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13 December, 2007 / Erik

Gotta Be Ready By Xmas Eve

Art Carney plays a thoroughly modern Santa in this 1986 made-for-Jaclyn-Smith-for-TV-movie in which an oil digger’s family is enlisted (the titular “They”) to save Christmas. When Gaylord-fearing oil tycoon Murdoch (Smucker’s spokesvoice Mason Adams in a role that will confound you) forces Michael (Paul Le Mat in another thankless role) to drill and bomb two sites near the North Pole, Santa dispatches his top Elf, Ed (Paul Williams in a role that will sicken you) to speak to Michael. Ed gently, but firmly, lets Michael know the oil is not on Site B—which is close to North Pole City, but on Site A—which still gives North Pole City quite a jolt. Ed offers to take Michael and his family to meet Santa. The family takes up the offer and Murdoch convinces Michael the never-seen “Gaylord” has kidnapped his family and to move all digging operations to Site B by the 24th of December (“That’s Christmas-Eve Day, have you got me?”). While the family is treated to the scientific wonders of Santa’s Workshop, Michael is berated and despondent by their disappearance.

Now, I’m just going to start with “Gaylord.” Who is he? Who knows? Often mentioned, but never seen, “Gaylord” is the only thing that fills Mason Adams’s Murdoch with terror. Okay, let’s get the snickering over and done with. “Gaylord” is a poor choice for a name in a movie aimed at 8 year-olds. It teaches them to look at that term with scorn, whether Murdoch is freaked out by gaylords in general or Gymnastics star Mitch Gaylord. It’s just not an appropriate tone for Christmas.

Mason Adams is a delight in this film. Never again will you think of him as the kindly Smucker’s Guy. Instead, what you get is a man who never stops yelling or berating is subordinates. At one point, once Michael’s family has vanished, Murdoch says, “I know you’ve got your problems, kid, but back off!” It’s a truly remarkable performance.

This is one of those films that attempts to answer questions about old Claus. Here, all the answers come down to science. How does Santa get into people’s houses? Teleportation. How does he get all the toys out in one night? He slows down time and keeps satellites in low earth-orbit to restock his deliveries. His sleigh is self-propelled by anti-grav technology, but he’s never told the reindeer that little fact. Every explanation is worse than the plot-hole it answers and always comes around to a forced warmth that kills any sense of wonder you might have about these fantastical concepts. Also, we’re told quite emphatically that Santa doesn’t give toy guns or action figures because he doesn’t believe in violence. When Santa is being played by a rather loud Art Carney, that is just a hard fact to take on board. He looks ready to throtle all the elves around him for singing Jingle Bells.

I should mention Paul Williams as Ed, but maybe I’ll save that for another post or next Xmas. He also wrote some music and a song for the film. The song is called “Gotta Be Ready By Christmas Eve” and goes something like this:

Gotta be ready Christmas Eve!
(Gotta be ready by Christmas Eve!)x4
And it’s gotta be made with love!

The Night They Saved Christmas is a product of the early 80s, a misguided attempt to modernize the story of Santa for a jaded youth market already aware he couldn’t possible be the source of their Nintendo Entertainment System.

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