A very Merry Christmas to one and all! I’m happy to announce that after a gigantic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer-style blizzard yesterday, we folks up here in Minnesota are finally getting a white Christmas–and how. So this year’s holidays will seem extra cozy–and what goes better with “cozy” than Victorian and Edwardian Christmas silents?
This year my pick for a fun novelty holiday film to show to family is the little-known three-reeler Santa Claus (1925), which I stumbled upon out of the blue recently. (Those are always the best kinds of films, you know.) This charming film gives us the inside scoop on Santa’s life at the North Pole, in a whimsical old-timey way, of course–I’d expect nothing less.
It opens with festive titles and the proclamation “A fantasy actually filmed in northern Alaska.” Actually filmed–this Santa Claus story means business, everyone. The main premise is that two children sneak out of bed on Christmas Eve to see Santa Claus and ask him the age-old question: what he does with his life “the rest of the year”? Jolly old St. Nick obliges, of course, and we viewers are treated to a tour of his own magical corner of the Arctic.
Santa’s scenes in the great white north do start with a slightly horror-movie-esque shot that slooooowly tracks up to reveal his face–it could’ve been a little faster–but never mind. Fun fact: nowadays we take the concept of a curly-bearded Santa for granted, but in the early 20th c. it wasn’t uncommon to see screen Santas who apparently comb out their beards every morning. At least, this is my theory based on numerous slightly creepy old-timey Santas.
Having been actually filmed in Alaska and all, there’s a lot of nice, documentary-style realism adding to Santa’s charming descriptions of “fairy tale north.” “Goblins” guarding his lands are actually herds of real walruses, another “guardian” is a polar bear the cameraman apparently captured while floating by on a boat, etc. There’s some cool shots of Arctic scenery too (although the print’s a bit blurry), and of course some nods to the Inuits, who are apparently the first in line to get Christmas presents from Santa. (The popular Nanook of the North was probably another inspiration.)
And thanks to its location shooting, the director was able to rig up a Santa’s sleigh pulled by a real group of slightly rambunctious reindeer! Mishaps didn’t deter his creativity, apparently–a scene where the sleigh tips over in the deep snow was all part of plot, you see:
That’s actually pretty nice of them to be considerate of how not every family is fortunate to have lots of Christmas presents every year.
Other charming scenes include references to Santa’s good friend Jack Frost, shots of elves busy in the workshop (that really wouldn’t be out of place in Elf), the explanation for how Santa keeps tabs on kids all year (a giant telescope is involved) and tiny fairies singing and dancing Santa to sleep. What more can you ask for?
We can thank a Mr. and Mrs. F.E. Kleinschmidt, as they’re billed in the first title, for this ambitious novelty film. It’s hard to find out much about them, but I did uncover that Frank E. Kleinschmidt was an arctic explorer who had shot several documentaries in frigid locations. His earliest films were The Arctic–Siberian Expedition (1912) and Captain F.E. Kleinschmidt’s Arctic Hunt (1914).
A fearless adventurer with an enthusiasm for wildlife, his Expedition film was described in Moving Picture World as: “Rich in thrilling action, natural humor and real human interest! Clear, clean-cut action pictures of diving bears, fighting sea lions, monstrous marine elephants [walruses], the sports and hunts of Eskimos, etc, taken within thirty feet. A revelation of camera and motion picture possibilities.” His wife seems to have accompanied him on some 1920s expeditions, and certainly had a heavy hand in this delightful short film.
Here’s a copy of it below! By the way, it’s apparently part of Kino Lorber’s A Christmas Past DVD collection, too (which I heartily recommend). Have a find Yuletide, my friends!