holiday, tv, camp, movies, santa conquers the martians, christmas

Santa Claude Conquers the Martians from 1964 is regularly listed as one of the worst 100 movies of all time. My guess is that most of these reviews and anti-rankings are based on budget (and perhaps story). But with what little they had to work with, the performers in this film make it work. John Call has the role of Santa Claus which is often thankless in the best of holiday pictures. However, he comes off as the most realistic Santa one could imagine, radiating peace, love and mellowness, even in the face of robot monsters and attitude-filled alien atmosphere. Call only made one more picture, but it got to be with the ex-James Bond Sean Connery (Anderson Tapes, 1971).

Getting back to aliens with attitude, film debutant Vincent Beck does a tour de force as the Martian king’s bête noire, Voldar. Channeling The Wizard of Oz’ Wicked Witch of the West through the body and look of a greenish alien hipster, he sneers and dismisses his way to ultimate defeat, but with such real gusto it served him through a 20-year career of guest appearances on television shows as iconic as The Monkees, Mannix, Ironside and even the film Firepower (1979, Starring O.J. Simpson, Sophia Loren, James Coburn and also featuring Jake LaMotta). Also starring was Bill McCutcheon as the space bumpkin Dropo (his name more likely Marx Brother-ist in origin as opposed to a homage to the recently retired MLB power hitter), in the middle of a long career that would lead to regular roles on Jim Bouton’s Ball Four TV series(1976) and later Sesame Street (1985-1992).

As much as this film has been ridiculed, its sets and mise-en scene are not too much worse than an average early Star Trek television episode. So it isn’t surprising that director Nicholas Webster was tapped to direct Darren McGavin and Nick Adams in another camp (and psychedelic) sci-fi classic, Mission Mars (1968). Throw in a budding Pia Zadora playing the Martian child Gimar, and a rocking opening musical theme “Hooray For Santa Claus” (Santa pronounced Santee) by Roy Alfred and Milton Delugg, who also composed the interesting score). Delugg co-composed the closing theme “Roller Coaster” for What’s My Line? (1953-1965).

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