Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to Day Nine of our Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration for 2022! With the drudgery and tedium of Day Eight behind us we now move forward into Day Nine, trading dollar-store production values for something old-timey and sepia-hued. If The Elf Who Saved Christmas represented the low-end of our Shitmas list for 2022 in terms of entertainment value and overall watchability, today's special falls somewhere in the middle, but its worth as a historical relic of interbellum 20th century American Christmas aesthetics is unassailable. If you like your Santa weird and creepy with oversized mittens and a combed-out beard, I have good news for you, and if you like grainy, washed-out documentary footage of the Alaskan territory some thirty-four years before it became a state, I have even better news for you. If you like a coherent story, narrative continuity and a discernible plot...well let's just say you can't always get what you want.

I see a Shitmas and I want to paint it black...and white...and silent.

We're posting a brand-new review of a holiday special every other day beginning December 3rd and culminating with what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas Morning.

Now, let's pretend, shall we? Let's pretend we haven't been harping ad nauseum about our Crouching Elf, Hidden Santa feature, where photos the aforenamed holiday icons are secretly embedded in random screenshots somewhere within this very review. Let's pretend, too, that we've never so much as hinted at our Shitmas Bonus Tales from the Northside story anthology featuring twelve original true stories of dark intrigue from inside Santa's North Pole empire. In fact, let's just pretend we didn't even write any of what we just wrote and there's no Shitmas, and Santa isn't real, and there's no such thing as magic, and we didn't wake up in agony at three o'lock this morning and pass an enormous kidney stone. Is that really the kind of world you want for your children?

Today's special is a throwback to cinema's second full decade, when cinematic anthropological explorations of snowy, icy climes were apparently all the rage. Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922) had been a huge hit a few years before, and though it contained many staged and fictional elements, it was groundbreaking in its use of location footage and real indigenous people as performers. The Inuit participants in the film largely recreated previous traditions they no longer actively practiced for the "documentary" sequences, but it was suprisingly respectful of the people and their culture, considering the era in which it was made.

The man responsible for today's feature, Frank Emil Kleinschmidt, was a bona fide Arctic explorer and World War I documentarian, having been embedded with the Austro-Hungarian army during a number of key battles in Eastern Europe. His Documentary War on Three Fronts (1916), was a success on the lecture circuit and was later distributed by Selznick Pictures in an abridged form. Today only approximately two-thirds of it survives, in the archives of the UCLA film school. Of his two earlier documentaries, The Arctic-Siberian Expedition (1912), and Captain F.E. Kleinschmidt's Arctic Hunt, both filmed during his own expeditions, only the latter survives.

Kleinschmidt in full explorer regalia.

Santa Claus, made in collaboration with his wife Margaret Alaska Kleinschmidt, was his most successful foray into cinema. With its odd blend of clinical documentary footage and holiday fantasy, it purports to tell the story of how Santa lives and spends his time before and immediately after his annual Christmas Eve journey. It uses a thinly-drawn frame narrative as an excuse to explore the subject at hand, but otherwise it's presented as a series of disconnected tableau, mostly centered around the epic vistas and frigid wastes of Alaska that Kleinschmidt so dearly loved.

It's somehow both exotic and conventional, and if its mythical elements fall somewhat short of whimsical enchantment, it is nevertheless a unique experience, and a quaint, novel curiosity that's worth seeking out.

Please note, the copy I've used has some light colorization. It's highly unlikely this film had ever been presented with hand-tinted color, as that practice was no longer common by 1925, and though I'd normally prefer to use something closer to what might have been seen contemporaneously this was by far the best, sharpest print available to me...and so in conclusion and with the utmost regard and respect: suck it up, buttercups.

We open in a children's bedroom, where a mother has just checked in on a boy and a girl, both asleep in the same bed as was still a relatively common practice at the time. Seeing her innocent babes safely asleep, Mom slips off to go slumber herself, but no sooner has she closed the door the Boy opens his eyes and gently awakens his sister.

They whisper conspiratorially, and between them they decide that this is the Christmas Eve when they shall catch that clever old fellow Santa in the act of delivering their gifts and ask him the burning question that has been on the lips of anxious tots since time immemorial: just what the fuck does he do in the off-season?

"I'll bet it's something naughty, like saying 'literally' when he really means 'figuratively!'"

The two little detectives sneak out of bed and head down to the parlor to await Santa's arrival, but he's a long time coming, and they fall asleep. Eventually, however he magically appears via a cranked-back fade-in, smiles at the little scamps on the sofa and starts digging through his bag to pick out their gifts. They wake up and mob him, however, and when they ask their question he decides to take some time out from his busy schedule to give them the inside scoop on his home life.

"Mostly I drink and wallow in regret."

According to Santa, he doesn't live at the North Pole, but in Alaska, in a magical realm by the rim of the sea, protected by "goblins of the deep" and "the monarch of the Arctic," which turn out to be a bunch of walruses and a polar bear, respectively.

There's some nice nature footage here that must have been rather exciting for audiences of the time who hadn't had the luxury of Sir David Attenborough regaling them with our planet's flora, fauna and terra esoterica for as long as they could remember like we have.

United Walrus Workers, Local 182.

Santa heads over to his "ice castle," which is a cheesy location set made of snow blocks clumsily and assembled around a metal scaffold, and Santa heads inside to consult with his Elves about the toys they're working on.

This interior sequence was clearly shot at an independent attraction, possibly inside a high-end toy or department store. The toys themselves are wonderful, elaborate creations of wood and tin, and include an extensive miniature theme park with life-like rides and a variety of large-and medium-gauge model trains.

There's no way the Kleinschmidts sprung for all this gear themselves.

Now Santa sits down with a couple of his helpers to go over the books, deciding which children get decent toys and which get lousy gag gifts based on their nice-to-naughty ratio for the year. As they look at the name Billy Smith, Santa recalls seeing the little rascal through his big telescope the previous day, when he caught him red-handed trying to steal a blind street musician's dog.

It's an oddly specific transgression.

An older boy sees what Billy Smith is up to and steps in to open a wax paper and string package of whup-ass on him, which inspires the younger kids who were taking coins from the old timer's cup return their ill-gotten gains.

Back at the workshop Santa shakes his head sadly then crosses out Billy's "presents" line completely. He enters the other boy, Billy Harrison, directly beneath, and writes in "A Live Pony and Cart."

Just think of the manure!

Then there's some weird shit where Santa looks in on a tiny Elf-car showroom, complete with an old fashioned gravity-fed gas pump and a fully functional, half-sized electric car intended for the children of the ultra-rich.

Yeah, that's right. Fully electric cars in 1925.
Look it up.

We briefly check back in with our frame narrative now, where our modern, up-to-the-minute tots want to know if Santa still travels by reindeer or if he's bowed to the relentless tsunami of progress and uses an "airy-plane" instead. Santa tells them he could never give up his reindeer. Aside from the steady supply of tripe and jerky, they're a renewable resource with low overhead, and a mighty comfortable ride, too...if you can get past the smell.

Now we cut to a completely different, much younger actor portraying Santa in the wilds of Alaska, just kind of hanging out with his reindeer as they wander the drifts looking for vegetation. He doesn't just have the original team of eight we've heard mentioned in song and story, it seems, but an enormous herd of hundreds of animals, and there's no Rudolph because Rudolph isn't real. He was invented for a department store promotion in 1939. Sorry, everyone's childhood.

He gives a clumsy demonstration of how he trains them to the harness, then shares confidentially that Donner was a feisty whippersnapper who gave him a lot of trouble and didn't want to wear it.

This seems like a euphemism, but I don't know what for.

Next we get some ethnographic material featuring an Inuit family. Using the now-offensive lingo of the time Santa refers to them as his "nearest neighbors, the Eskimos."

By the 1920's the Inuit used igloos as shelters only during hunts, but lived in cabin-like huts or more modern dwellings year-round. Here their houses are presented as an "tiny igloo on the outside/huge log hut on the inside" affair.

It's like a Klondike Tardis.

Let's see., now...what else does Santa do when he's stuck at home with no gifts to deliver? Well, we know he gets letters from all the little boys and girls of the world, right? But did you know he gets them delivered by white-tailed ptarmigans? Do you know what a white-tailed ptarmigan is? Do you care?

Next up we meet Santa's bestie, Mr. Jack Frost, (uncredited, but possibly Kleinschmidt himself) who likes to blanket the world with snow and ice using his magic wand and frigid personality. Santa refers to him as "the greatest artist in the world," for the intricate beauty of his frigid, ephemeral creations, but he looks more like that one guy at the furry convention who despite being in a crowded hotel with thousands of like-minded people with the exact same fringe fetish, can't get so much as another attendee's digits, let alone a hook-up or a date.

I've got two words for you, Jack: "Dry Cleaning."

So Santa sends Jack into the world to frost up windshields and burst a few poorly-insulated pipes, then climbs back up to the top of his observatory to spy on more children with his big telescope. This time he spots a Boy Scout carrying a woman's groceries and helping her across the street, because old timey women were too frail and unskilled to manage such complex and dangerous tasks on their own.

Just standing up often gives her vertigo.

Boy Scouts make Santa very happy--his books are full of 'em he says--but alas, he also sees things when he's poking his nose into other people's business that make him very sad. In this case it's a little rich girl of nine or ten years old, sitting in a car waiting for her rich dad to finish kicking beggars and prising the rent out of the local Hebrews.

As she sits preening in front of a compact mirror and putting on lipstick, a poor street urchin in a tattered, faded dress comes up to ask her for a few pennies to get a bite to eat. The Rich Girl is affronted that such a creature should dare even look in her direction, let alone deign to speak to her, and she huffily sends her off with a heapin' handful of fuck all.

"Bitch, please!"

Santa shakes his head sadly and crosses out "Big Doll with Real Hair" in his book and replaces it with "Soap and Wash Rag," but we don't see him write in anything for the beggar girl because why should he? She'll likely starve to death before Christmas anyway.

Now a title card informs us that the great day has at last arrived when Santa will set off on his long Christmas Eve journey. The ice castle is abuzz with activity, with all the Elves and Gnomes (yeah, this Santa has Gnomes, got a problem with that?) hurrying to put the finishing touches on all the beautifully wrapped presents and to triple-check that all the labels are correct so there are no more embarassing that time little Jimmy Evans asked for a puppy and ended up with a twelve-gauge shotgun and a case of Heineken.

At the warder's signal, the helpers fill the sleigh and hitch up the reindeer, and Santa mounts his seat, ready to depart.

Mrs. Claus will be, too once the sled is out of sight.

Santa gets about fifty yards from the castle and has an accident where his sleigh tips over and his sack falls out. He explains that sometimes he meets "a mean little Elf called 'Hard Times'" who delights in knocking him over. Sometimes when that happens, he explains, some of the presents get lost and some of the children don't get anything at all. It's a curious and unexpected nod to the economic reality of paycheck-to-paychech poverty, but it's immediately walked-back by Santa's comforting assurance that "this year I did not meet him."

Santa's first stop is at the home of his Inuit friends to deliver dolls and gumdrops to their children, then it's off to Nome, Alaska, where he has some trouble getting into a poorly maintained pipe chimney. He looks at it from every which way, trying to discern some point of egress, but eventually he says "fuck it" and leaves.

If you can't afford to maintain your hovel you don't deserve any presents.

And with that, Santa bids his two little interrogators adieu. He's still got a heap o' presents to deliver and they've already taken up far too much of his valuable time with their twenty-questions bullshit. He sends them back to sleep on the sofa and disappears, and when they wake up they find the many wondrous gifts he's left for them.

A book and a doll. Wondrous!

Fear not, dear reader. It's not the end of Santa's dull and fragmented story just yet. Once he's made his last stop he heads back home to be welcomed by his Elves and Gnomes.

"Not a single kiddie was overlooked!" he declares, conveniently forgetting the house where the chimney was too narrow and broken for him to safely descend, and how he was too damn lazy to climb down and leave the toys outside the door, yet still had plenty of time to yammer on to a couple of well-heeled socialites for like three hours about igloos, telescopes and polar bears.

I'm beginning to think Santa doesn't much like poor people.

As his helpers array themselves on the cold floor without mattresses, pillows or blankets, Santa climbs into his nice, warm, cozy bed and summons a circle of fairies to sing and dance him to sleep.

It's like that scene from The Star Wars Holiday Special.

His long night's work done, he closes his eyes and dreams of Christmases past and Christmases to come, and of the nice big breakfast of Ptermigan eggs, walrus steak and venison sausage that awaits him when he rises to begin his work anew.

The End.

Santa Claus is a diverting relic with a few charming moments and some nice glimpses of mid-20's American culture, worth seeing at least once for the novelty of the bizarre melange of material from which it was cobbled, but it's certainly not something I'll be adding to my list of annual holiday viewing. Its greatest value, perhaps, is in its acknowledgement of the vastly different ways in which folks of different economic classes experience the holidays. Essentially nothing has changed in this regard in the ninety-seven years since this film was first shown, and whether intentioned or not, the repeated glimpses of financial disparity did add a certain somber gravity to its otherwise featherweight and forgettable fantasy.

Also, that rumpled, matted nightmare-man of a Jack Frost is gonna haunt me for at least a decade, so it has that going for it, too.

Shitmas Bonus!

Tales from the Northside:
Secret Agent Sugar Plum

As my friend Dongle the Christmas Elf finished his tale of Santa's constipatory affliction, I sat in stunned silence at the revelation that Mrs. Claus was masterminding some vast conspiracy against her husband, though at this point it was still unclear to me if their nuptial relationship was genuine or just some public relations scheme. My mind was awhirl with confused notions, and I had trouble forming my thoughts into coherent questions. As I watched my friend take the last mouthful of his third Guinness I assumed, based on past precedent, that I would be forced to wait another day before any further elucidation on his part might put my concerns to rest, but a flicker of hope came in the form of his tiny hand beckoning the bartender to bring him a fourth pint. This was one more than I had ever before known my friend to consume in one sitting, and as soon as he had it safely in hand, he nodded to me to indicate that he would like to continue his narrative.

"So, the young and vibrant Mrs. Claus had just told her co-conspirator Dr. Sprout that they were ready to begin 'Phase Two' of their operation, which you've no doubt gleaned was no less than a campaign of protest and sabotage against Santa's despotic rule of the North Pole. I should mention at this point that Santa and Mrs. Claus were never really married, and in fact had never had an intimate relationship at all. Although she shared Santa's timeless status in the pantheon of magical beings she was really just a hired performer, who over the centuries had become so integral to his public mythology and financial operations that she'd cultivated a secret power at the Pole second only to Santa himself. Her sexual predilection for Elves was something that always baffled and repulsed him, yet as you will see, it ran more deeply than a mere fetish and would in the end come to have a direct and profound effect on the future of the North Pole.


The morning after Santa's recovery from his latest battle with his alimentary affliction was a bad one for him. He was still weak from his illness and unsure on his feet, and his mind wasn't quite as sharp as it otherwise might have been. When his penguin butler Stetson came in that morning to wake him, he brought with him the distressing news of yet another distribution center suffering a blackout attack, with the letters once "TBTP" again scrawled prominently in alternating red and green paint on the largest of its seven shipping bay doors.

In his depleted condition, Santa wondered why Stetson was telling him something he'd already heard about the week before, and it took the long-suffering penguin a full minute to explain that this was a new and recent incident at an entirely different location. He added the new detail, too that the security footage had already been analyzed and showed that someone or something had deliberately sabotaged the backup generator before the main power had been cut, though the figure was hazy, amorphous and indistinct, and no identifying details could be discerned.

Santa viewed the footage for himself later that day but found it more frustrating than illuminating. The culprit was no more than a fluttering shadow, just barely resembling the shape of a person, though by its size and through a little picture enhancement it quite possibly suggested an Elf.

Santa turned to his Chief of Operations, the Walrus Taft, who had over the course of nearly five decades' employment risen through the ranks of the company from a power-plant worker to a shift manager, to a floor supervisor, to a logistical engineer and eventually to his present position, where he oversaw virtually every aspect of Santa's manufacturing and distribution infrastructure.

"This is serious Taft. We have a saboteur but no idea who it might be. I have no doubt this is the same fellow as before, but with all the equipment failure we've been seeing across the factories it's clearly part of a coordinated campaign...whoever he is he's not alone. I want additional security teams at each of the distribution hubs and the factories. Have them walk the floors, armed if necessary, and put the fear of the devil into the rank and file. I've labored for centuries to build my operation and I'll not have it ground to a halt by these damned insolent Elves!"

"There's no men willing to do it, sir. The polar bears left when Rasputin retired, and none of the Elves are willing to enforce against their own kind."

Santa looked grimly at the furtive shadow entering the boiler room and crouching down by the generator, playing again and again in a loop on the security screen. He pursed his lips and sighed.

Tin Soldiers...that's what we need. It's been almost a century since they last marched, when you walruses gave me a load of trouble back in 1925. When I deactivated them, I packed and stored them with care in case I might need them again. No one will dare oppose me with their muskets and bayonets on display."


That evening, after a particularly adroit and lengthy coupling, Mrs. Claus and her paramour laid in each other's arms and spoke in the quiet candor of a post-coital bed, when in the rosy glow of love all barriers are dissolved and all secrets revealed.

"I'm afraid for you, my love," said Mrs. Claus, "The Tin Soldiers are a drastic step. I think we should wait to begin the next phase until things quiet down."

"No, my darling," her lover replied tenderly, gently brushing a golden lock from her forehead, "we have momentum now and it would be a mistake to waste it. I have my cloak, my training and my love for you to guard me. I have no care for Santa's rusty playthings."

Jangle Jim was once a lowly worker Elf. He'd come to the Pole nearly forty-five years earlier, so shy and nervous he could barely speak to his peers or look his supervisors in the eyes, but the decades of hard labor and the many cruelties he'd faced had tempered him, and he carried in his breast a thirst for justice and freedom that knew neither fear nor borders. His boldness had drawn Mrs. Claus to him, and of all the lovers she had taken over the years he was the only one to whom she had entrusted her true name.

"Don't be afraid, Ellabelle. Our cause is just, and with the help of our Elfin gods we shall prevail."

She nuzzled her cheek against his neck and sighed. Though her appearance was that of a human being of astonishing beauty, she was herself an Elf. She was unusually tall and from a tribe whose ears had slowly lost their points over the course of many generations, but by her birth, her nature and her sympathies she was as much an Elf as any at the Pole. No one else knew her true origins, not even Santa, but she had told Jangle Jim on the night she first confessed her love to him.

"You are a true believer in our Gods and in our cause, and you are the bravest Elf I've ever known. I suppose I would have been disappointed if my own fears had moved you. I spoke only out of love and my selfishness in never wanting us to be apart. You're right, of course. We must press forward, but if we're to initiate the next phase we'll need access to the power plant. That will be far more difficult with the Soldiers on patrol."

"The cloak will obscure my movements, and by the time the Soldiers know I'm there I'll have completed my work and left them in darkness but that's for tomorrow."

Jim kissed Ellabelle tenderly and placed his hand on her cheek. "For tonight we belong to each other and need only concern ourselves with the pleasures of love."


For the next three weeks Jangle Jim, who'd been dubbed "Secret Agent Sugar Plum" by the Elves of the resistance, repeatedly and successfully targeted Santa's manufacturing infrastructure. The first attack at the power plant was, as he'd meticulously planned it, so swift and surgical as to knock out the grid for the entire work sector for nearly three days, and as the Tin Soldiers had scrambled in the dark to find him he'd slipped out and up to the security suite, where under the very noses of the walruses on duty he'd disconnected and stolen the hard drive on which the footage of his raid was recorded.

Similar attacks on individual factories, warehouses and distribution hubs followed, and if the rank-and-file worker Elves were unable, due to the watchful eyes and menacing weapons of their metal guards, to engage in their own little acts of defiance, Jim's grander gestures sustained and strengthened them in their thirst for freedom.

Santa, meanwhile sat in his tower control room, stewing with rage and embarrassment that one lowly Elf could so completely baffle and outwit all of the men and machinery at his disposal. He called for a war conference with General Leadfoot, the commander of the Tin Soldiers, and gave him a final ultimatum: Capture the saboteur within one calendar week or he and his entire army would be decommissioned, melted down and sold to a sardine cannery in Nome, Alaska.

The resistance as a whole had been keeping a low profile, avoiding gatherings of greater than two or three Elves, cormorants and penguins at a time so as not to arouse suspicion, only receiving news of their secret agent's successes though discreet, guarded exchanges during their work shifts when the noise of the machinery would hide their voices from prying ears. Still, some reliable hint of Sugar Plum's next attack somehow reached General Leadfoot, and he carefully and secretly consolidated his forces at the site his intelligence report had indicated would be the scene of the attack.

As it turns out it was the very same distribution center where the initial outage had occurred, on a particularly frigid and blustery morning around three A.M. that Jim made what became the final raid of his Phase Two campaign. He wrapped himself in his magic cloak, a relic of the old times when Elves had fought and won many a battle against the forces of evil in their ancestral Celtic homelands. It had been in Ellabelle's family, handed from first daughter to first daughter for a thousand generations. It didn't afford Jim utter invisibility, but it rendered him an amorphous and peripheral shadow, who could not be detected by a direct gaze, but only hazily and at the very limits of an observer's field of vision.

He entered through a boarded-up basement window he had secretly rigged with a hidden hinge. He slipped to the floor and slid silently across the cramped, dimly lit stone floor to the boiler room where the generators were located. When he got within about twenty feet of the door and saw it was unguarded, he felt a ripple of suspicion run through him. "There's something amiss," he thought to himself, "There should be Soldiers here."

His instincts told him to abort the mission and flee. There was peril and entrapment here, he could smell the dry, cold stench of it. He turned back towards the window and suddenly the entire space was flooded with a searing white light as bright as the midnight sun. From behind every post and out of every archway a Tin Soldier appeared, forming a circle around him that grew ever tighter as they approached. They had somehow coordinated their peripheral vision to corner him, and with the light flooding every crevice and so little space between them there was no question of escape.

General Leadfoot stepped forward triumphantly, a pair of thick Anti-Magic goggles covering his eyes.

"We have you at last, little Elf!" He tore the cloak from Jim's back and tossed it to his lieutenant. "It seems, men, we're not bound for the cannery after all!"


Secret Agent Sugar Plum's capture had a chilling effect on the resistance movement and for a time virtually all subversive activity ceased. The leaders of the movement were terrified that their hero might be persuaded by torture to betray them, so they sought the anonymity of their daily work schedules, avoiding even so much as casual eye contact with those who had, over the course of the last few months, been their co-conspirators.

Jim was an Elf of iron, however, a zealot for his cause and with the power of his faith to fortify him. No method of persuasion, however cruel and painful, could loosen his tongue. Santa found himself faced with a dangerous dilemma: if he made an example of the saboteur and had him executed, he might become a catalystic martyr to the cause, ensuring its growth to proportions of chaos he could not hope to control. A public trial would merely draw attention to the bravery and dignity of his captor and give him a platform to spread his propaganda even further, which might well have the same disastrous effect.

"I shall do nothing at all," he told General Leadfoot one morning in the vestibule of the North Pole gaol, "Let's just leave the blackguard to rot in his cell and let them worry themselves to death over what's become of him and what he may or may not have said. We shall not speak of it--publicly, at any rate--and our silence will leave them rudderless and afraid."

On the seventh week of Jim's captivity he woke to the sound of a battered zinc platter being slid through the trap at the base of his cell door through which his meager meals were usually delivered. It was still dark, and at first he could make out nothing but a glint of moonlight on the edge of the plate. He stepped over to find a small fruitcake, garnished with sugar plums, and with the single letter "E" etched into the top of it from the metal mold in which it had been baked.

Back in the pub, Dongle and I sat quietly by the fireplace for a moment, he lost in thought and I left tongue-tied and wondering if this was to be the end of his tale. His glass was empty and he had not asked for more, so I assumed our already advanced evening would go no later.

"I really should be going," he said finally, "I have an early call tomorrow and I've already kept you up too late. All I will add is that the following morning, when the guard checked in on his prisoner, he found nothing but an empty bed, a metal plate with a few sticky crumbs on it, and the bars cut clean through and removed from the single window of the cell."

My friend gathered his coat and hat and put a hand on my shoulder on his way to the door. "Until tomorrow, my safe and stay warm."

All "Tales from the Northside" stories
copyright 2022 Bradley Lyndon

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 21st!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2022.

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