A Few Words About K. Gordon Murray's Santa Claus

by Jim DeVault
If you are not familiar with the name K. Gordon Murray, you don't know cheese. Murray was a film producer, and was best know (perhaps notoriously so) as an importer of foreign, and mostly Mexican films which he re-dubbed in English and sometimes re-edited before regurgitating onto the general public.

Among his best known are the Aztec Mummy film series produced in Mexico by Cinematografica Calderon S.A. He was also responsible for importing the 1959 feature Santa Claus, which I want to give special attention to because it is a gem of holiday surrealism that is so wonderfully awful as not to be missed by any avid cheese lover.

Resting comfortably (at this writing) at #60 on IMDb's Bottom 100, even lower that the legendary Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. There are some intriguing differences in the generally accepted myths about Santa. For instance, instead of living at the North Pole with a toy shop, Santa lives in a castle on a cloud in Heaven. His reindeer are mechanical and spring-wound. No elves, either, but children of different nationalities (in obvious violation of child labor laws). How does he keep an eye on the kids of Earth? He has a super powered telescope which when activated, a protuberance similar to the ones on the war ships in George Pal's War of the Worlds pokes out, except that Santa's has an eyeball in it. It gets more surreal than that. The goofy, surreal stuff aside, though, there are some genuinely tender moments in the film, but mostly it's just strange.
Santa goes to make some last minute toys for his annual rounds, and does so by playing an organ on which there is a view screen with an image direct from Toyland (wherever that is), and scenes of children from different countries singing in their native tongues. No idea what that has to do with toy making, but I said it was surreal. Now on Santa's organ view screen flashes the name of the country each group of kids represents. Here's where K. Gordon Murray ran into trouble. "Toyland" in Spanish is "Juguete de la tierra" (although the word that actually appears on the screen is "Juguetilandia," which makes Google tranlator want to puke). So what's Murray supposed to do? Take a look at the image below:
 To overcome the language barrier he simple re-shot the scene. I'll give him credit for finding an organ that was the same as the Mexican original (top illustration). But look more closely. Note the original organ has a translucent screen with lights behind it on either side. Daniel Griffith (K. Gordon Murray historian) claims that they were both shot during the original production with Murray's direct input, but the visual evidence says otherwise. The name of the country is also lit from behind. Murray's English version has a title card propped up against it. There's a faint image of some lights behind it, but nowhere as bright as the original. The top of the organ is also different, not to mention Santa's suit being baggier and his hair being a bit shaggier in the American version, but "A" for effort, K. Gordon. For what it's worth, both of these stills are from the K. Gordon Murray version.

In the story Satan sends a demon to Earth to screw up Santa's big night, targeting a poor kid who wants a doll that her poverty stricken parents can't afford, a kids who wants his neglectful, partying parents home for Christmas, and three little ruffians who are just mean little s__ts and end up getting lumps of coal. Hooray for Santa! By the way, in the American version the demon's name is Pitch; in the original it is Precio, which means "price." Go figure.

If you decide to check out this title on DVD you will be a bit disappointed if you get the edition, from Westlake, since it is taken from the K. Gordon Murray print which lacks the shots of damned souls being marched into Hell. Don't know why that would be objectionable in a kid's movie.
Also missing from some prints available on other video releases are the images of African children. Either this print was released in the South, or some watchdog group thought it would be objectionable due to the fact that several of the African kids wear bones in their hair. I could see how that could be shy of politically correct, but to be perfectly accurate, they're held on with chin straps, making the overall effect more comical that offensive in my opinion.

There are also some other, out of print video versions out there, too, if you want to search them out, but most are alternate cuts and not the original version that was shown in Mexico. Lucky for avid collectors (like me) VCI Entertainment has released a Blu-Ray edition. It claims to contain both the Murray and original Mexican releases, however the disk contains two versions of the same disk, one in Spanish and one in English. The package gives the run times as 85 minutes (American version) and 94 minutes (American version), but this is inaccurate; the K. Gordon Murray version runs 94 minutes, and the Mexican version would run a minute or so longer without cuts. I suspect that the K. Gordon Murray version was edited from the English dubbed version of the original Mexican print, which had the Damned Souls scene omitted for American audiences. The Spanish version on the Blu-ray is subtitled, but they reflect the English dialog rather than being a translation of the Spanish, which is not the same. Most glaringly there is a section in Santa's opening scene where in the Spanish version he is silent, but the English version, for whatever reason, dubs in a couple dozen "ho ho ho's." These extra ho ho ho's appear in the subtitles even though they should not appear in the Spanish version (where most non-Spanish speaking people will be using them).

The plus sides to the Blu-Ray is the print quality, using original 35mm source prints. Then there's the commentary track by Daniel Griffith, which is good despite the inaccuracies (mentioned above) and other goodies which include K. Gordon Murray's deliriously awful Christmas shorts savaged from Santa Claus mixed with horrendous original footage shot on 16mm. It's all very bizzare in a charming sort of way. If you want to check it out on DVD or download, check out this Amazon link: