, John Payne, dominating the foreground while Edmund Gwenn’s Santa is relegated to the back, the far back. In fact, you can hardly make him out. There is a reason and it dominated Christmas movie releases for years.
Studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck wanted his ‘Miracle’ film released in May. His argument was that more people went to the theatres in the summer, not the winter, and he was right. All indications of Christmas were immediately removed from the poster. ‘Miracle’ was now considered a summer movie but with a hidden Christmas theme.
When you think back at true Christmas classics, if you haven’t already considered ‘Miracle’ then maybe ‘White Christmas’ (1954) springs to mind, or perhaps ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946) or even ‘Christmas in July’ (1940). None were released at Christmas. With the odd exception, Christmas movies were never considered particularly lucrative.
With that in mind, now try to think of a true classic from the sixties. It’s not quite so easy. By this time, television in both America and Gt. Britain had truly developed and it pretty much shaped seasonal family viewing. If it wasn’t an old ‘Road To…’ movie on the schedule then it was probably Norman Wisdom or one of those forties or fifties classics. Hollywood wasn’t really trying.
But there are still a few oddball Christmas sixties movies hidden away, waiting to be played again, if only you knew what they were called. Here are some recommendations to consider.
Wait a minute! If you are Santa, what are you doing here? You’re early!
Quite the oddity, but seasonal fun all the same. ‘The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t’ is a 1966 co-American/Italian production directed by and starring one-time Italian heartthrob Rossano Brazzi. In the film Brazzi plays an old miser who plans to evict Santa and his wife including all the elves from the North Pole. The miser owns the deed to everything up north and Santa’s behind on the rent.
The film is based on a book by the man who invented ‘Tubby the Tuba,’ Paul Tripp. Tripp adapted his own children’s novel for the film and even appears in the movie as the man who helps Santa get his home back.
When you watch the film, look closely at the mouths. It’s dubbed, but not from Italian to English. It’s dubbed from Italian accented English to American accented English. The script was written in English and the mostly Italian cast when acting spoke in English, but the sound was never recorded. No boom mics, nothing. With the exception of director Brazzi, whose voice was already well known to American and English audiences because of films like ‘South Pacific,’ all the dialog was dubbed with all new voices. Those Italian accents were gone, replaced by American ones.
Have fun watching, and to keep with the tradition of the season, each time you’re forced to resort to the odd moment of lip-reading because of bad dubbing, take a swig of egg nog. But make sure you have a full bottle ready to go.
I was in this town filled with talking toys and Mother Goose people, and horrible monsters tried to eat me alive!
In case you were wondering, no, this isn’t the 1934 Laurel and Hardy classic of the same name. This one’s a lesser known Walt Disney production, and as one of its stars, Tommy Kirk once stated, it’s a klunker, but it’s a cute klunker and for that reason alone it’s worth putting on your list.
Loosely based on a 1903 operetta though baring little resemblance in either plot or music, ‘Babes in Toyland’ casts one-time pop idol Tommy Sands as Tom the Piper’s Son and America’s sweetheart of the California beach, Annette Funicello as Mary Mary Quite Contrary and they both live in Mother Goose Land. For reasons too weird to explain and too surreal to fully understand, they end up in Toyland helping the Toymaker (Ed Wynn) from the clutches of the villainous Barnaby (Ray Bolger, the Tin Man from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’)
Disney intended the film to be huge and it was promoted that way. But it failed. Miserably. In fact, unlike other Disney features, because it tanked so hard, it was never theatrically re-released, but because of the grand musical numbers and that magical holiday quality, not to mention the overall bizarre fairy tale nature of the whole thing, you have to see it. And oddly enough, even though Tommy Kirk considered it a klunker, Annette Funicello declared it to be the favorite of all her films. Go figure.
He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought… doesn’t come from a store.
Here’s the first of two reasons why television was responsible for keeping Christmas audiences at home during the holidays. ‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ was an animated TV special that even today continues to be as popular as it ever was, and there’s no stopping the DVD sales. But even if you’ve already seen it, which I’m guessing you have, once you learn a new thing or two from behind-the-scenes of the production, you’re viewing pleasure for yet another return visit should enhance even further.
Dr. Suess was never fond of the film using Boris Karloff as the voice of both the Narrator and the Grinch. The good doctor thought it would be too scary once the name of the famed Hollywood horror star appeared on the screen during the titles. Actually, it worked perfectly. When recording the dialog, Karloff used the one voice for both the Grinch and the narrator, but the technicians in the studio removed all the highs from the recorded voice when he was speaking as the Grinch. As a result, the Grinch sounds a little deep and gravelly. It was a special effect.
Speaking of voices, the other two used on the film’s soundtrack are June Foray as Cindy Lou Who and Thurl Ravenscroft as the deep throated singer on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.’ Both were uncredited, but you would have heard of them before. June Foray lent her voice to several famous roles including Granny from the Tweety Bird cartoons and Lucifer that horrendous cat in Walt Disney’s ‘Cinderella.’ And as for Thurl Ravenscroft; remember Tony the Tiger in those ads who kept telling us, “They’re great!” That was Ravenscroft.
What’s soft and round and you put it on a stick and you toast it in a fire, and it’s green? A Martican mellow.
Now we’re getting bizarre. Listed as one of The 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made, ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ is considered a science fiction comedy, though the areas that make you laugh may not be the same ones director Nicholas Webster intended, but you’ll definitely laugh.
Here’s the plot. The older Martians are concerned because their children are obsessed with TV from Earth, so they send some other Martians to the North Pole to kidnap Santa and bring him back. There’s a whole murky bit of nonsense involving Martian bad guys wanting to kill Santa, but never fear, it’s still a Christmas movie and seasonal good cheer eventually rules the day.
There’s no way around it – it’s pretty bad, but that’s also why it’s a must-see for movie buffs. Most of the film was shot in an aircraft hanger in New York, not on Mars, and the Martian guns are actually Air Blasters from an American company called Wham-O. They’re basically toys designed to blow out candles from twenty feet. In the film they’re used as ray guns. Plus, it also stars Pia Zadora when she was only eight. You have to see it. Enough said.
Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!
Here’s the other reason why television kept audiences at home at Christmas during the sixties, and beyond. Filmed with almost no money as evidenced by the flatness of the animation and the relatively poor soundtrack, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ was an instant TV smash.
The heads at CBS television didn’t like it. They didn’t like Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy score and they didn’t care for the children’s voices. Also, they weren’t happy with the absence of a laugh-track or the moment when Linus recites the Nativity. In fact, everything the short film is famous for, the execs didn’t like. They were convinced they had a flop.
Despite those fears, it is said that almost fifty percent of all television sets in America were tuned to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ on that December evening in 1965. It went on to win an Emmy and a Peabody Award. Not bad for a show that was almost never made.
And one more thing… Have you ever noticed how the show comes to such an abrupt end while the Peanuts gang is still singing a carol? That’s because there was originally a network voice-over that spoke over the singing wishing all viewers a “Merry Christmas from the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola.”
Here’s the beauty of DVDs or on-line streaming at Christmas. If the TV seasonal programming isn’t up to scratch, or at least, up to what you want out of it, you can always make your own programming schedule.
The quality of these sixties seasonal recommendations vary from the best to the worst, but each one is a kind of classic in its own way. And with each passing year, plus several glasses of holiday spirits, they get even better.
At itcher.com you can browse through the holiday movies by decades and discover lovely Christmas gems that will surely get you in the Christmas spirit!
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