Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Fifth Day of our second annual The Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration. Our previous article transported us to the mysterious East with its storied tradition of watching big-ass monsters getting the stuffing beaten out of them by giant silver men. Today we bring you a peculiar curio from the reign of Britain's King George V that takes us from 1913 London to the Red Planet and back, becoming an accidental milestone of early British cinema along the way. It's technically a Christmas movie rather than a Christmas special, and admittedly something of a mixed bag, but it's also such an odd and unique little bauble we just couldn't help but hang it prominently on this year's Million Monkey Towers Shitmas tree.

So pip pip, huzzah and cheerio! Join us in Merrye Olde England for a glass of port and a generous slice of Yorkshire pudding! Go see a Panto play, make a loo-roll snowman or pop a Christmas cracker and put on a paper hat...but don't forget your brolly because it looks like snow!

I believe in Father Shitmas.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas Special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning, because one day of Shitmas is never enough!

A Message from Mars is today considered historically important as Britain's first science fiction film, but its roots go all the way back to 1877 Italy, where astronomer Giovanni Shiaparelli first observed and reported an intricate network of trenches on the surface of Mars. Shiaparelli himself believed these to be natural phenomena, although he incorrectly assumed they were full of liquid water. In an ignorant little quirk of fate the Italian word "canali," meaning "channels" was mistranslated into English as "canals," and that subtle implication of artificial construction led to both scientific and popular speculation as to whether or not the planet was currently or had previously been inhabited.

By the time American astronomer Percival Lowel took up the banner for an intelligent Martian civilization the western popular imagination was already clenched firmly in the grip of what was known contemporaneously as "Mars fever."

In 1897 H.G. Wells published the enormously influential Martian invasion novel "War of the Worlds", bending the burgeoning science fiction genre towards a focus on extraterrestrial life that still defines much of its output today. This would in turn inspire generations of scientists to search the skies for evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and make human exploration of outer space a reality.

It just goes to show how impressionable humans can be when a single misunderstood word can shift public perception on a vast scale and alter the course of our cultural and scientific history. That particular tendency is a double-edged sword, of course, often giving us devastating wars, vicious tyrants and periodic genocides, but occasionally, as in this case, it can also provide immeasurable benefits and move us forward as a species.

Today's message from Mars comes to us via a popular play written by Richard Ganthony sometime in the early 1890's. It was first performed in London in 1899 with comedic actor Sir Charles Hawtrey in the lead role. Its premise is taken from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," but the story has been stripped down and the characters and plot drastically altered. The central "Scrooge" character is a young groom-to-be named Horace, who's encouraged one Christmas Eve to change his miserly ways by a Martian visitor rather than a trio of holiday ghosts.

The play had previously been adapted into a short film in New Zealand in 1903, but the 1913 version is significantly longer and features Hawtrey himself reprising his once-famous role. Although he's clearly a little too long in the tooth to convincingly portray a young groom he still does a fine job conveying the parsimonious protagonist's grasping ways and subsequent transformation.

The print I'm watching has been beautifully restored by the British Film Institute, time-corrected, tinted to the original release specifications and enhanced with a cracking ambient/electronic score by composer Matthew Herbert and the New Radiophonic Workshop.

We begin with brief tableau featuring each major character in a little iris-view vignette. It's an oddly formal way of introducing them, but not unusual for films of the period. Most early features were relatively stagy affairs with very little camera movement and long static takes, and more self-consciously theatrical than what we would consider cinematic today.

I might as well just show you the intros now so you'll know who's who when we meet these people later.

Miss Chrissie Bell as "Minnie:"

I wonder if she's a moocher.

Miss Kate Tyndall as "Aunt Martha:"

She's like a perspicacious cockatiel.

Mr. Holman Clark as "The Messenger:"

He does not have time for your shit.

Mr. Hubert Willis as "The Tramp:"

He smells exactly like he looks.

And finally Mr. Charles Hawtrey as "Horace Parker:"

The oldest young bachelor I've ever seen.

Incidentally this is not the Charles Hawtrey John Lennon name-drops at the beginning of the Beatles' album "Let it Be."

That would be this guy, who "borrowed" his professional name from the original Charles Hawtrey while falsely claiming to be his son. He may be seen elsewhere on MMT here.

There's no music over these credits, just the sound of howling wind, which lends the proceedings an eerie quality and sets the mood for the narrative to come. The music in general is fairly minimal, with some slightly dissonant melodies and a few sudden intrusions of jarring noises to punctuate the action. It's far more experimental than I would have expected for a stately silent film restoration by the BFI, but it turns out to have been an inspired choice that compliments the viewing experience exceptionally well.

A title card now informs us that Ramiel, whom we will know as The Messenger, has broken one of the laws of the Kingdom of Mars. He is being summoned before The God of Mars, who will command him to pay for his crime by the act of redeeming a selfish mortal of Earth.

"So I told the director 'I don't take my clothes off for anybody. I don't care if it is artistic.'"

The Messenger is brought into the Boss God's throne room to get the details of his punishment.

All of the Mars people wear gigantic ankh symbols around their necks, presumably to identify them as full citizens, and the Boss God demands that The Messenger take his off and hand it over. He makes a big, theatrical show of anguish at having to surrender it, so cearly it's a big deal in this society to be allowed to wear one.

The Messenger begs and pleads, but the law is sacrosanct and he must take his punishment. Mr. Holman Clark overplays the hell out of everything here, shamelessly chomping the scenery, with wild sweeping gestures and ridiculously exagerrated facial expressions. Early films tend to be broadly emotive anyway, but his performance is more like satire or caricature than an honest attempt at serious acting.

"Da fuq are you doing?"

Boss God hands the confiscated ankh to one of his lackeys and stands up from his throne. He raises his arm in a ceremonial gesture and suddenly The Messenger's elaborate robes are transformed into comparatively plain costume that makes him look something like a medieval page. He looks down at his new threads and sighs in disgust.

Having made his royal pronouncement, Boss God sits back down on his throne and signals another of his ministers to bring out a big frosted glass ball on a plant stand. The guy places it in the middle of the frame with everybody forming a semicircle around it. They peer into it to behold a vision of what The Messenger's redemptive mission is going to entail.

Hmmm...that orb reminds me of something. It'll come to me eventually.

Now we fade to London's famous Trafalgar Square, and if it's good enough for Nelson it's quite good enough for me. Scrooge stand-in Horace shuffles haughtily across the wide thoroughfare and a ragged-looking street boy tries to sell him some matches. Horace dismisses him with a sneer and when the kid doesn't immediately desist the odious miser forcefully knocks his matches to the ground, hurrying away like he's got a sore ass and an urgent need for some hemorrhoid ointment.

"Sorry about your piles, guv'nor!"

At the far end of the square Horace happens by an old fashioned Punch and Judy show performance and settles in to watch.

Complete with an old fashioned Toby dog doing tricks on the board.

Originally a feature of Italian Commedia dell'Arte performances, these absurd puppet shows have been a popular attraction the U.K. since the mid 17th century. They consist of a variety of scenes and an extensive cast of stock characters, most of whom are dispatched by Mr. Punch and his literal "slap-stick," which is the origin of the term we use today for broad physical comedy.

Horace clearly enjoys the show, and laughs merrily along to the violent antics, but when the puppeteer's assistance walks through the crowd busking for change he shouts at the poor fellow, vexedly turning his back and leaving rather than coughing up a single penny.

We see the assistant go back into the crowd and ask a poorly-dressed spectator for a penny, and this person also refuses to pay, but he doesn't make a big show of offense at having been asked. He's probably simply too poor to afford it. I believe this was an intentional detail added to contrast with Horace's petulance. Quite clearly Horace can afford a penny for a few moments entertainment, and his irritability may indicate some innate awareness of his own moral failings.

"That's called 'consciousness of guilt' guv'nor!"

We fade back to the throne room on Mars and we can see from the Messenger's face that he's just not into any of this shit. Nonetheless he must leave Mars immediately and will be unable to return until Horace's selfishness is reformed.

He exits the throne room, resigned to his task, and the Boss God and his minions all gather around the orb to watch the rest of the movie with us.

Meanwhile incorrigible skinflint Horace arrives home in a piss-poor mood from his long, hard day of pinching pennies and despising the poor. Shortly after he lets himself in his front door The Messenger appears outside, but bides his time for the appropriate moment to launch his campaign.

Horace enters his parlor, sits before the fireplace, places his feet onthe fender and picks up a magazine, blissfully unaware of the trials he must soon endure. As he's about to begin reading he notices a letter awaiting him on the mantlepiece.

It's from a wealthy socialite friend named Julia Clarence, reminding him that she's hosting a dance that evening, to which he's promised to escort his fiancee Minnie.

Some of you youngsters might not be able to read this, since many of your schools stopped teaching cursive back in 2010.

Our hero responds by crumpling the note and throwing it into the fireplace. Well, almost...he misses and it just sits there between the footrest and the grate. He obstinately settles himself into his armchair to read his article without giving the missive a second thought.

Next we see Minnie excitedly preparing herself for the dance. Aunt Martha comes in and examines her outfit, presumably to make sure she's not showing any cleavage, and they exit together, ready for a night of harmless amusement with her soon-to-be old man.

"I see you took my advice and put some duct tape over your nipples."

It's here that I begin to sense a fundamental flaw in the narrative that will doubtless nag at me throughout the rest of the film, namely that Minnie simply cannot have failed to notice what a horror of a man Horace is before this particular evening, yet she gives no indication that she expects anything other than a fun, frolicsome evening with him. I know that courtship was a more rapid affair back then than it generally is today, and perhaps they've only been engaged a very brief time, but even so--he's so plainly and unashamedly a douchebag, how could she not know?

So Aunt Martha's chauffer drives them over to Horace's house, and the maid brings them in and they're shocked, I tell you, shocked to see that Horace is lounging about in his day clothes instead of in his dapper tie and tails, and fiddling with his magazine instead of breathlessly awaiting their arrival.

"Why, you perfidious tallywacker!"

Aunt Martha begins ripping him a new one, in a genteel, respectable sort of fashion you understand, but Minnie begs her off and begins to coddle the undeserving bastard instead. She sits him down and props him up with pillows and even brings him over a seltzer dispenser, some whiskey and an ice bucket. It's a particularly nauseating display of submission when it's plain that she should just kick him in the fork and go to the dance without him.

He ain't worth it, girl.

Meanwhile another car pulls up outside and a dapper fellow in a top hat and overcoat steps out. This is Arthur Dicey, another of their socialite acquaintances. He steps in and greets the ladies jovially, explaining that he's on his way to the dance party himself and dropped by on the off-chance they might need a lift.

It's quite apparent he has the hots for Minnie and that he has hopes that Horace's assholery might give him an opening to pursue her. Horace, seems to realize this because he stands stiffly by the fireplace, barely speaking a word and glaring over at Arthur like he wants to punch him in the balls.

"Just one quick jab would take him right down."

Minnie explains that because Horace is such a di...*ahem*...because Horace is feeling perhaps just a touch delicate this evening, they will not be attending the dance.

This little show of support emboldens Horace, who by his body language has decided to just go ahead and be a backhanded dick to Arthur...and why not? Minnie has just asured him she's a submissive little wallflower who'll excuse and forgive him no matter how outrageously he behaves.

Arthur and Aunt Martha exit the room exchanging exasperated glances, leaving Horace standing smug as a turd on a blanket, glaring at Minnie in triumph and too blind and stupid to realize that he's just crossed a bridge too far and set it on fire.

You'd better grab a fan, Horace. You're gonna need something for all the shit to hit.

It seems all of Minnie's coddling was a ploy to reveal if Horace was truly as selfish and misanthropic as she'd feared. She takes off his ring and sets it on the table, then splits for the party with Arthur.

Instead of pondering over what an insufferable cock-waffle he is, he just casually sits back down to read his magazine, ostensibly relieved that all of the bother is finally over.

Arthur, Aunt Martha and Minnie arrive at the Clarence house and a valet steps forward to open the car door for them. The car is designed with the driver sitting outside the main cabin and exposed to the elements. This was not universal but was also not uncommon, and a driver would simply have had to deal with inclement weather as if they were they still using horse-drawn carriage.

Because fuck the hired help, that's why.

Once inside Arthur wastes no time ingratiating himself with Aunt Martha and presenting himself to Minnie in as sharp a contrast as he can to her horrid boor of an ex-fiancee. Perhaps, he hopes, he's just the sort of decent, jolly fellow with whom a recently-single young lady might enjoy a little rebound romance.

Cutting back to Horace's street we see a rather seedy-looking gent walking about and ostensibly looking for a particular address, He finds the right one, walks straight up to Horace's front door and knocks. When the maid answers he briefly explains himself to her and shows her a letter. She leaves him outside while she steps in to speak with her master.

Horace is irritated at yet another interruption of his quiet enjoyment of bile and misery, but he ultimately allows her to bring the fellow in, if only to give a wretched piece of street refuse a bit of false hope he can immediately dash to pieces.

This is The Tramp we saw during the character introductions, and we know from the prominence he was given there that he will play some important part in our narrative. He bows humbly and nervously hands Horace the letter.

There's only eight people identified by name in the entire movie and two of them are called "Arthur."

So this Other Arthur, who apparently knows Horace well enough to send a stranger to him bearing a note of introduction also somehow doesn't know Horace well enough to realize what a capricious, contemptible shit he is, because if he did there's no way he'd expect him to show an ounce of compassion to the scrappy, down-on-his-luck "clever workman."

Predictably Horace crushes the letter in his grasping mitts, tosses it into the fire and sends the poor fellow back out on the streets without so much as a fart or a farthing.

"Smell ya later, loser!"

As the poor Tramp shuffles away dejectedly, his spirit broken and his dreams shattered, we see Horace contentedly light a cigar and sip his whiskey and soda, secure in the knowledge that he's done his day's full quota of despicable deeds.

As he sits and reads his precious fucking magazine the lamp on the table begins to flicker. He goes over to have a look but has no success in mending it, so he decides to turn on a floor lamp standing by the door instead. As he reaches out to flip the switch, however, the lamp disappears and The Messenger appears in its place!

He doesn't exactly light up a room, does he?

Horace is understandably shocked, and as he backs away cautiously to his place near the fire The Messenger slowly, menacingly sweeps towards him. He crosses his arms and glares at the misanthrope, announcing "I am a messenger from Mars and I have come to save you from yourself!"

"Did one of the Arthurs put you up to this?"

Horace tries to intimidate the visitor, even going so far as to raise a fist at him, but The Messenger lifts his hand and a sudden violent tremor rocks the room, shaking the casements, pictures and furnishings and leaving Horace frightened and disoriented.

The filmmakers did this by shaking the camera and manipulating the various objects in the room so that they moved and tilted, then cut it together in a series of five swift edits. Between the sudden ripple of the shock wave and Hawtrey's genuinely disturbed and palsied reaction you can almost feel the room shaking. It's quite an ingenious and impressive effect, remarkable for the simplicity with which it was achieved.

The Messenger orders Horace to grab his hat and coat. At first Horace seems willing to comply, but once he's got the coat buttoned up he feels his oats and throws his hat down on the chair in defiance. The Messenger gives another sweep of his hand, causing another violent tremor, and Horacedrops to his knees, begging for mercy like a terrified supplicant before a mighty potentate.

"Just don't fuck with me, fat boy, and we'll get along just fine."

Once outside The Messenger orders Horace to march up the street. The Messenger disappears, and when Horace sees he's alone he attempts to escape back to the warmth of his parlor. When he attempts to move towards his house, however, he finds that he can only walk in place. He struggles against the invisible force but eventually must give in and takes off dejectedly in the direction he'd been ordered to go.

After traveling a few blocks, and without seeing any further sign of The Messenger Horace flags down a police constable and gives him a few coins to go find him a Taxi. If he can't walk to his home, he reasons, perhaps he can be driven there.

Imagine paying a cop to do this for you today.

The officer flags down a taxi, sends it around the corner to where Horace is waiting. It pulls up to him, but as soon as he reaches out to turn the door handle the entire thing disappears and The Messenger is standing there instead.

"Try and crank my handle, will ya?"

Horace shifts back and forth like a child who's been caught picking his nose after having been strongly warned about it a dozen times before. Since strong-arming the Martian has proven useless he resorts to whining. He says he's cold and uncomfortable and just wants to go home and be left alone. The Messenger tells him that before he can do so he has to prove his unselfishness.

Another wave of The Messenger's hand brings Horace's first opportunity to do so in the form of a young woman in threadbare clothes trying to sell a handful of ragged-looking daisies. So deeply rooted are Horace's uncharitable, cheeseparing ways, however that he can't even bring himself to perform the simple kindness of purchasing a single flower. He shoves the woman away and turns from her in peevish silence.

The Messenger raises a threatening hand, however, and Horace makes quite a show of taking out a sovereign and holding it up to his face. He goes over to the woman and grabs her arm, shoving the coin roughly into her hand in a gesture of condescention, but the young lady doesn't notice his anger or disgust She only notices the coin and the kindness, and grasps his arm in gratitude. He is embarassed, and backs away discomfitted by her joy, and for an instant he appears to be moved by some faint and unfamiliar spark of compassion.

Then again it might be gas.

Seeing a potential fissure of vulnerability forming The Messenger now decides to show Horace how Arthur and Minnie are getting along, and we suddenly realize that they've been standing directly outside the Clarence household where the dance party is in full swing.

The Messenger uses his Martian powers to show Horace a vision of the interior, where Arthur is sitting with Minnie and trying to make his move on her. Minnie, however, isn't terribly receptive. She seems pensive and uncomfortable, and when another gentleman asks her to dance she readily accepts.

As the vision fades Horace seems lost in his thoughts, and as he's thus distracted The Messenger spots another opportunity to weaken his illiberal resolve. He points up the street towards a young couple who are walking along next to a brick building, and a car sideswipes the husband and speeds off. A couple of onlookers help to transport the gentleman to the wide sidewalk next to where Horace and the Messenger are standing, and Horace studiously ignores both the husband's excruciating pain and the wife's lamentations for an uncomfortably long time.

It's unclear whether The Messenger merely foresaw the accident through some Martian clairvoyance or whether he actually caused it to test Horace, but if it's the latter that certainly brings up an interesting argument about the morality of ends versus means.

A Gentleman Doctor arrives and determines that the victim's leg is broken. The wife's reaction tells us that this is a major catastrophe for them, which it surely would have been in a time before private medical insurance, unemployment benefits or a National Health Service.

The Messenger has been watching Horace intently though all of this, waiting anxiously for him to intervene, but finally he loses patience and shouts "Help them!" Horace just stares at him blankly and continues to pretend that none of this is happening and he's somewhere else entirely.

"My dear fellow, I've already got 99 problems of my own."

The Messenger demands some action. Horace reluctantly takes a wad of bills from his wallet. When he thinks the Marrian isn't looking, however he takes all but one of the bills and shoves them hin his pocket, intending to give as little as possible.

The Messenger was anticipating this, however and raises his hand to deliver a painful mini shock that sends Horace straight over to the wife with the full stack in hand. Once again he parts with the money vindictively, and once again the beneficiary of his forced samaritanship sees only the good act, not the open scorn behind it.

Even the Gentleman Doctor is overwhelmed by the generosity of the deed, and as an ambulance arrives to shuttle the husband away he shakes Horace's hand with such exaggerated gusto he just about dislocates his shoulder.

"No worries, I'm a doctor. I'll just pop it back in place."

Horace is incensed at having had to part with his money and stamps his feet like a toddler having a tantrum. He sulks, hands in pockets, and glares daggers at the ambulance as it drives away. None of this is lost on the Martian, who dashes any hopes Horace may have harbored that his ordeal would finally be over.

The Messenger acknowledges that Horace did finally perform a good act, but only against his will. If he is to be considered truly redeemed he must also prove his sincerity.

The Martian has realized now that Horace must experience true suffering in order to experience empathy. For his final all of his wealth and security is stripped away, and he is transformed into a penniless beggar, cold, starving, ignored and despised.

Snap! Now he's got 100 problems.

The Tramp reappears now, shambling aimlessly along the sidewalk. When he sees Beggar Horace cowering with cold and hunger he offers him his last bit of bread wrapped, and Beggar Horace ravenously consumes it.

The two notice that the guests from the dance party are beginning to exit the house and get into their vehicles, and they decide to go tandem begging, hoping to hold open the car doors for a few pennies. Beggar Horace vows to go "halves, partner, halves!" on whatever they collectively make.

What I find interesting here is that Horace has not just been dressed down into a beggar's rags, but has been transmogrified into an entirely different version of himself, where the memory of a relentlessly hard life has become his new reality. He's not the rich, miserly Horace suddenly forced to beg for his supper, he's fully Beggar Horace who's been begging for his supper for decades, but he still suffers the awareness that he was rich miserly horace in a different reality. I'm reminded of the alternate timeline Clarence the angel shows George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) to demonstrate to him what his town and the people he loves would have been like if he'd never existed.

"Merry Christmas movie house! Merry Christmas Emporium!"

Unfortunately the Valet is getting all the sweet door-holding action and the highbrow guests are openly contemptuous of the two filthy bums. Adding additional insult to the failure of his efforts, Beggar Horace watches Arthur, Aunt Martha and Minnie step out of the house, get in Arthur's car and drive off without casting so much as a glance in his direction.

As they are continually repulsed in their efforts to make enough money for a meal The Tramp gets weaker and weaker, finally collapsing at Beggar Horace's feet. He entreats the departing guests to assist his new friend, but they all ignore him.

I work with some homeless people and sadly this is completely accurate.

Eventually all of the guests have depart and the valet retires into the house. Completely at a loss what to do, Beggar Horace turns beseechingly to The Messenger who instructs him to "apply at the house for assistance."

Beggar Horace anxiously knocks at the door and the Valet appears, none too thrilled at being summoned back out in the cold. He pleads his case and the Valet heads back inside to speak with his mistress.

"I dunno. Kinda smells like he might already be dead."

Inside her parlor Miss Clarence is having her evening cocoa and reflecting on a successful wealthy white folk soiree. When the valet relays his message she deigns to step out as far as the doorway to have a look at the exotic derelicts awaiting her, but she refuses to offer any assistance.

"Now away with you both, before you drive down the property values."

Beggar Horace has now descended into the very depths of wretchedness, helplessness and despair, but still he refuses to abandon his friend. He cradles The Tramp in his arms, hoping against hope for some miracle that might save him.

The Messenger tells Beggar Horace to look in his pocket, and when he does so he finds a sovereign coin! He holds it aloft in triumph, shouting "Halves, partner! Halves!" As he places the coin in The Tramp's hand he turns back into his previous wealthy, well-dressed self, but like the Grinch his heart has grown three sizes this day.

The Messenger is exultant, as having now completed his own penance he may return to his own world and claim both his former citizenship and his formerly swanky Martian clothes.

"Thank God! These cheap tights have been chafing my balls something awful."

Horace props up The Tramp and takes him back to his house and we see The Messenger's triumphant return to the throne room on Mars, where all of the lackeys welcome him back with back slaps, thumbs ups and high-fives, and everybody gathers 'round the big orb again to see how everything works out with Horace and The Tramp.

Werk it, gurl!

We cut to the two of them arriving back at Horace's house. Horace tells his maid to treat the guy as an honored guest, to feed him and give him whatever he needs, and the poor fellow is so exhausted he can only just about prop himself up to eat the sandwiches she brings in.

Horace tenderly cares for The Tramp himself and I love the maid's understated reaction as she watches her formerly mercenary master mollycoddle this dirty wretch she'd just watched him kick out on the streets an hour or so before.

"I think I'd better lay off the laudanum for awhile."

The maid happens to look out the parlor window and casually mentions that she can see some smoke coming out of a house on Smith Street, and by golly she believes it might be on fire. Horace goes to the window to have a peep and thinks, by Jove she may be right. He tells her to look after his friend while he heads over to have a closer look.

Here, in my opinion, is where the film starts to go off the rails, slathering on the redemption sauce a bit too thick and spoiling the balance of flavors they'd been layering into it up to this point.

Not content to merely show us Horace performing charitable deeds we will now have an opportunity to see him perform heroic ones, as well. No one could ever fault films of the 1910's for being too subtle.

He arrives at the house in question to find a mother, father and daughter stranded on the sidewalk outside the smoking door and panicking because there are more children stuck inside. Horace leaps into action, wrapping his scarf around his nose and mouth and rushing inside. First he finds a little girl in bed who he grabs and takes outside to the waiting parents, then he heads back in and rescues a young boy sleeping on a dirty old mattress on the floor.

In the meantime an old fashioned fire brigade kinda-sorta moseys out of a nearby station in their ladder engine and kinda-sorta ambles down the road at a non-commital pace that suggests they're headed to a convention they'd just as soon skip instead of an urgent potential disaster where human lives may be at risk.

They've got some nice shiny helmets, though.

We now cut to Minnie in her budoir looking sullen and sad, and having second thoughts about her decision to kick Horace to the curb. She picks up his photo and studies the lines of his face for some hint as to his true character, and makes up her mind that she must give him a second chance. She calls for Aunt Martha and says "something tells me I have misjudged him" and that they must go see him immediately.

Aunt Martha, having seen Horace's unconscionable behavior with her own eyes, looks at Minnie like she's fallen off her rocker, and indeed, it's mighty hard to understand her motivation here unless we assume she's being subtly influence by The Messenger from afar.

"But the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter has aligned with Mars, dear. It's all quite simple!"

They arrive at Horace's house and are surprised to find that not only is he not at home, but there's a bum in the parlor sucking down sandwiches like J. Wellington Wimpy at a hamburger stand.

"I would gladly pay you Tuesday..."

This evidence of Horace's newfound generosity heartily pleases Minnie, but Aunt Martha is still skeptical and questions the maid, who simply shrugs her shoulders and looks to see if the bottomless pit in the armchair needs another plate of sandwiches.

Back on Smith Street the fire company finally arrives. A policeman is there, too, and he helps Horace wrangle the displaced family. There are six of them, including another son we didn't see before. Either he managed to get out on his own while we weren't looking or Horace went back in for a third rescue that didn't make the final cut.

Horace notices that the little girl he'd saved earlier is shivering in her ragged nightgown so he picks her up and tucks her into his coat to keep her warm. He decides that the best thing he can do is bring them all back to his house. He leads them off down the street past the fire engine like a tattered parade of Christmas Eve refugees.

He's the pied piper of smoke damaged furniture.

If Minnie and Martha were surprised to find one homeless guy in Horace's house, they're absolutely gobsmacked when he walks in with an entire family and a policeman in tow.

As Minnie, Martha and Horace get the family settled there's a bit of business where one of the two boys "takes a fancy" to one of Horace's clocks and seeks to hide it under his jacket. The constable notices this from across the room and steps over to give the lad a dressing down and a hard pinch on the ear.

"You're nicked, me lad! I shant let go 'til you gives up the goods forthwith!"

Horace notices the hubbub and comes over to confront the child, and in a final test of his newfound compassion he brushes the transgression away, offering only a bit of harmless finger-wagging and a brief, gentle admonishment. He also opts not to tell the boy's parents which is a sure path to winning the kid's loyalty and affection.

"But next time it's the I clear?"

Horace ushers everyone into the dining room so they can all have a nice meal and he even gives the officer a sovereign for his trouble.

Minnie has stayed behind in the Parlor so that she and Horace can be alone and settle up the business between them. He takes off his hat and coat and lays them across the arm of a sofa, then he slowly and awkwardly walks over to the table on which Minnie had set down the engagement ring back when he was still a unmitigated dickwad.

Then we abruptly cut back to Mars.

The throne room gang all break off from watching Horace and Minnie to congratulate The Messenger on the now fully confirmed and highly successful dispatch of his mission. Boss God waves a hand to put him back in his citizen's robes and places the ankh back around his neck to restore his place in their society.

The lackeys all move in for a kind of ritualistic group hug, and I'm reminded of certain African tribal societies where rather than imprisoning or punishing someone who has committed a crime they form a circle around them and tell stories about all of the good they've done in the past, using the person's own history and memory to remind them of who they are.

Then Boss God pulls out a bottle of poppers and they all get naked.

Back on Earth, meanwhile Horace and Minnie are each awkwardly waiting for the other to speak. Much to Horace's relief it's Minnie who breaks the silence, and she seems both bashful and admonished as she holds out her hand so he can places the ring back on on her finger.

This is just a reminder that he's old enough to be her grandpa.

The End.

I enjoyed this film for the most part and found much of it surprisingly sophisticated for its time, but honestly I could have done without that whole final act. The whole "Horace becomes a hero" thing might have worked when Charles Hawtrey was in his 40's, standing on a distant stage and wearing heavy greasepaint, but he was 55 here and looking even older with his paunch, graying temples and crows feet. I also didn't care for the fact that Minnie had to come crawling back to him apologetically when he'd been such an asshole to her. The onus should have been on him to prove his reformation and win her back through a strenuous and sincere effort to be a better man. The central transformation of his character simply doesn't ring as true today as it apparently did in 1913, particularly after having lived through the past decade or so of increasing social polarization and the steady rise of selfishness and grievance as political virtues.

The unrepentant Horace of A Message from Mars is today's unapologetic bigot, the willful misogynist, the climate change denier, the anti-vaxxer, the recalcitrant believer in "plandemics" and absurd conspiracies, the casually cruel and discompassionate cheerleader for family separations and police brutality, who rants that the social programs that improve the lives of the poor are a waste of his hard-earned tax dollars, yet whose cronies have ensured that he pays less taxes than the desperate and hard-working people those programs are designed to help. He is the martyr with power, who jealously tends and nurtures his rage against those who would threaten the supremacy he views as his birthright. He's the splenetic, Bible-thumping bully who can only be bothered to care about things that effect him personally and to hell with everything and everyone else.

The repentant Horace is largely a myth.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 13th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2020.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?

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