Today’s movie is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). This movie is a beloved holiday classic that has been shown every year since it was released. I ain’t good at math but that like 54 years. There is some really interesting trivia associated with this movie.
Robert L. May created the character of Rudolph for a Montgomery Ward marketing campaign in 1939. That same year, his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the song. Marks took the reindeer names from a public domain poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which is the stockings were and hung and not a creature was stirring poem. Not the first to record the song, country singer Gene Autry took the song to number one in 1949.
The puppets used in the show were very small. Santa was eight inches tall, while Rudolph was four inches tall. The puppets were filmed in Japan and when the show was released, people were quite excited by the “articulated metal armature” that allowed the puppets to be moved, the technology was actually pioneered for King Kong (1933). The voice track was recorded in Toronto, Ontario, hence most of the voice actors were Canadian.
Buddy’s (Will Ferrell) costume in Elf (2003) was modeled after those worn by the elves in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). With Elf on our minds, let’s jump right into the actors.
Burl Ives gave voice to Sam the Snowman, who was the narrator and singer of songs. Ives was born in Illinois in 1909. Burl started singing early on and by the time he was in college he was ready to be a football coach. He left college in 1930, after three years, and traveled for a bit. Working in summer stock in the late 1930s lead to work on the radio for CBS.
Ives became a popular recording artist and had over 30 albums. Ives was in over 30 movies and was really good at playing a bad guy. His movies include East of Eden (1955), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Big Country (1958), for which he won a best-supporting actor Oscar, a genie in The Brass Bottle (1964), the angry Captain in Ensign Pulver (1964), and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). But there is one movie I want to call out for special attention, Wind Across the Everglades (1958). Ives played Cottonmouth, the homicidal leader of a band of bird poachers. Cottonmouth always carried a live cottonmouth with him. Also in the film were Christopher Plummer and Gypsy Rose Lee, it is well worth the time spent watching.
In 1952, Ives was called before the un-American House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and sadly named names to protect his career. Ives died in 1995.
Larry D. Mann was the voice of Yukon Cornelius. Larry was born in Canada in 1922. He was an amazing character actor and voice talent. He had 170 film and television credits. The best known of these are Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and The Sting (1973). Larry died in 2014.
Billie Mae Richards voiced Rudolph. Billie was born in Canada in 1921. Billie had 32 voice and film credits and worked extensively in the Care Bears series. One movie seems to be an odd fit on her resume, Jailbait Babysitter (1977). From the way it is credited in iMDB.com, I would suspect that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) was shown in the background of the movie, but I haven’t seen it, YET! Billie died in 2010.
Paul Soles was the voice of Hermey, the little elf that wanted to be a dentist. Soles was born in Canada in 1930. Paul was a character actor and voice talent. He had 93 film and television credits. He is noted as being the first person to play Spider-Man when he voiced the 1967 animated series.
Sam the Snowman (Burl Ives) is at the North Pole and begins telling the story of a young reindeer that was born before the big storm. He is telling the story in flashback style but I don’t think this is a Film Noir.
Mr. and Mrs. Reindeer Donner have just had their first offspring, Rudolph. Young Rudolph has a very shiny nose. Some people even say it glows. His mother is fine with the nose. Mama always loves you no matter what. That fat judgmental bastard, Santa comes by and implies Rudolph might not be able to work on the sled team because of his nose. After Santa leaves his dad tries to cover the nose with mud.
In spite of Rudolph’s proboscis, his dad teaches him to fight, how to find food, and other important reindeer stuff. They say the most important lesson is to avoid the Abominable snow monster of the north. The monster is mean and hates Christmas.
Spring changes to fall and then to winter. The elves, forced laborers, spend their time making toys. This bunch works mostly in wood. One elf, Hermey, doesn’t like to make toys. The head elf is always hollering at him and it seems like a kind of hostile workplace. Hermey wants to be a dentist but he is locked in by his species.
Mr. Donner gives Rudolph a plastic nose to cover the glowing one. In April, all of the yearlings come out to be inspected by Santa. The young bucks head to the reindeer games. The elves are practicing singing for Santa and Mrs. Claus. I think Santa has gout because he is kind of crabby. There is one tall elf that looks surprisingly like Herbert Anderson. The head elf blames the failure of the show on Hermey, who is busy putting teeth in dolls. After being chewed out, Hermey runs away.
The young doe’s show up and one named Clarice really likes Rudolph. Reindeer Coach Comet shows up and starts the buck training. The first event is takeoffs. I guess the doe’s aren’t allowed to pull the sleigh. Rudolph goes and talks to Clarice. When she says she thinks he’s cute, Rudolph flies through the air. He and his friend Fireball start butting heads and Rudolph’s plastic nose falls off. Coach Comet and the other yearlings freak out and start mocking Rudolph. Santa chews out Mr. Donner. They won’t let Rudolph join in any reindeer games. Clarice comes and finds Rudolph after he runs away. She says she likes his nose. Clarice’s dad comes up and says she can’t hang around Rudolph.
Rudolph and Hermey meet in the woods and they decide to strike out on their own. They head out into the wilderness and are almost caught by the Abominable. They live through the night and in the morning meeting the greatest character in this film, Yukon Cornelius, no relation. Yukon has a dog sled and he is prospecting for gold and silver. Yukon’s dog team consists of cocker spaniel, a poodle, a Saint Bernard, a collie, and a dachshund or wiener dog. The three team up and head on for adventure. The Abominable is close by. Yukon calls it a Bumble. When the monster attacks, they cover Rudolph’s nose and run away. Yukon cuts them loose on an ice flow. Yukon knowns that Bumbles can’t swim.
Mr. Donner heads out to look for Rudolph, refusing to let Mrs. Donner come along saying “This is men’s work.” Chauvinistic bastard. No sooner is Mr. Donner gone that Clarice and Mrs. Donner head out looking for Rudolph.
Yukon, Hermey, and Rudolph land on the Island of Misfit Toys. The island is ruled by King Moonracer. A black winged and maned lion. Pretty cool. They are accosted by a Charlie in the Box and find out that this is where unwanted toys go to live out their days. Kind of like Boca. The three travelers meet with King Moonracer. He says they can’t stay because humans can’t hide from their problem. Good advice. King Moonracer asks them to tell Santa about the island so the toys can find love. Rudolph says if they ever make it back he will do as requested. King Moonracer says they can stay the night. The group wants to stay together but Rudolph is worried that his nose will betray their location to the Abominable. Rudolph strikes out on his own.
Rudolph spent most of his time getting away from the Abominable. As he grew to an adult, Rudolph realizes that he must go home. The other reindeers his age still give him the business. When he gets to the cave, nobody is there. Santa tells them that his parents and Clarice have been gone for months. Then Santa says he is worried about not getting his sleigh off the ground in 2 days on Christmas without Mr. Donner. WOW Santa, my family, and girlfriend have been missing for four months, but I guess it’s all about you.
As Rudolph headed out, a giant snowstorm hit. Rudolph knows he has to look for his parents in the cave of the Abominable, which oddly enough looks just like the cave on Skull Island where King Kong lived. When Rudolph goes into the cave, the Abominable is holding Clarice and his parents are there as well. Rudolph bravely charges the monster with no regard for his own safety. Rudolph stabs the Abominable in the butt a couple of times and the monster cracks him over the head with a rock.
Hermey and Yukon had been looking for Rudolph the entire time he was gone. They came to Christmas Town and Sam the Snowman sent them out after Rudolph. They find Skull Cave and Yukon knows to make pig noises to attract the Abominable. Hermey oinks and the Abominable comes running out of the cave. Yukon drops rocks on the monster from above. Hermey pulls all of the Bumbles teeth. Yukon gets cocky and starts shoving the Abominable. In the action, Yukon, the Bumble, and the dogs fall over the cliff and are lost.
Hermey and the four reindeer go back to the North Pole. Everyone thinks they have been too hard on the misfits. Santa eats a little crow and agrees to rescue the misfit toys. The head elf says Hermey can open a dentist office in the off season.
Just then there is a knock at the door. Yukon comes in with his dogs and the Bumble. Yukon says he has reformed the Bumble and he wants a job. The Bumble puts the star on the tree. Yukon tells them that Bumbles bounce and that is why he survived going over the cliff.
Mrs. Santa is trying to get her husband to gain weight. It must be an insurance thing. Santa is still cranky and hates the elf work song. The weather report comes in and it seems Christmas will be canceled. Santa goes to tell everyone that Christmas is off. Rudolph’s nose shines in Santa’s eyes. He realizes that with Rudolph leads the team, they can fly through the storm. Rudolph graciously accepts. He’s a better man than me.
Santa gets ready and the sled and team of flying reindeer head out. Rudolph’s team only had six reindeer although eight are named in the poem. Yukon strikes it rich with a Peppermint mine. Originally, he had been looking for a Peppermint mine and not gold and silver. It’s still a very nice song.
As it gets later on the Island of Misfit Toys, they think Santa has forgotten them. At last, they see Rudolph’s light leading the team. Santa delivers the broken toys to kids as Sam sings us out with Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.
In the original release, Santa’s trip to the Island of Misfit toys was not shown. The company was barraged with angry letters from children about the misfit toys. The company created additional footage showing the island pickup.
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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
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