Ho ho Ho Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kicking Kwanza, and Festivus for the rest of us. As a special Christmas treat, I have put together a podcast about the fantastically bad Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). I hope everyone of all faiths and denominations as well as those that lack either will enjoy.
Before I get into this too deeply I need to make a couple of notes. First, this movie is in the public domain so you get slightly different versions each time you view it. So don’t be too put off if the summary does not match scene for scene. Secondly, it is pretty hard to review that the actors in the film when about 80 percent of their bios state in the first line that they are best known for this stinker of a movie. But I will Endeavor to Preserver. Movie line. Did you get it?
It seems that scavenged whomever they could get that was working on Broadway and hustled them over to an abandon aircraft hangar on long island where the entire movie was shot for around $200,000.
John Call was cast in the role of the big man, the jolly elf himself Santa Claus. And you know what he did a pretty good job. Anyway, he looked the part. Call seems to have been around for a while but only did bit parts. He only made one move after this. He had a 30 year Broadway career with 19 productions.
Leonard Hicks played the role of Kimar the head of the Martian Counsel. I don’t know where they found this guy. He only has 3 credits including this one. He also did a fair job as the concerned parent and under siege leader.
Vincent Beck was cast in the role of the bad guy Voldar. Before I talk about Beck lets go over one thing about that name. Voldar was the bad guy. I’m thinking that lady from England that writes thick books may have cheeses this name for her bad guy. The one I shall not name. Beck went from a theater career to tv after this movie. His most well-known movie maybe …and justice for all (1979) with Al Pacino.
Bill McCutcheon played the role of Dropo, the lazy carefree Martian. McCutchen had a round face and a droopy mouth that made for a very distinctive look. It turns out he was much more than a rubber-faced comedian. He was wounded in Italy during WWII. Following the war, he graduated from the University of Ohio. He was in several jazz bands and comedy trios until he started working on the New York stage in the 1950s. He had a successful career in television, in commercial, and in occasional movies. What is even more interesting is that he played the Uncle Wally for eight years on “Sesame Street,” and appeared on the back of Mad Magazine two times as Adolf Hitler. I can’t make this stuff up.
Both Earth children Victor Stiles as Billy and Donna Conforti as Betty were child actors on Broadway but did not have a film career afterward.
One of the two Martian children did a little better. The boy Chris Month who played Bomar did not do any more film acting but this turned out to be Pia Zadora first role as the Martian girl Girmar. In all Pia had 14 movie and tv credits. She reached her zenith in the mid-1980’s with the Lonely Lady (1983).
Perhaps the best know actor from this movies is Ned Wertimer who played the role of Andy Henderson a reporter that interviews Santa at the North Pole workshop. Wertimer is best known because as George and Weezy moved on up he was their doorman, Ralph. Ralph was the greedy doorman and should not be confused with Carlton the drunk doorman from Rhoda.
Doris Rich has a small role as Mrs. Claus. This was the first appearance of Mrs. Claus in a film. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer came out about three weeks later but I believe that was straight to television. Doris was married to John Carradine for a time but they did not have children together.
Carl Don was a Russian-born actor that had 22 movie and tv credits. Nothing really big stands out. In this film, he played two roles Chochem the 800-year-old patriarch of Mars and Von Green a space scientist. You see what they did there with that name changing Von Braun (Brown) into green to go with Mar’s green men and take away the Nazi sting.
I don’t know who Gene Lindsey is and I don’t know anything about him. I just know that he was uncredited as the Polar Bear and it was one of the worst costumes I have ever seen in a movie and I have seen chihuahua with carpet on them as giant rats and a man in a giant bunny costume for Night of the Lepus. So this was spectacularly bad.
The movie begins with Ralph the doorman (Ned Wertimer) as a tv reporter making the first television broadcast from Santa’s Workshop at the north pole. He interviews Santa (John Call) as Santa puffs away at his none pc pipe. At one point the report ask Santa if he is going to use a rocket sleigh. Santa replies “No siree! We’re going out the good ol’ fashioned way. Prancer and Dancer and Donder and Blitzen, and Vixen and Nixon… oh, consarnit I get those names mixed up, but the KIDS know their names.” Many people have stated that this movie is a tale of the Cold War struggle between the US and the Soviets. Invoking the name of Nixon a Mccarthyite and strong anti-communist sure adds credence to this interpretation. I’m channeling Spock in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country stating an old Vulcan adage that “Only Nixon could go to China.”
I have to step out on a personal rant here. You noticed that Santa used the names Donder and Blitzen which means thunder and lighting in German. I am appalled when people use Donner. He wasn’t trapped on a mountain for goodness sake. Three weeks after this release of this movie Coach Donner in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer forever muddled these names for generations of Americans. I for one am on a moral crusade to restore the literal interpretation of the writings of Clement C. Moore.
Santa introduces them to Winky (Ivor Bodin) the Elf in charge of the space division. Santa shows two products from Winky’s area. One is a toy rocket that runs on real jet fuel. It is possible that this rocket is another reference to the Cold War because in 1964 students were still being taught duck and cover and wearing dog tags so their burned bodies could be identified. The second thing they show is a Martian doll that is a direct replica of the Martians we will see later in the movie. I love foreshadowing.
Mrs. Claus (Doris Rich) comes in to put Santa back to work. This is the first known appearance of Mrs. Claus in a film.
The interview pulls back and it is being watched by two very sad martian children. The Martian children have no toys just like the little communist children. Obviously, a lot of thought went into this script before it was named Bomar and the girl was named your name Gimar as in boy Martian and girl Martian. Gimar was played by Pia Zadora.
As we learned from Doonesbury many years ago Commies love their children to. So Kimar (Leonard Hicks) as King martian and his wife Momar (Lelia Martin) as mom Martian are worried about how sad their children are. Spending endless hours watching X-Box, sorry I mean earth television. They explain that the children are educated with a chip and therefore do not have a childhood. However, it seems to me that they still live as children because they are not working.
At this point in the story, they introduced Dropo (Bill McCutcheon). Dropo would be the ant to the communist grasshopper. He was lazy and like to sleep and was very jovial when they woke him up. Kimar used some kind of typical Ray to wake Dropo I don’t know what that supposed to represent I give up.
Momar suggests that Kimar consult with Chochem (Carl Don) because he is 800 years old and very wise. Kimar radios the high Council or politburo if you want. He immediately gets crap from Voldar (Vincent Beck). First, he won’t answer the radio and then he shows up late to meet with Chochem. So you know this guy going to be a pain for the rest of the movie.
Chochem explains to the group that the kids need a childhood. He has been seeing them get this way for years as the earth Christmas draws near. They decide that they must go to earth and kidnap Santa Claus. Everyone agrees except Voldemort correction Voldar. Oh, by the way, Voldar is darker than the other Martians and has a big Joe Stalin mustache.
The Martians jump in their spaceship and apparently it takes for people to fly. They arrive over New York City and using their periscope see that there is Seth see that there is a Santa Claus on every street corner. They figure this is going to be pretty easy to do since there are so many Santa Claus’s.
The Martians detect radar beams and try to turn on their anti-radar device. They find out that Dropo has stowed away in the anti-radar box. When they get him out the beam starts working. The Earth news announces “Here’s another UFO Bulletin: The Defense Department has just announced that the unidentified flying object suddenly disappeared from our radar screen. They believe the object has either disintegrated in space, or it may be a spaceship from another planet which has the ability to nullify all radar beams.”
That’s a pretty wide logic jump. It couldn’t be from this planet it couldn’t be something else either burned up or turn on a nullification Ray? Just for reference remember that the UFO scare started after World War II and a lot of it’s been tied to the Cold-War since then with SR 71 blackbird flying around and what have you. Oh yeah, there are those little green men they found at Roswell too.
They live their craft in stealth mode near a little lake in what I assume to be Central Park. This movie was set in the 60s so kids could play out there by themselves. The Martians quickly run into Billy and his sister Betty. The two kids of heard that UFO reports and I’m not really that shocked when they see the Martians come over and start asking them questions about Santa. They immediately tell the Martians that the real Santa lives at the north pole and all those others are just helpers. Talk about aiding and abetting.
The Martians decide to kidnap the kids so no one will know who kidnapped Santa. It’s not like the earth people could do anything about it anyway. On the ship, the Martians place their hostages under the watchful eye of Dropo. Great plan. Superior beings, I think not.
The first thing that Dropo does is take the kids to the control deck. They land at the north pole and the 4 leaders get out and stay another the spaceship discussing the plan. During this time drop a take the kids up it shows in the control center of the ship including the anti-radar device. When Voldar comes in he hides the kids in the anti-radar box.
The children over here the whole plan how the Martians are going to kidnap Santa Claus and take the two children the Mars with them. When the ship lands at the North Pole the two children escape and try and make it to Santa’s workshop to warn him. Since the children are not dressed as arctic explorers they quickly get in trouble and have to hide in a cave when they are attacked by a guy in worst polar bear costume I’ve ever seen.
Back at the ship Kimar decides he doesn’t want to take a chance and calls for his robot Torr. Torr seems to be an early version of SIRI. Get out of the ship, I said get out of the ship – no I don’t need a reminder to buy lettuces get out of the ship. Anyway, this robot is the slowest tinker toy model and I don’t see why it would be helpful. Torr gets the children and takes them back to the ship.
The Martians go to Santa’s workshop where they decide they are going to surround the building and send the robot in after Santa. The three Martians and a robot all go immediately to the front door. Torr breaks through the front door in pre-classic Bumble style. Remember Rudolph is not out yet. Santa sees Torr as a big toy and completely disables the robot by treating him as a toy. Much like he did with the bumble.
The Martians break-in with their Ray guns which are really just whammo airguns painted black. The else immediately get baseball bats to defend Santa. That’s how I want my boys to roll. The Martians use the Ray to freeze the elves and when Mrs. clause comes out they freeze her as well. The Martians take Santa to the ship and he is imprisoned with the children after Billy disables the anti-radar machine.
On Earth, Mrs. Claus reports that Martians definitely took Santa. The United Nations goes into an all-night session and NASA sends a rescue attempt but the Martians fix their anti-radar and evade. Dr. Von Green said all the American astronauts are all wanting to go after those Martian monkeys.
On the way to Mars, everyone is getting the Christmas spirit except Voldar. He tries to blast Santa and the two earth kids out the air lock as if they were Cylon clones. Santa uses his magic to get everyone out the air vent. When they land on Mars they find that Voldar has escaped and left Dropo in the cell.
On Mars, Santa meets the two Martian children and their immediately taken with him. They all have a ho ho ho giggle fest. Kimar sets up a factory for Santa which is totally automated and he doesn’t need the elves to make toys. Dropo, the two earth children, and the two Martian children begin working in the factory. Santa is not happy with his new role once he finds he is never going home.
The two Martian kids grow happier and happier while the two Earth kids fall into a sullen funk. Momar wants to send them back to Earth but her husband refuses. Dropo debows the Santa suit and uses a pillow for the belly. He goes to the workshop at the same time the three bad Martians show up. They sabotage the wiring and kidnap Dropo thinking he is Santa. The green skin is somehow not a giveaway. They take Dropo to the cave but he answers every question with ho ho ho.
Voldar heads to the workshop to demand to the Santa Claus stuff stating that he will kill Santa if he is denied. Kimar locks him up because he knows they have Dropo instead of Santa. At the same time, Dropo escapes. Shortly after Voldar escapes but Billy hears the plan. Billy’s a sneaky little curse. Santa leads all of the kids in old fashion Donny brook. The kids are using all of the toys to defeat the forces of evil. There are a lot of toy tanks, rockets, soldiers, and baseball bats.
Dropo shows up and Kimar saves him and stops the attack on the now beaten Voldar. Dropo starts ho hoing and they decide he is the Martian Santa. They all say their goodbyes. Dropo Claus comes in and cheers the Martians as Santa and the two kids head back to earth in time for Christmas Eve.
World-Famous Summary – Americas greatest capitalist, Santa Claus, defeats the Commies/Martians.