“You spell it S-A-N-T-A C-L-A-U-S hooray for Santy Claus!”
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians may not be the Christmas film you grew up with, but it’s a story worthy of the season.
This may seem like a strange title, but I assure you it’s all within the holiday spirit! Santa looks to be “conquering” the martians by setting up a toy factory on the red planet. Obviously the martians are grumpy and not filled with the Christmas spirit, so Santa is doing his best to help, along with a pair of Earth kids. The trailer shows a toy factory, where the kids “attack” a martian with bubbles, pop guns, and ball shooters. There’s even another martian getting into the festivities by dressing up as Santa. It’s low budget. It’s cheesy. But it’s also a lot of fun!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
The film opens with a pair of Martian children, Bomar (Chris Month) and Girmar (Pia Zadora), watching a news report from KID-TV, in which Andy Henderson (Ned Wertimer, also referred to as Mr. Anderson) is reporting live from the North Pole where he interviews Santa (John Call) and Mrs. Claus (Doris Rich). Kimar (Leonard Hicks), the leader of the Martians, complains to his wife, Lady Momar (Leila Martin), that all his children do is watch Earth programs on the “video set.” They won’t eat or sleep anymore. His wife suggests he and the council visit Chochem the wise sage for advice.
The council which includes Kimar and Voldar (Vincent Beck), visit Chochem’s chair in the Thunder Forest. Suddenly the old martian (Carl Don) appears, and has all the answers for Kimar. Even though it’s Septober on Mars, it’s early December on Earth, and they are feeling especially sad that Martian children don’t get to have fun and play. “We need a Santa Claus on Mars,” exclaims Chochem before disappearing again.
Kimar gathers Voldar and three other Martians for a trip to kidnap Santa from Earth. They see many Santa’s in the big city, and are confused as to which one to take. Landing near Lake Welch, New York, they come upon to young Earth children, Billy and Betty Foster (Victor Stiles & Donna Conforti), who explain that the real Santa lives at the North Pole. Voldar demands that they take the children, lest they call the authorities.
Landing at the North Pole, stowaway Martian, and all-around goofball Dropo (Bill McCutcheon), gives the Earth kids a tour of the spaceship. Billy sabotages the “radar box” so that the Earth “space force” will be able to track them. Kimar releases Torg, a giant robot, from the ship to capture Santa. The children escape and hide in the snow, but are captured by Torg, which Voldar instructs to kill the children. Kimar, not trusting Voldar made sure that Torg only obeys his commands. The Martians abduct Mr. Claus and return to Mars.
Santa makes all the Martians on the ship feel happier, except for grumpy Voldar, who wishes for Mars to return to being the planet of War. Having tried to kill the kids and Santa again, Kimar arrests Voldar, but he easily escapes and hides out with his two cronies in a cave. Kimar introduces Santa to his family, telling him that he will never return to Earth. They set up an automated toy factory to make gifts for the children of Mars.
That evening Voldar and his men sabotage the factory, capturing what they think is Santa in the process. In reality it’s actually Dropo dressed in the Santa suit. Billy and Betty are home sick and depressed, while Santa remains in good spirits, but it’s obvious he’s not completely satisfied by the arrangements. Voldar informs Kimar that he has Santa and insists on three demands: destroy the toy shop, send the Earthlings home, and no more joy on Mars!
Dropo, leaning into the portrayal of Santa, gives Shim (Joe Elic) a hearty “ho-ho-ho” before escaping. Kimar, knowing that the real Santa is safe, challenges Voldar’s claims. Santa and the kids, Martian and Earthling alike, use the various toys to attack and defeat Voldar and Stobo (Al Nesor), as Santa looks on laughing his jolly laugh. With Voldar in prison and Dropo safe, Kimar decides the best thing is to send the Earthling’s home to keep Christmas alive on Earth. Santa suggests Dropo would make a fine Martian-Santa, and leaves his spare suit with the excited Martian. Santa and the kids return home just in time for Christmas Eve!
“If we take them with us to Mars, Santa’s disappearance will remain a mystery. No one on Earth will ever know that Santa Claus was kidnapped by Martians.” – Voldar
History in the Making
Happy Holidays! This film has always been a perennial favorite of mine, having been shown every year on Tom Hatten’s Family Film Festival on KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is many things. It’s a sci-fi film. It’s a holiday film. It’s a bad film. But it also really speaks to the nature of the holiday, especially in terms that a 1960s audience could relate to.
John Call’s portrayal of the “jolly old elf” is one of the most iconic representations of Santa Claus on film, rivaling Edmund Gwenn’s version in the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street, and possibly influencing David Huddleston’s version from Santa Claus: The Movie (1985). He certainly embodies the spirit of the holiday and the goodness of the character. The Santa character always believes the best of others in the film. Even when Voldar locks the Earthlings in the air lock and sets the timer to expel them, he only claims that Voldar “accidentally” locked them in. And he doesn’t take part in the big fight scene against Voldar. He only sits back with a bubble-pipe, laughing and encouraging the children to have fun.
While being released in the mid-60s, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians has a much stronger 50s sensibility about Mars and Martians. It plays to all the tropes: green men, from the red planet, UFO’s, and other advanced technology. We see the Martians eating food pills, and having a distinct lack of physical contact. They don’t hug, only touching foreheads to indicate affection, and don’t know how to shake hands. They have sleep rays, and giant robots.
That robot, Torg, is also probably a reference to Gort (anagrammed as Torg) the giant robot from The Day The Earth Stood Still. It too follows orders and protects its master, but in this case is not allowed to kill. Santa marvels at it, as if Torg is just another toy, and it seems as if Torg responds to him as well. The Martian names, at least the family ones, appear to also be clever word play. Kimar, the leader is an amalgam of King Martian, as is Momar (Mother Martian), Bomar (Boy Martian), and Girmar (Girl Martian). Just the kind of weird faux-alien sounding naming that sci-fi films had been known for.
The film, taking place with such an iconic holiday figure, really wears its heart on its sleeve. The themes of joy, fun and respect for other cultures are strong elements in the film. As with other holiday films and television shows, the plot focuses on the children as the central protagonists, seeing a lot of the elements through their eyes. Santa always is good and kind, and the Earth children always call Kimar sir, and say “please” and “thank you,” to everyone.
Santa Claus Conquers The Martians also tells the audience that Santa Claus is also just a state of mind. That even without a “real” Santa Claus, you can still celebrate peace and joy. It’s why Dropo is left in charge of being Mars’ Santa. He is the goofiest Martian ever and already embodies much of what Santa Claus is: wonderment, fun, and that child-like quality.
The Science in The Fiction
Let’s be real. The scientific aspects of the film are non-existent. In fact, the film might even work better assuming that it’s all a fantasy. The Martian landscapes (limited as they are) and the appearance of Chochem feel very much like they’re from a fairy tale story. Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, has a very Norman Rockwellian feel to it. As if the filmmakers tapped into the most iconic elements of Santa and Christmas made popular in the 50s and 60s.
The Final Frontier
Santa Claus Conquers The Martians often makes lists of the worst films ever made, but it’s seriously not that bad. It’s no Plan 9 From Outer Space. And it’s definitely not Manos: The Hands of Fate. But it’s kitschy and dated, but certainly has its heart in the right place.
It is also often touted as the film debut of Pia Zadora, a B-movie actress and singer from the 1980s, who was famous mostly for being famous. Several other actors would go on to better known roles. Ned Wertimer, who played the reporter at the North Pole, would find wide-spread appeal as doorman Ralph Hart on The Jeffersons television series, and Dropo actor Bill McCutcheon would becoming the recurring Uncle Wally on Sesame Street. The film was also surprisingly adapted in comic book form by Dell Comics in March of 1966. You can even read it online. It may be one of the most faithful adaptations of a film, ever!
I hope this holiday season leaves you in good spirits and I thank you for reading the Sci-Fi Saturdays articles this year. In 2020 I’ll be covering some of the most iconic films of the 70s and 80s, as science fiction films goes from a niche genre, to one of the most profitable film types ever!
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.