Santa Claus. Kris Kringle. Father Christmas. Jolly Ole Saint Nick. Regardless of the name you use, all of these describe the happy, friendly fat man who leaves gifts under our trees on Christmas Eve. Pop culture has built him into a beloved figure and movies depict him as wise and loving of children.
In Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Edmund Gwenn plays the cutest Santa Claus who sings a Dutch song with a little girl, helps Natalie Wood believe, and forgives judges and psychiatrists who try to bring him down. Gwenn was perfect as Kris Kirngle and, as a child, I couldn’t believe anyone could be so mean to Ole St. Nick. This movie made me want to believe in Santa again and finds me saying like Natalie Wood, “I believe, I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.”
On the flip side, there is another classic children’s movie that may give Santa Claus a bad name. Every year my family watches the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special, and every year my dad says, “Santa is a bigot.”
It’s true. Santa is friendly while congratulating Rudolph’s parents and is excited to have another reindeer on his Christmas sleigh team. That is…until the moment that Santa sees Rudolph’s red nose.
Rudolph’s red nose shines, Santa’s eyes screw up in his head and he high-tails it out of the reindeer family’s cave simply because Rudolph is different. Santa doesn’t like Herbie the elf either for wanting to be a dentist rather than a toy maker- not that I much blame him, Herbie whines a lot.
Other than discriminating against his workers, Santa is an overall grump in the movie. He won’t eat. He doesn’t like the song the elves sing. He puts toys that are seemingly fine on an island by themselves promising that he might pick them up on Christmas, but only does after several years.
At the end of the movie, we can argue that Santa Claus has a change of heart. He learns to accept Rudolph and his red nose and allows him to lead the front of his sleigh.
But if you really think about it, Santa is only really using Rudolph. It’s snowing heavily and he needs someone to light his way. Why not attach headlights to the front of the sleigh? Nope, we will use Rudolph’s red nose to lead us. For all we know he could be back to his discriminating ways on December 26 and Rudolph will never lead the sleigh again.
The 1964 Rudolph is a really good movie and a family favorite. The score and storyline are overall enjoyable. Just watch out that Santa Claus doesn’t lower your Christmas spirit. It’s ironic that the Father of Christmas himself is the least jolly of them all in the film.
Comet Over Hollywood, named for the 1938 Kay Francis film Comet Over Broadway, offers anything from Hollywood beauty tips to rants about Katherine Hepburn. Jessica Pickens is a journalism student at Winthrop University who is interested in silent films to anything made before 1964. She writes for Winthrop’s student newspaper, The Johnsonian, and the Shelby Star in Shelby North Carolina. You can visit her on Facebook as well.