The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)

The Christmas that Almost Wasn't PosterHere’s one instance where the author of the book can’t whine about how his precious work of art has been bastardized by the film industry into a commercial bit of tripe not befitting the work of genius that his powerful novel about The Chrsitmas That Almost Wasn’t was. You see, Paul Tripp, the author of said powerful novel also starred in the movie, wrote the screenplay and is credited with coming up with the lyrics to the copious songs that littered this movie like giant piles of reindeer crabapples. (Did you think songs that rhymed “sorry” and “jolly” wrote themselves?)

So where did Tripp go wrong? What was it that tripped him up? What happened was that Paul went and broke one of the basic tenants of filmmaking, nay, of life itself – he had his movie made by a bunch of Italians!

And just to make sure that his movie would sink faster than a sleigh loaded up with a fat Italian actor with a fake beard, he hired the star of Frankenstein’s Castle Of Freaks to not only play the villain, but also to direct!

There were many reasons why this movie made me shudder and pray that The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t would somehow turn into The Christmas That I Was Really Wasted and Forgot Everything That Happened, but the first among them had to be the opening theme song, a little ditty that explained the concept of the movie and was quite catchy in a creepy and completely undesirable manner.

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Compounding the pain was that it was sung over some of that old time cut and paste Monty Python-style animation I loathe. (If I can do it at home with some magic markers and construction paper, I don’t want to see it in a movie.)

After a couple of minutes of this guy singing while cardboard cut outs jumped over roofs, the movie finally begins and rapidly degenerates into a quite bland and squalid affair. I don’t mind squalid if I’m watching a movie about an undercover cop turned junkie or a movie about life after an atomic war, but I don’t think I’m out of line when I demand that my Christmas movies be bright and cheery.

At the very least, Santa’s workshop should be that way. I understand if some poor kid’s town is under the thumb of a burgermeister who hates Christmas or something and things are a little grey, but at least Santa is always a beacon of hope who romps around with brightly attired midgets and shiny wooden toys. This movie though had Santa looking like he lived in a flop house with his wife, seven nasty looking elves, and their foreman.

Sam Whipple (Tripp) is a lawyer in an unnamed town and for some reason his only case seems to be the case of “the lawyer who puts up the town’s Christmas decorations while singing forgettable songs about how much he loves Christmas.” Clearly this is a dog of a case and he would be wise to get a client other than himself. As luck would have it, he does get a new client in the form of Santa Claus.

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This would be one of your less impressive Santas, looking vaguely like a drunken transient in department store garb and whining incessantly about the problems he’s having with his new landlord. He explains that the Eskimos had given him a piece of the North Pole to run his shop out of, but then they went and sold it out from under him to a guy named Phineas T. Prune.

Guess what a guy named Prune thinks about Christmas? He hates it! Can you believe it? And further more, he doesn’t like kids and in fact, he himself denies that he ever was a child!

While Prune has some fairly amusing (though a bit predictable) delusions, the reason any of this matters to us is that he’s gone and raised the rent on Santa and is demanding payment in full by midnight on Christmas Eve or come Christmas Day, Santa and his big bootied wife are going to find the North Pole Sheriff dumping all their crap on the front lawn!

Santa has come to Sam for help because Sam was the only kid that ever sent Santa a thank you years ago and promised to help Santa if he ever needed it. Umm, Santa, that’s the kind of thing people say just to be polite. Besides you can’t hold anyone to a contract they made as a kid. Maybe a little less time scouring your old fan mail and little more time studying that lease you signed with your Eskimo buddies, Tubby.

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Since Whipple is a lawyer, he does what any good attorney would do in this case. He tells his client that he better go out and get a job and start making that money to pay the rent! By the way, this is pretty much the entire movie: Santa needs money for rent, so Santa and Sam go and get jobs to make the money for the rent. Who knew that all those Rankin-Bass cartoons took all the really good “we’ve got to save Christmas from the crabby guy” plots?

Christmas is saved after an even more embarrassing scheme is cooked up by Sam after Prune frames them for breaking a bunch of toys. The new plan involves guilting all the little kids in town to chip in and pay Santa’s rent for him. Mrs. Claus is going to be so proud!

Everything about this movie was really scurvy from the dirty, emaciated actors (except for the bloated Mrs. Claus) to the grungy house that Santa lived in. It didn’t look any better than the dirty and dusty place that Prune lived in (which was supposed to be that way because of his dour attitude).

Bad songs and worse special effects (you only get to see the reindeer flying through the air in one scene, but it was way more than enough) combined with the mundane landlord-tenant dispute story make this a most unappealing holiday offering.

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