Mar 2, 2015
The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914) (part 2 of 3)
Now comes a scene where Mrs. Randall continues to tell Octavius something. I can’t exactly make out what. She touches his arm a lot and puts a finger to her lips to shush him.
The only thing she could possibly be saying is, “Don’t tell the children that Santa Claus is really you.” But that couldn’t be the case, because that would just be stupid. No one gets dressed in a Santa suit just to announce, “Hey, kids, it’s me, your parents’ bachelor friend Octavius, pretending to be Santa Claus because, you know, he doesn’t really exist. Oh, stop crying. You’re eleven years old, don’t tell me you didn’t suspect. How was he supposed to get from England all the way across the Atlantic in one night? You saw what happened to the Titanic. And now we’ll never find the Heart of the Ocean. What? The part about the Heart of the Ocean wasn’t real? Framing device! What the hell do you mean framing device? God, I need a vacation. How long until the Mirage gets built? Seventy-five years! Fine, I’ll stay at the Sands.”
Oh, I found the point of the scene. They give it away early, by putting up a title card telling us that Grace Randall is played by Elsie MacLeod, as if that information is going to help anybody. The aforementioned Grace Randall, Mrs. Randall’s sister-in-law, comes running in, happy to be joining the family for Christmas. And, fellas: she’s single. She meets Octavius in that lovely way that desperate spinsters meet rich, bald nerds eleven years their senior.
You know what, I’m not being fair. Herb Yost wasn’t a good-looking guy, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe he was working that look. He was bringing nerdy back—like some sort of ancient, prototypical Tina Fey.
Octavius is a little too excited to meet Grace. He actually starts stroking her hand. I realize this movie is supposed to be a comedy or, at least, not entirely serious. But nobody in all of human history has ever stroked the hand of a woman he just met unless, and this may in fact be the case, he was planning to kill her.
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Mrs. Randall sends Octavius away to change. He leaves reluctantly. Since this is the last of the Octavius movies and this is the first single girl he’s ever met in any of them, I think he senses some level of predestination. Of course, if he marries her, Hitler will win the war and he’ll never get back to the Enterprise.
Back in the spare bedroom, the burglar approaches the same chest of drawers he already looked through once. Why is he burglarizing the spare bedroom? Nobody keeps anything in their spare bedroom. Is Mr. And Mrs. Randall’s room too long of a skulk?
For the sake of being charitable, let’s just agree that the bad guy hears Octavius coming. He ducks into the closet. Octavius enters and takes time to admire himself in the mirror. Like Fonzie, he goes to comb his hair. Like Fonzie, he stops himself. Unlike Fonzie, it’s because he doesn’t have any hair to comb.
Octavius starts for the closet, but stops himself. And now comes a title card that just makes me want to blow my own head off. “Octavius decides to wear his own costume.” Oh, does he? Does he, playwright and novelist Frederic Arnold Kummer? Why? Does he have a sensitivity to artificial fabrics? Do you, in fact, have any reason other than it’s the only way to get both guys into the Santa suits? You’d think a movie that doesn’t trust us to infer that a guy put on a coat would be more carefully plotted.
Fine. Octavius “decides” to wear his own costume entirely for his own reasons, and not at all because he’s being jerked around by the writer. We watch him get his suitcase, open it, take out the Santa suit, inspect it, take out all the other parts, gather them up carefully in his arms, and put everything down on the bed. Thank Xenu we got to see that, because otherwise when we saw him in the Santa Claus outfit, we’d have had no idea how it got on his body. Oh, something else that didn’t exist in 1914: Xenu. Sorry, Pastafarians.
They show the kids enjoying the company of their marriageable but aging aunt. When they cut back, Octavius is dressed as Santa. Hey, that’s something, right? A cut away to show the passage of time. I mean, it’s not much, but it’s something.
And so, Octavius is now dressed as… Santa Claus? Are they sure? It looks like him, but… not. It’s like some version of him from an alternate timeline. Remember when Stargate Command was called the “SGA” and Carter had long hair? It’s like that. The Santa suit appears to be too dark, the white trim is flecked with black spots, the hat is wrong, and his hair and beard are just nuts.
How can this be? Get ready to have your mind officially blown. The Santa Claus that we know in our time hadn’t been created yet. The big, fat, red-suited, Charles Durning-looking guy was first drawn by Haddon Sundblom in 1931, 17 years after this movie was made. And the best part is Sundblom drew him for a series of Coca-Cola ads! I know! Just about every physical feature you associate with Santa Claus was designed by advertisers to remind you of Coke. I mean, look at him. He’s dressed in Coke’s colors.
Christians are silly. Convert to Judaism. Do it before February 2010, and get the Jewish price on all your Valentine’s Day diamond purchases. Also, I’ll introduce you to Natalie Portman.
Octavius is admiring himself while the burglar creeps out of the closet, dressed in the same exact Santa Claus outfit. And, honestly, what is the burglar’s reasoning here? Does he just put on anything he finds? The only alternative possibility is that he somehow saw that Octavius was dressing up as Santa, looked around the closet, realized he not only had a Santa outfit but that it was the exact same Santa outfit, weighed the costs and benefits, and decided that there would be some upside to impersonating the Randall family’s fun uncle.
Whatever his thought process, I applaud him for getting dressed in the dark. I sure as hell can’t.
Now, the burglar sneaks up behind Octavius, raises his arm and… nothing happens. They cut away before he hits him. That has to be unintentional. I cannot force myself to believe that the movies were ever too genteel to show saint-on-saint violence.
Back downstairs, the Randall family waits for Santa Claus. Mr. Randall, already pushing forty, contemplates the fact that he only has 56 years left to live.
Upstairs, the burglar is satisfied with Octavius’ unconscious placement on the floor. At least, that seems to be what happens. We can’t see Octavius because not only will they not move the camera, they won’t even tilt it down. The burglar grabs an empty basket and skulks off. Yeah, he’s still skulking. Even though he’s now disguised as a family friend, he’s still skulking. On his tombstone, they’ll write, “Beloved skulker.” And then, just below that, “Do not disinter to build tract housing.”
The burglar tries to skulk out the door, having stolen nothing other than a Santa suit. Mrs. Randall intercepts him, and sends him over to collect the presents. Mrs. Randall is not smart.
Back down in the living room, Mr. Randall futzes with something, and then everyone starts dancing. Now I know what life must be like for the target audience of Deafula. It’s a world where people just start dancing for no reason. And then you have to go retcon in an explanation like, “Oh, the thing Mr. Randall was futzing with must have been a lime green iPod shuffle.”
Everybody dances for an unconscionably long time. The burglar approaches the Christmas tree in the other room. At least, I think it’s the other room. It would be weird if they were all in the same room. He grabs the presents and starts shoving them into his picnic basket. So, it’s a good thing they weren’t wrapped.
Incidentally, do you people put presents of any value under the Christmas tree? I mean, I could see a sweater or a board game or something. Maybe the most expensive thing would be a Wii. But don’t you keep the necklaces and cruise tickets and stuff upstairs in the back of your closet? I’m just asking, because I celebrate Hanukkah, and once I got a left sock on the fifth night and the right sock on the sixth. True story; I swear to Portman.
We cut away briefly to see Octavius unconscious on the rug. Hey, they pointed the camera somewhere other than chest level! Welcome to the very, very, very start of the twentieth century, guys.
The burglar picks up some more presents. One looks like a book. In my head, I imagine it’s the 1914 first printing of Tarzan of the Apes. It cost fifty cents back then, and today is worth $4,500.00. So, good time travel tip: if you heard about it in 8th grade, buy it.
The burglar skulks off. Upstairs, Octavius comes to. A title card tells us, “Octavius is locked in.” Honestly, I cannot predict with any accuracy what the title card guy is or is not going to choose to care about. Isn’t this exactly the type of thing that a silent movie could perfectly convey? A guy is pulling on a door, but it won’t open. And then we say to ourselves, “Ah, the door must be locked.” That’s classic pantomime. I saw Bill Irwin do a whole evening of stuck doors at Circle in the Square. It knocked the critics on their asses.
Octavius is pounding on the door like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Sadly, because this is a silent movie, no one will ever hear him. He turns around, exhausted from his effort, and collapses, with the back of his hand held to his forehead. Yes! This is a great silent movie!
Mrs. Randall, possessing the shining, senses something is wrong and goes to check on Octavius. She unlocks the door, and he breathlessly recounts to her everything he knows, which… fill in your own punch line. The two of them rush down to the Christmas tree and find the gifts missing. Why would they look at the tree first? Doesn’t the woman own any jewelry? Maybe gold hadn’t been discovered yet.
Mrs. Randall wildly overacts around the concept of “He took the presents.” Octavius comforts her in classic Octavius style. “That man was a burglar,” he says, by way of title card. “Octavius will recover your presents. He never fails.” It’s a little known fact that talking about oneself in the first person was only first invented by Ayn Rand for the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged (first edition: $7,500). Before that, it was just considered rude.
Octavius puts on his Santa cap, straightens his beard, and marches out. Because nothing says “credibility” like taking pride in one’s Santa costume.
The burglar, holding his basket of gifts, is making his way down a packed dirt road beside sets of railroad tracks. He walks a couple of yards, and then stands in the middle of nowhere. A train pulls up and stops beside him. Honestly, there’s nothing in this shot that indicates he’s at any sort of designated train station. Was there a time when America was so sparsely populated, and trains moved so slowly, that they could just stop to pick people up wherever they happened to be standing?
Octavius now runs up to the same place where the burglar was, a few yards back from where he caught the train. In a wonderful bit of filmmaking ineptitude, there are no train cars in the shot. This is possible, but only if the train that picked up the burglar consisted of nothing but the engine. That’d be cool—just a single engine car, and an engineer tooling around the nation’s rights of way, looking for adventure, picking up hitchhikers, falling in love, and solving mysteries. I see Tom Cavanagh as the lead. We could call it The Engineer, and during sweeps, Julie Bowen could do a three episode arc. Tell me ABC wouldn’t buy thirteen hours of that.
Octavius sees the burglar getting on the train up ahead. Cut to the burglar getting on the train. And it’s not just a matter of speculation anymore; the burglar and the train “up ahead” are actually in the same spot that Octavius, sans train, is standing. They didn’t think I’d notice. But I did. I noticed.
As the train begins to pull away, Octavius runs from off-screen and hops on. The real-world implications are fascinating. I doubt the movie studio owned a working train, or had the clout to commandeer one. That means that this scene had to have been shot guerilla-style. They staked out a train station, started filming, and the actors in Santa costumes boarded a real train. Then they had to ride to a stop, get off, and travel by covered wagon back to the studio. It’s like some sort of bizarre, antediluvian segment of Borat.