A Christmas Dream
Director: Karel & Borivoi Zeman

Puppeteer: George Prentice

Director: Unknown

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The one-reel children's film A Christmas Dream (1945) was distributed in 16 mm to the home projection market by Castle Films, which had a considerable Christmas catalog since it was a big season for selling family films in the '40s & '50s.

A Christmas DreamBefore days of eBay you could pick up these films dirt cheap, but the world wide web has helped popularize the hobby & made it increasingly expensive to collect old home films. But happily owners of these things are frequently youtubers & films otherwise inaccessible can be accessed freely online.

It's Christmas morning & the tree is aglow with fire-hazard sparklers. Mom & dad lead their little daughter into the room, & the girl's eyes gaze in awe of all the toys & presents.

She tosses aside the funky puppet-doll that had formerly been her favorite & goes hog-like into the pile of newer better things, finding in particular a much lovelier doll to cling to.

That evening as the little girl sleeps in the room with the tree, Santa Claus manifests like a spooky ghost & says of the toy, "Poor little dolly. I know what we'll do. We'll have a Christmas dream." He then runs his hands lasciviously above the sleeping girl's body.

In her dream, the discarded doll stands up on the carpet. He says "Hello!" & does a little dance. The stop-motion animation is endearing & well done. At first the little girl looks bewildered, but then smiles. "I'm still lots of fun," says the doll, "even though you have lots of new christmas toys."

The doll then, more menacingly than was probably intended, tosses all the girl's new toys on the floor. He sets out & about the room to prove how much fun he still is, climbing onto the piano & running about on the keys, then doing an ice skating routine on the shiny piano lid.

When the doll accidentally tangles himself in string, the new teddy bear comes alive to untangle him. Then a stuffed giraffe gives the doll a ride. As such adventures unfold, the little girl jumps delightedly on the bed.

The doll turns on a fan & uses it to create a fierce storm that destroys stuff in the room. The story still doesn't seem to acknowledge that this is a mite creepy, as the little girl leaps out of bed & grabs her old doll to hug & kiss. "Now I'm happy!" says the doll. "Please don't throw me away again!" And one half expects him to add, "Or I'll kill you."

The touch of spookiness is not entirely due to the East European origins of the film. It's the English language version of Vocni Sen by the Czech stop-motion animation genius Karel Zeman.

The Santa who was imposed on the Castle Films edit does not appear in the original, & the doll has none of that unintentionally sinister dialogue. As Zeman made it for international viewing void of dialogue, it's not nearly as spooky & is a much sweeter little parable, though the doll does still wreck the room with wind.

Santa's Punch & Judy Castle FIlms, adhering to its formula of slightly eerie Christmas films, offered another one-reeler, Santa Claus' Punch & Judy (1948).

Santa with a little girl in his lap gives the kid a doll. "Oh thank you Santa!" As the camera pans back we see a set that would seem to be a living room with fireplace, bookshelves, picture on the wall, & a christmas tree in one corner. There are many folding chairs with lots of kids present, without much explanation for how this gathering came about.

We're shown a Santa who has on him, coincidentally, any toy a kid asks for. A boy asks for "a train & a punch & judy show." Santa gives the boy his train set then for the whole room of kids, he does magic, conjuring a Punch & Judy puppet theater.

We're about to be treated to the puppetry of George Prentice, of of the last popular practioners of Punch & Judy shows, who performed in variety shows of the 1930s but was no longer well known by the time this film was preserved for posterity his take on the medieval puppet mayhem. In his heyday he played the London Palladium & for the Prince of Wales, & was regarded as the best Punch & Judy man ever to arise in America.

Santa's Punch & JudyAs the kids laugh, Punch beats the living daylights out of Judy, then Judy gets the bat to get even. No doubt the kids weren't startled by any of this because they were used to watching their parents beat each other up, & it was a great comfort to be taught that it was funny stuff.

A puppet kitty sings "You Made Me Love You" until Punch beats the cat mercilessly, then the cat beats up Punch in revenge. Then two racistly designed blackface dolls beat each other up.

Oddly, each time we cut to the kids in the audience, they're in different positions. First the chairs moved to different spots, then the chairs vanished altogether & kids were seated on the floor.

Punch sings "Oh Judy" to the tune of "Oh Johnny" & a monkey appears to applaud his song. They then beat each other up with a deadly bat as Santa out in the audience guffaws with the kids.

A skunk arrives & Punch beats the skunk, getting himself sprayed. He also tries to beat up an alligator & wedges his club in the gator's jaws.

Judy returns at the end & both Punch & Judy bow, make up, & hug. Santa then dematerializes the puppet theater. Santa fades from existence wishing everyone a merry christmas.

Santa's Punch & Judy Another strange Castle Film for the holidays is the one-reel Santa Claus' Story (c1945).

It begins with a dull narrator reciting the beginning of "Night Before Christmas" to standard images of the cozy home in winter, the christmas tree, the kids asleep, even a mouse asleep (or dead).

Santa makes a noise on the roof & the brother & sister, Jackie & Virginia, wake up. They & with the family terrier catch Santa in the living room laughing.

Jackie says, "That's daddy dressed up! That's not a real santa claus!" Santa pulls them close to him & swears he really is Santa, & to prove it, he'll tell him the story of the Monkeys' Christmas, as if that'd prove diddly.

We then gets shots of Monkey Mountain "where there's always sunshine & monkeyshine." This artificial island of macaques is some zoo exhibit, nothing whatsoever to do with christmas.

Santa's Punch & JudyFor the dumber children who might be watching, Santa narrates what we're seeing. A very young monkey (Santa calls him Charlie) leaps into the water to grab a pretzel some unseen zoo visitor tossed.

\The adult macaques line up along the concrete shore not wanting to get wet, but hoping to snatch the pretzel away afrom the bold swimmer.

We then see the monkeys eating bananas before switching to a completely unrelated scene of baby chimps in a nursery, which Santa represents as a doctor's office though it's not.

The next unrelated footage shows young chimps being dressed up in human clothes. Santa insists they're getting dressed for christmas. Another bit of footage shows chimps building a house -- this Santa says is so they can have a chimney for Santa to come down.

Finally we get to the christmas-theme baby chimps including a chimpanzee santa coming out of a fireplace while other chimps pretend to be asleep in their beds. After chimp-santa goes back up the chimney, the other two leap up to get their toys.

Santa then says these monkeys are "just like you" except for one thing, which is, "They know they're monkeys, but you don't."

It's beginning to seem more & more like a really foolish indoctrination piece for Darwinism, & Santa disapproves of loony creationist Christians. Well good for him. He then teaches the children that all minds are little because yes virginia there is a santa claus. How these would-be truisms relate to one another is anyone's guess.

Santa also describes himself in terms of an immortal god while "Come Let Us Adore Him" plays on the soundtrack. Very, very strange little film.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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