Holiday Sweets: Fred Astaire in THE MAN IN THE SANTA CLAUS SUIT (NBC-TV 1979)

Eighty year old Fred Astaire takes on nine different roles in THE MAN WITH THE SANTA CLAUS SUIT, his next to last film. Fred is as charming and debonair as ever, and his presence is what carries the saccharine script, with three varied tales of romance, comedy, and drama interwoven and played by a cast of Familiar TV and Movie Faces, kind of like a “very special Christmas episode” of THE LOVE BOAT.

Gary Burghoff (M*A*S*H’s Radar) is a nerdy math teacher in love with his neighbor, a beautiful (are there any other kind?) fashion model (Tara Buckman, THE CANNONBALL RUN). The model secretly digs him too, but the nerd’s too shy to express his feelings, until a chance encounter with a jeweler (Fred) leads him to rent a Santa suit and propose before she makes the mistake of marrying a rich, handsome playboy (again, are there any other kind?). This leads to slapstick hijinks as he pursues her down the runway at Macy’s. Will they finally get together? Is this a TV Christmas Movie? Of course they do!

Story #2 involves John Byner (BIZARRE) as an ex-restauranteur turned street bum because of his fondness for booze. Byner’s got another problem: he found the gun used in a recent bank robbery, and the hoods who dropped it are after him. Taking a cue from his bell-ringing buddy (Ray Vitte, THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY), he too rents a Santa suit to disguise himself and rob a pair of rich ex-vaudevillians (Nanette Fabray , Harold Gould). But the lush passes out, and instead of calling the cops, the couple, along with their butler (Danny Wells, THE SUPER MARIO BROS. SHOW) and their two obnoxious grandkids, nurse him back to health. Then the crooks show up, demanding their gun or else everybody gets it! This one also ends on a slapstick note and, corny though it may be, was my favorite segment, thanks in large part to old pros Fabray and Gould doing some nostalgic soft-shoe routines.

The third story arc gets more heavy, as Bert Convy (TATTLETALES) plays a failed novelist, now a self-important senatorial aide whose work caused him to become estranged from his wife (Brooke Bundy, from just about every TV show made in the 70’s, not to mention A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS) and son (Andre Gower, THE MONSTER SQUAD). The uptight Convy gets the idea to dress like Santa from his chauffeur (Fred again) and surprise the boy before attending a big political speech by the senator. The kid runs away, Convy and Bundy argue, but you just know by the time the credits roll they’ll all be together for Christmas Eve.

Fred pops up everywhere in this, as the costume shop owner, chauffeur, jeweler, an Irish cop, a Macy’s floorwalker, cabbie, hot dog vendor, and Salvation Army chorus director. I don’t think it’ll spoil things to reveal he’s really jolly old St. Nick himself, in New York to spread some Christmas magic to the protagonists. Astaire is graceful as ever, and though he doesn’t dance, he does get to warble the theme song “Once a Year Night” in that trademark light-as-air voice. The late 70’s New York locations add atmosphere, and the cast is more than capable of making the syrupy material work. THE MAN IN THE SANTA CLAUS SUIT won’t disappoint fans of confectionary Christmas films, and it does gives us all one more chance to see Fred Astaire perform his own brand of onscreen magic. What more could you ask for in a Christmas TV Movie?

Merry Christmas from Cracked Rear Viewer!

 

Halloween Havoc!: A BUCKET OF BLOOD (AIP 1959)

buckb11

We can’t have Halloween without a good Roger Corman movie, and A BUCKET OF BLOOD is one of my favorites. This 1959 black comedy is a precursor to Corman’s THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, and I actually prefer it over that little gem. A BUCKET OF BLOOD skewers the pretentiousness of the art world, the 50’s beatnik scene, and the horror genre itself with its story of nerdy Walter Paisley, a busboy at a hipster coffee house learns making it as a famous artist can be murder!

buckb2

Walter’s a no-talent nebbish longing to be accepted by the pompous clientele at The Yellow Door, especially beautiful hostess Carla. When he accidentally kills the landlady’s cat, Walter covers it in clay (with the knife still protruding in poor little Frankie!), and brings it in to work. The grotesque sculpture causes a stir among the patrons, and Walter is congratulated for his brilliant work ‘Dead Cat’. Beatnik chick Naolia is so impressed, not to mention hot for Walter, she gives the innocent busboy some heroin to celebrate.

But undercover cop Lou, staking out the joint, sees the transaction and follows Walter home, arresting him for possession. Walter reacts by crowning the cop with a frying pan and stashing the body in his ceiling, blood dripping down as he thinks of a way out of this mess. Thus a new masterpiece, ‘Murdered Man’, is born! Meanwhile over at the Yellow Door, owner Leonard discovers Walter’s gruesome secret when he accidentally drops ‘Dead Cat’ and cracks the plaster. Leonard’s horrified, until an art collector offers him $500 bucks for the piece, and his greed takes over.

buckb3

Walter invites Carla and Leonard over to view ‘Murdered Man’, complete with split skull, and while Carla hails him as a genius, Leonard’s a nervous wreck! Walter shows up at work all artsy, dressed in a tam and ascot, long-cigarette holder dangling from his lips. House poet Maxwell composes an ode in his honor, but stuck-up model Alice still treats him with distain. Guess who becomes Walter’s next objet d’art? After Walter cuts off a workman’s head with a buzzsaw for his newest work, Leonard’s had enough, and arranges a showing of Walter’s bizzare statues. All the local hipsters are on the scene giving the boy raves reviews, but Walter’s depressed when Carla tells him she just wants to be friends, so weirdo Walter decides he’ll use her as his latest creation…

corman3

Character actor Dick Miller will be forever identified as Walter Paisley, so much he’s used the character name on six different occasions, including HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, THE HOWLING, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, and CHOPPING MALL. Miller was one of the key players of Roger Corman’s stock company, appearing in 17 of the director’s films, from THE OKLAHOMA WOMAN to THE TRIP, and a host of others with Corman as producer. Miller was introduced to a  new generation of filmgoers in the 80’s as neighbor Murray Futterman in GREMILINS and GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. Happily, Dick Miller is still with us as of this writing at age 87, and occasionally acts in small roles.

buckb5

Other Corman regulars in the cast include pretty Barboura Morris as Walter’s crush Carla, Anthony Carbone as Yellow Door owner Leonard, Ed Nelson as vice cop Art Lacroix, and Bruno VeSota as the art collector. Future game show host Bert Convy (billed here as Burt) plays the unfortunate undercover cop, while sexy Judy Bamber is the doomed Alice. Julian Burton is great as beatnik poet Maxwell, and John Shaner and John Brinkley are hilarious as a pair of hopheads who frequent the coffeehouse.

The legend goes that Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith spent an evening prowling the beat scene in Los Angeles trying to come up with a story, when they met up with struggling actress Sally Kellerman, working as a waitress to supplement her income. The trio sat down as the coffee shop was closing and concocted the wild tale. A BUCKET OF BLOOD has since become a true cult classic over the years, an original black comedy that takes the MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM /HOUSE OF WAX premise and turns it on its ear, satirizing Corman’s more conventional movies in the process. Its warped worldview makes A BUCKET OF BLOOD a must for your Halloween watch list!