Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to our Old Fashioned Shitmas in July spectacular for 2022! Yes, I am keenly aware that I'm publishing this at the end of August, but I started writing it in July, so it definitely qualifies as a Shitmas in July review. That's the rule, people. You can take it up with management, but I've done my due diligence. It's right there in black and white on page twelve hundred thirty-eight, sections seven through nine in the MMT by-laws, right between "Shitmas, Twelve Days of" and "Shitting, hygienic protocols."

I'm a man who likes to cross my "T's," dot my "I's," and I keep my butthole nice and clean while I'm doing it.

Also, you could all maybe cut me some fucking slack, since I'm still recovering from a recent traumatic experience. I'm in a very delicate state, at least according to my therapist ("goddamn ticking time-bomb" were her exact words, I believe) and if you start in with your splitting hairs it's gonna set me right the fuck right off.

Now that I have your attention...

As long-time readers know, I just can't get enough shitty Christmas entertainment. It's a kind of sickness, an infernal addiction so imperious that I can neither curb nor control my nefarious, festive urges. As evidenced by this very review, I can't even wait until the traditionally appropriate season of the year to share the ancient, aromatic Yule logs I work year-round unearthing to feed my Tartarean, Noel-centric needs.

Today we present, as is our custom each summer, a double shot of this vintage holiday ordure, expertly blended and slow-churned into a smooth, fecal batter to tease out its subtle and variegated effluvia. Then we'll dump a bucket of it over your head, permanently befouling you with its accursed fetor, and no one will want to be near you ever again.

Santa's Enchanted Village (1964)

Let's all take a moment to appreciate the immortal life's work of K. Gordon Murray, American film producer and self-proclaimed "King of the Kiddie Matinee," who's dedication, uncanny instincts and awe-inspiring negotiation skills brought to these proud American shores Santa Claus vs. The Devil (1959), known to MSTies the world over by its less aggressive international title Santa Claus, and known here at MMT as The Single Greatest Christmas Entertainment the World Has Ever Known.

This is not a debate. I will hurt you.

Sure, Murray was also responsible for some low-rent exploitation sleaze such as Shanty Tramp (1967) and Savages from Hell (1968), but he also brought us delightful German fairy tale films such as The Golden Goose (1964) and The Princess and the Swineherd (1953), and enjoyable Mexican horror-cheese like The Vampire (1957) and The Brainiac (1962). Less forgivable, perhaps is the withered husk of dried-up fruit cake we'll be reviewing as our short subject today, but when I balance the good against the bad, the seedy against the wholesome, and everything else in K. Gordon Murray's cinematic ouvre against today's tinsel-tinted turd, I simply can't find it in my heart to hold it against him. Plus, it gives me something to complain about, and y'all know I'm all about that shit.

Santa's Enchanted Village is the second of three short films clumsily cobbled together using footage Murray and his crew shot at Santa's Village in Skyforest, California, a pioneering theme park that opened six weeks before Disnelyland. It was also the very first theme park to be franchised, eventually expanding to three locations.

Murray edited recycled material from his "Santa's Village" trilogy, along with re-dubbed bits and pieces of his previously imported fantasy films into a pair of portmanteau matinee features in the late 1960's. He also reissued today's short subject as Mother Goose's Birthday Party in 1970, slightly edited and with a new introduction featuring fast-food funnyman Ronald MacDonald teaching a group of soothingly medicated mid-west moppets how to make party hats...and Jesus Christmas, people, when I read that back to myself, I'm reminded of just how much I love this fucking job.

Our frabjous festival of Shitmas shenanigans begins with a shot nicked directly from Santa Claus vs. The Devil, showing the floating islands in outer space where that film would have us believe Santa has his headquarters. A narrator here assures us that this is just one, albeit it the best, of Santa's many homes and offices, with its stellar locale made possible by the skill and largesse of Merlin the Magician. It seems he's something of the power behind the throne where Santa is concerned, providing not only the magic powder that puts nosey children asleep and a mystical flower the scent of which renders his Jollyness invisible, but also the trans-dimensional jiggery-pokery that makes it possible for him to be in so many thousands of places at once on Christmas Eve. Essentially he's Santa's plug.

He's clearly been sampling his own shit, too.

We get a brief, whirlwind tour of the titular village and its whimsical environs, including the reindeer barn, the little chapel and a massive gingerbread house, because Old Saint Nick sure does love his sweets. We also learn that in order to make Santa feel at home in whichever of his palatial estates he happens to be staying, each is provided with a 100% authentic, gen-u-ine replica North Pole "made of real ice."

Santa seems high maintenance.

The bespoke replica pole attracts the notice of Stinky the Skunk, a horrifying full-body-costumed character that was part of the Santa's Village theme parks' varied and questionable appeal.

Merry...Christ what the fuck is that?!

Stinky heads over to the north pole and starts sucking on it, scraping bits of the ice off into his mouth and making slurpy yum-yum noises. This attracts the notice of Puss-in-Boots, another costumed character whose connection to Christmas is, at best, obscure. Puss tells Stinky to quit it with the sloppy top on that stiff pole. It's ice, not ice cream, and besides, the official ice cream break was over an hour ago!

He warns the errant polecat to get back to work in the toy factory lest he inform his pit boss the Ferocious Wolf that he's been slacking off again.

Because if there's one thing cats are known for it's their respect for authority.

Stinky heads back to the toy factory with his shoulders drooping and North Pole spooge dribbling down his chin. He opens the door, takes one look inside then cheeses it to go do something fun, because the maximum life span of a skunk in captivity is only fifteen years and he's not gonna waste any more of his precious time wage-slaving for some jive-ass jolly fat man.

Back in the toy factory a bunch of sexy temp-worker Kelly Girl Elves are running an assembly-line pack-and-wrap station as the Ferocious Wolf pit boss sharpens the blade on an ice skate with a grinder and waxes wroth over the infuriating Skunk and his Maynard G. Krebs work ethic. He pulls his ears and wrings his hands in frustration at always having to take up the slack when Stinky doesn't pull his weight.

Another character without even a tangential connection with Christmas.

As the Kelly Girls giggle, the Wolf storms out to lodge an official complaint with the boss. He finds the Jolly Old Elf resting on his throne, with Puss-in-Boots seated at his left. The Wolf rants about all the deadlines he's expected to meet with such a lackluster crew to help him, and complains bitterly about his own unbroken streak of sixteen-hour workdays.

Santa doesn't offer a single word of comfort or consolation, not a single helpful suggestion or solution, but just sits on his fat ass gleefully laughing in his face the entire time he's talking.

Everything's just a big fucking joke with this guy.

Seeing he's getting nowhere fast, the Wolf figures he'd better go and find the missing laborer himself.

Stinky has meanwhile snuck into the local puppet theater where the lamest, dullest and most inept puppet show in the history of the craft is just barely happening in front of a group of smelly-looking kids, who nonetheless cheer and whoop and rave and holler like they're in the front row at the main stage for the headliner at Bonnaroo. When Stinky sits down in the middle of the group, most of the kids discreetly get up and move upwind, which is, perhaps the only entertaining moment in the entire film.

All except the kid in the front, who's been rendered nose-blind from cocaine.

Eventually the Wolf pauses at the door of the puppet theater and hears the feral jocundity oozing from within. He grabs a branch from a nearby evergreen and uses it as camouflage as he enters the theater and sneaks towards the front row. There he finds finds the fugitive Skunk.

Now the Wolf's entire two hundred years of workplace frustration bursts forth like magma unbound, and as the children stand agape in horror, he begins mercilessly beating Stinky with the evergreen switch.

This is gonna cost them a fortune in therapy.

The wolf chases everyone--children, elves, parents and Stinky himself--out of the puppet theater, and in their mass hysteria they all pour into the factory, take up tools and begin furiously producing toys. One unfortunate, glassy-eyed drone tries again and again to fix a doll's head onto its body, but each time it falls right off and the Sisyphean process begins anew...which now that I think about it is a pretty good metaphor for trying to make sense of just what the hell is going on in this film. Even Stinky is back to work at the literal grind, sharpening ice skates like his fragrant little life depends on it.

Just as things get swinging at the factory Santa sidles up to the door with a couple of reindeer in tow and has a peep inside to see how the peasants are getting along with their annual task of manufacturing the billions of dollars' worth of consumer goods which he alone will be credited with having made. As he views the depletive, enforced-labor exertions of his clearly enslaved staff, frantically rushing to-and-fro to avoid a drubbing from the cruel work-master, he indulges in another of his ill-timed, inappropriate and heartily self-satisfied fits of laughter.

And to think I used to sit on that guy's lap.

But where is the Wolf all this time? Santa doesn't see him anywhere in the factory, so he waddles off to find him. Lo and behold he discovers the old fuzzy tyrant back at the puppet theater, sitting right in the middle of the front row, enjoying an exclusive performance of whatever the hell it is the butt-ugly marionettes are supposed to be doing, all to himself. Santa figures the guy's done such a good job putting the fear of the devil in his workforce he deserves a little down time, so he emits another jolly giggle and leaves him to his fun.

Sure, he's happy now, but he'll be the first to die when the revolution comes.

The End.

Thanks, K. Gordon Murray!

The Littlest Angel (1969)

Now we take leave of the abysmal labor relations at Santa's workshop to learn all about the anesthetizingly dull, repetitive routine of living in Heaven. Oh, you didn't know Heaven was boring? Well, neither did I until I saw The Littlest Angel, but now that I have I'll be sure to quadruple my daily quotas of drinking, gambling and whoring to ensure that I never, ever, ever end up anywhere near the eternally tiresome celestial ant farm depicted within.

The Littlest Angel, written by Charles Tazewell in 1946, proved an instant hit, and has, in the ensuing decades, become the fifteenth best-selling children's book of all time. Even today it's still a perennial favorite amongst the sort of people who enjoy plain, unsweetened oatmeal, plastic crucifixes and Precious Moments figurines.

Perhaps you read it when you were just a little tadger yourself. Perhaps not. I can't imagine our audience here at MMT has much overlap with that particular crowd, so let's all experience the alleged magic of this dubious classic together, in an easily digestible, made-for-TV format that's sure to make you say "Damn! Is that really the best they could have done?"

One last thing before we begin. It's a musical.

Normally when I review a musical, I'll provide banners for each song where I rate them from 1 to 10, choosing some graphic to represent the relative cheesiness or hipness of the numbers on either end of the scale. I won't be doing that here, partly because I'm lazy and partly because the songs in this movie are interchangeably undistinguished, middling twee-level blather. There's one minor exception which I'll point out when we come to it, but for the rest I'll simply detail what the songs convey in terms of advancing the narrative and move on from them as quickly and painlessly as I possibly can.

We open on a shot of a white dove sitting on a branch of a tree. This is the sweet dove of peace, who in terms of our narrative is actually a cold-blooded assassin on a mission of infanticide.

Let's meet the target. He's a little boy named Michael who's just turned eight years old and been declared by his father "a man," so he can now be left tending the family's modest flock of sheep alone while dad sews a boot, sips some wine and thinks of new and exciting ways to be a passive aggressive douchebag. Michael is inordinately proud of this new responsibility, and, as one does in a musical, he sings all about it.

It's a suppurating aural abcess called "Master of All I Survey," the gist of which is that Michael is like mighty Caesar on the hill, taking in the expansive vista of his seemingly endless empire and mighty pleased at what he sees. In Michael's case the "seemingly endless empire" is about two acres of sparsely vegetated scrubland at the bottom of Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

Michael, our soon-to-be Angel.

As a side note here, I've finally lost track of how many movies and TV productions we've covered here at MMT over the years that were filmed in this particular location. It's got to be well over a hundred. The Littlest Angel also features some footage shot at the Vasquez Rocks, another extremely popular location we've seen in dozens of other productions. In fact, though we've only published three articles so far this year, two of them feature scenes filmed at both of these places, including a rock formation Michael will soon be climbing located within spitting distance of where Captain Kirk fought the Gorn back in 1966.

Unlike The Littlest Angel, the Gorn promised to be merciful and quick.

Michael is played by then-nine-year-old Johnny Whitaker, who was something of a wunderkind in TV and Movies for a brief period in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Surprisingly for a child actor, I've got nothing bad to say about him. He's a passable singer, and generally does a fine job believably portraying a regular kid within the confines of the meager material he's been given to work with.

By the time he'd appeared in this movie Whitaker had already put three seasons of the popular sitcom Family Affair (1966-71) under his belt and would later add two more. He'd also appeared in a variety of TV guest roles and would soon headline a number of family films, including a musical adaptation of Tom Sawyer (1973). For people of a certain age, however, he will always be Johnny Stuart from the Sid and Marty Kroft comedy adventure series Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973-4).

Now that's entertainment!

Michael sings and tends his flock and finds his dog's broken collar laying on a rock. He runs home with the thing, leaving the dog in charge, and asks his idle, presumably alcoholic father if he can put it in the "box of treasures" he keeps under his bed. Dad doesn't cotton to such childish frivolities, and argues that now that he's been declared a man it's time he set such childish notions aside. I would argue that declaring a thing to be true and that thing actually being true are two very different things. Still, with Mom's tender interjections on her son's behalf Dad relents and gives permission, albeit while still bitching to himself and the audience about all the silly things his son has collected, including some twigs and birds' eggs and a tooth from a mule.

It's the last time you're gonna see the kid alive, buddy. Why not give him a fucking break?

At Mom's behest Michael steps outside to get some firewood, but he's immediately distracted by the sight of the White Dove, which has landed on the fencepost next to the garden gate and seems to be waiting for him. He steps up gingerly and tries to pet it, but it flies away. Michael follows, and as the opening credits begin to roll an ominous wind echoes through the trees and crevices of Bronson Canyon.

Michael chases the bird to a cliff overlooking where Kirk and the Gorn had their little disagreement. He slowly climbs all the way to the top and stands just a few feet away from where the sinister avian menace awaits. As Michael beckons gently with his hands the bird suddenly takes off and flies right into his face. He loses his balance and falls to his death.

Now that's how you start a Christmas special!

Michael finds himself walking in a seemingly endless sea of clouds. He sings a song called "Where am I?" which is pretty much self-explanatory. As soon as he finishes singing he meets an old man in a robe with a long white beard, holding the very bird currently wanted for questioning by the LAPD in connection with the recent incident down in the canyon.

This is God, and though he doesn't breach the subject directly, it's pretty clear that Michael's murder was an inside job.

Don't touch it! It may be armed!

Michael comments on how soft the little hit man is. "He's real fast, too!" He says, "and I should know, 'cause I'm real fast!" In fact michael thinks he's so fast that he managed to run up into the sky all on his own. When God calls Michael by name and tells him "We've all been waiting for you," the kid finally gets the hint that maybe he's not in Judea anymore. When he asks where he actually is, God assures him that he's nowhere at all, but if he'll just go through these big gaudy, pearly gates that just zapped the fuck up out of thin air while they were chatting, he'll really be somewhere.

"Did I drop acid this morning, mister? I don't remember dropping acid this morning."

Michael walks through the gates and God disappears, leaving him alone to explore the rarefied realms of Judeo-Christian Heaven, represented here by sycophantic Angels in white robes, feathery wings and wicker halos, and some wildly heavy-handed over-use of cheesy chroma-key video effects.

Following a brief commercial message back here on Earth we now join this allegedly paradisical seraphic bureaucracy already in progress. An Angel named Peace, a balding fellow with a furrowed brow and clinical anxiety, is questioning a guardian angel named Patience regarding the whereabouts of a particular newly-arrived soul who'd been placed in his care. It seems the soul has missed his choir practice and meditations, and legions of angels have been turning the heavens upside down looking for him.

"I dunno where he is, boss. Maybe God had him whacked."

Patience is played by Fred Gwynne, most famous for his role as the bumbling, Frankenstienian patriarch Herman on The Munsters (1964-66). He is, by a miracle mile, the very best thing in the entire production. He gets the most sympathetic character arc, all the best lines and gives a performance that stands head and shoulders above every other featured player by every single conceivable metric, including height.

It seems Patience has allowed his latest soul to make a teensy little trip back to Earth, something Peace reminds him is absolutely forbidden. It's plain from their talk that this sort of thing has happened before on Patience's watch, but Peace decides to give him one more chance to prove he can turn vibrant, rambunctious souls into mindless cogs in Heaven's mind-meltingly tedious wheels.

As it happens there's a new soul at the pearly gates in need of guidance right now, a little boy named Michael, Peace explains. He extols Patience to be firm, advises him that boys respect discipline, and begs him to remember that if he ever lets another soul return to Earth it will mean not only the loss of his position as a guardian angel, but disgrace and banishment, if not from Heaven entirely, at least to some distant part of Heaven where he won't have to deal directly with God's capricious shit.

Michael meanwhile is walking through a tunnel of clouds, being heralded into to Heaven by gaggles of passing Angels in the form of a brutally banal, maliciously mediocre musical number called "Welcome Little Angel."

Then legendary singer, actor and bandleader Cab Calloway shows up and I lose my shit.

You see, dear readers, I am an unabashed, enthusiastic, nigh-on maniacal Cab Calloway superfan. I've loved him ever since I can remember, since some hazy time even before my seminal sixth year on Earth, that blessed annum when I somehow stumbled upon Charlie Chaplin, Monty Python and Doctor Who all within a twelvemonth.

For my twentieth birthday in 1990 my girlfriend and I drove out to one of the casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey to see him perform live, and we were the youngest people there by at least thirty years.

It was magical. He was nearly eighty-three years old and still dancing around like a madman, singing that rapid-fire, gatling-gun scat, Hi-de-hi-de-ho-in' all over the damn stage with utterly undiminished wit and musical energy. He was a wonderment. I was starstruck and awestruck.

I even stuck around the theater for a whole hour after the show, hoping against hope to get one last glimpse of him or maybe--gasp!--an autograph, but though a few of the musicians walked by, my close encounter with the great Cab Calloway was at an end.

Even now, nearly thirty-two years later I can honestly say that concert was one of the greatest experiences of my life, so you can imagine my shock and dismay on seeing poor Cab stuck playing the Angel Gabriel in this gilded Shitmas turd. It's enough to turn a fella off religion entirely.

During the course of the song the Angels stick a golden key around Michael's neck and wrap him up in his own white, flowing robe. He meets each of the angels in the welcoming committee, then Patience takes charge of him, hoping he might be indoctrinated swiftly into his celestial duties and he can maybe go back to floating around the ether and dreaming of a more stimulating job in a more fulfilling afterlife.

First up is a tour in a divine chariot, which Patience helpfully explains is the best way to travel because even though you don't go anywhere, anywhere comes to you!

"Are you sure I didn't drop acid this morning, mister?"

The first stop in Michael's initiation tour is the wardrobe department, where he's given a nice white robe and a brand spanking new wicker halo. He's not impressed. He refuses to wear the robe because it doesn't have any pockets for the useless shit he likes to take home to piss off his dad, and he doesn't like the halo because it's all scratchy, and not nearly as comfortable as his little shepherd's hat. Speaking of shepherding, he's also pretty anxious to get back to his flock because time's a-wastin' and those sheep ain't gonna herd themselves.

Patience tries to explain that he lives in Heaven now, and besides, it's really great! For one thing you never have to take a bath because angels never get dirty. For another you never grow any older (we shall return to this) and the piece de resistance is when you're an angel you get to learn how to fly. This last temptation proves too much for Michael, who provisionally agrees to continue his tour, provided he can get back to Earth immediately after his flying lesson.

As they leave the wardrobe department they pass through the place where angels hang all the stars and planets in the sky, and the part of me that's an astonomy nerd suddenly wants me to throw up in my mouth a little. Michael reaches up from the chariot and grabs a nearby star, hoping to add it to his junk collection, but Patience tells him he can't keep it because each and every star belongs to some specific soul on Earth.

Michael says that's real nice and all, but the stars sure seem lonesome with no mountains or flowers or grass beneath them...and anyway, who ever heard of a sky that wasn't blue? And damn, wouldn't you know? He's gonna sing us a song about it!

Just as Patience becomes fully invested in "Where is Blue?," Michael's rapturous paean to the varied and exquisite chromatic embellishments of the Earth, the chariot is suddenly swept back to Peace's giant dais, where the probationary guardian angel is ordered to give a status report on his young ward's current state of compliance.

Peace...and some brother plucker.

Patience paints a rosy picture of the boy's progress, but Michael stubbornly insists he's not an angel now, he's not gonna be an angel later, and he needs to get back to Earth, stat or somebody's gonna get fucking hurt. Patience assures Peace it's just a temporary tantrum, that after a flying lesson or two he'll turn that frown upside down and assume his angelic duties with a smile, and Peace grudgingly lets them go on their way.

So off they go to the wing wing of Heaven, where feathery flappers are fitted and Angels fearlessly fly, which is not to be confused with Weng Weng, the Patron Saint of Million Monkey Theater and the single greatest action hero in the history of cinema, whose presence would have assured a very different, much more entertaining film.

While in transit there's a brief reprise of the color song, and it seems Patience is leaning in pretty strongly towards Michael's point of view with regards to the relative merits of Earth vs. Heaven. Even the chariot driver gets in on the act, singing along heartily as Michael sews his seeds of doubt and division about the bland, drab and monotonous scourge the Angels call home. Next thing you know Chariot Guy will be fomenting a rebellion against God or something.

His friends call him Lou, but his proper name is Lucifer.

Finally they arrive at that special place where Angel seamstresses make pairs of wings from white silk, feathers and golden thread, then place the finished product on display for new Angels to try on for size like they're shopping in some heavenly haberdashery. It's a noisomely precious and reductive view of the afterlife, with Angels that function more like drones in a beehive than as a blissful society of perfected human souls, where crossed-over worker-Angels incessantly toil to no other purpose than delivering honeyed praise to an insatiably needy God.

This is what I call "Wonder Bread Theology," a sappy, simple-minded view of the Divine Kingdom seemingly modeled after line drawings in a Sunday school coloring book. It's an easy, undemanding and non-threatening vision requiring little thought or imagination, pre-digested for the middle-class Caucasian fundamentalists who constituted the primary audience for it, but there's something subtly sinister at work in it as well.

You know I hate to be "that guy" who always asks that one question that completely ruins the entire premise of a movie for everyone else [Editor Intern Hector: Give it up, boss. You love being "that guy."], but it is my job, so here it is:

Where the hell are all the other children?

No one could credibly argue that in the millenia leading up to this particular moment in very-soon-to-be post-Christian Judea there was zero child mortality, and we've already established that no one in heaven ever grows any older than they were when they died. Additionally, the concept of purgatory wasn't invented until the 1170's, and a mercifully benign Limbo was at this time a distant future conceit of medieval Catholicism, so by process of elimination we have to conclude that for the purposes of our narrative, all children, with the puzzling exception of Michael himself, went directly to Hell.

Looks fine to me.

If that's not enough to put you off your holy wafers, here's another questionable issue raised by The Littlest Angel: It's awfully white. I mean it's lily white, white as milk, and aside from Cab Calloway, Heaven appears to be a fully segregated, whites-only social club. I mean, sure, they'll let a brother in occasionally, but only if he's willing to sing and dance for them.

Speaking of singing and dancing, the head wing-maker, a perky blonde extra from a regional theater production of a nativity play, now sings another miserable tune called "Anyone Can Fly," and if I didn't like any of the other songs I'm certainly not going to like this one either, since they all pretty much sound the same.

As the benzocaine-laced number wears numbly and inexorably on, the Wing Lady tries to get Michael to wear a small pair of training wings for his first lesson, but he insists on using a grand, full-sized pair designed for an angel twice his size. He struggles valiantly, but the lesson ends with a crushing faceplant.

It's like falling off the cliff all over again.

After the humiliation of his failure and a brief commercial break, Michael tries to snag a quiet moment to himself, in which he prays to God to please let him go back home. There's a particularly mawkish detail here where every time he says "Dear God" a chorus of angels appears in the background and sings it back to him.

When he finishes his prayer and sees no immediately discernible effect, he muses aloud that God must not have heard him, but nosey parker Patience, who's been listening from behind a cloud, steps up and assures him that God always hears and answers everybody's prayers.

"That's not been my personal experience, but fine."

This leads, quite unexpectedly, to the best scene and the best song in the movie, not that the competition for that honor is particularly fierce, where Michael describes his home and his life as a shepherd boy to Patience, and Patience remembers his own childhood, growing up in a similar house with similar food and a similar family. It turns out he even had a box of treasures under his own bed just like Michael did.

This leads Patience to a plaintive solo number called "Lost in Another Time," wherein he wistfully describes the rarely acknowledged recollections of his own mortal life on Earth. It's a poignant, bittersweet musing on what you must inevitably forsake to attain a place in Paradise, crafted with surprising depth and artistry, and Fred Gwynne lands every note of it with emotional authenticity and pensive longing.

It's a prepossessing pearl perched on a pile of putrefying poppycock.

Sadly, it ends, and we're back to the peurile shitshow with a vengeance, passing from the very best to the very worst The Littlest Angel has to offer in the span of a moment.

Michael begs Patience to let him go back to Earth, arguing that he's needed there and has important work to do, whereas in Heaven he's just in everybody's way and seems to serve no purpose at all. This gives Patience the bright idea to take him to "The Celestial Psychopomp," an angel whose job it is to designate positions to newly arrived souls within the vast bureaucratic machinery that keeps Heaven's gears a-whirl.

Perhaps the greatest asset of Christianity in terms of its growth and longevity is its early willingness to absorb the beliefs, rituals and traditions of the cultures it sought to convert. It's therefore somewhat fitting that the Heaven of The Littlest Angel should include a figure as ubiquitously prominent in pre-Christian mythologies as the Psychopomp. Originally a spirit guide or escort into the afterlife, the role is here transformed into a sort of Heavenly hiring manager, posting jobs available and filling those positions with the appropriate, newly-deceased candidates.

When Patience and Michael arrive, the Psychopomp is dealing with the particularly thorny case of Democritus, a famous Greek philosopher who died sometime around 370 BC. I'm not sure how he qualifies as "newly deceased" when the story takes place at ground zero for Anno Domini, but maybe he had to navigate Hades for a couple of centuries before he could find his way there.

The Psychopomp has his hands full with the pompous philosopher, who waxes rhetorical on whether he really is where he appears to be or whether it's merely a lucid dream brought on by too much feta cheese and olives. Naturally he has to fucking sing about it, but I'm so over these damn songs by now I'm just gonna note that this one exists and move on.

Democritus is played by Tony Randall. Just in case you care.

Democritus proves to be so adept in his tuneful arguments that the Psychopomp releases him as his own agent, free to wander the Celestial sphere and provoke logical debates with the locals at will...which sounds pretty sweet for him, but maybe not so much for everybody else in the organization.

Now it's Michael's turn, and he asks if the Psychopomp has any jobs for boys, to which the old windbag replies that he certainly does not because there are no boys in Heaven.

See? All the other dead children are most definitely smoldering down below in Hotpokerupthebuttistan, just like I told you.

Michael is so upset that there's no place for him or useful work for him to do in the place that he angrily gives the Psychopomp back the key he was given when he first arrived and stomps out of the Human Resources department in a snit. He wanders out into space, where the various worker-angels are hanging stars and spinning celestial bodies with gentle wafts from hand-held bellows.

Patience appears and Michael gives him the cold shoulder. When Patience asks what he's doing and he says "nothing," to which the Guardian replies "Sounds like fun. Mind if I join you?"

Then he squats down next to him so he can sing yet another puerile, anemic tune that's perhaps the most baldly gratuitous time-filler in the entire production.

The best part of it is the fast forward button.

After about three minutes of suffering through its mindless, tuneless, psedo-whimsical prattle the song commits ritual seppuku, both out of a deep sense of shame and as an act of mercy towards the audience.

Patience sits Michael down for a serious talk, asking that he finally face the truth and accept his new existence as an Angel. He acknowledges that it's hard to get the hang of it at first, that his halo might slip, he might trip on his robe or have trouble flying, but eventually he'll do something he knows is right and he'll suddenly realize that Heaven is exactly where he belongs.

Patience proclaims his great faith in Michael and promises to do anything to help him. Michael holds him to that promise by insisting he allow him to go back to Earth, if only for a little while, just so he can retrieve his box of treasures.

The Guardian Angel has put himself in a beatific pickle. He knows he will lose his job or worse if he assents to Michael's request, but his sympathies are clearly with the kid, and a promise made in Heaven must always be fulfilled. He allows Michael to go home to Earth, sending him off with a melancholy reprise of "Lost in Another Time."

Suddenly an invisible hand tugs his robe, and a soundless voice remonstrates him for his folly in allowing yet another soul to return to the land of the living. He wanders off, dejected and alone to face his promised punishment.

Fare thee well, Fred Gwynne. We'll catch up with you in My Cousin Vinny (1992).

The conclusion of our final commercial break brings us back to Michael's humble home, where Mom is anxiously awaiting his return and Dad is complaining again about his eight-year-old son's unforgivable irresponsibility. It's clear they're still unaware of Michael's death, which I find astonishingly unlikely considering how many film crews are usually working around the spot where he died. You'd think some DP or location scout would have stumbled across him by now, but I suppose there's always the possibility that instead of reporting it they decided to use him as a prop.

Michael's Dad is played by James Coco, one of those actors who appeared in a respectable number of movies (most notably as Sancho Panza in the 1972 film adaptation of Man of La Mancha), but never exceeded a middling notoriety, languishing instead in the consolation-prize category of "Special Guest Star" for the majority of his career. Still, he was highly respected, enjoyed extensive work in the theater and gives an adequate, if unremarkable performance here. Not so Mom, played by ten-credit nobody Evelyn Russell, whose thick, slurred voice and glazed aspect suggest she may have indulged in a little drinkie-winkie or three to calm her nerves before she stepped on set.

Or maybe she got hold of some of Michael's acid.

Michael enters and tries to talk with them, but they can't see or hear him, which I'm sure would be profoundly sad for anyone who still cared about any of this at this point. He heads over to his bed and pulls out his little treasure box, sets it on the covers and takes out his trinkets, the sight of which naturally causes him to once again burst into song.

After finishing up his tune and engaging in a few more fruitless attempts to get his parents' attention, he gives up and goes back to Heaven. When he gets there, he finds all the Angels standing around in their best robes awaiting an important announcement from God. It seems He's going to have a Son, to be born on Earth that very night. I think he calls him "Jesus Christ" or something? Maybe you've heard of the guy.

As part of his holy proclamation he commands that each and every Angel prepare a grand and heavenly gift for the baby's birthday. Even Michael, despite his limited means and experience, is expected to pony up with something appropriate to the occasion...but what could he possibly give that would be worthy of the Son of God?

I think it's fairly obvious where this is going, but unfortunately, we have a couple more songs to suffer through before we get there.

So the Angels all get to work with their golden hammers and golden anvils, making ornate golden crowns and other opulent tchotchkes, and the whole sequence made my eyes roll back in my head so hard I nearly gave myself a migraine.

Jesus doesn't need that shit.

It's been quite a few reviews since I've had a proper rant, so here goes:

I think I've made it fairly clear on a number of occasions during my employment here at MMT that I am not a Christian, but that I do have deep respect and admiration for Jesus and his teachings. What I don't believe is that the concepts of love, compassion and forgiveness need to be derived from a divine source. What does it say about who and what we are if such basic decencies must arise from outside of our own minds, hearts and souls? These concepts have never been unique to Jesus or Christianity. Older religions and philosophies had already been touting these attributes as fundamental to human experience for thousands of years before Jesus was born. What made Jesus' message so radical was his very human and deeply humanist social philosophy, which focused on the needs and inherent value of all human beings, inclusive of the poor, powerless, downtrodden and outcast people on the fringes of society. Jesus wasn't killed because he preached love. He was killed because his egalitarian vision threatened the power structures of his time.

Jesus preached unadorned, in fields and deserts, standing alone atop verdant hills, a moving example of plain living and humility, yet most Christian churches are built upon staggering wealth and decorated with grand and gaudy opulence. There's a psychological reasoning behind this ornamentalism, but it has nothing to do with inclusivity or the gospel of love. It's strong-arm showmanship, a razzle-dazzle routine meant to overwhelm the awe-struck masses into submission and belief. It's political rather than spiritual, and it continues to subvert Jesus' ethos of decency and equality even today, especially in Evangelical Fundamentalist megachurches, where a "Gospel of Prosperity" has replaced Christ's profound humility with a sickening fervor for the accumulation of the very wealth and political privilege He so vehemently preached against.

Christian Nationalist Central Control

In terms of today's feature, Angels in Heaven making such lush ornaments even as the people's Savior has not yet been born is a mindless, shallow supplication to an insidious, centuries-long, process of transforming Jesus deeply human message of love and equality into a system that equates spiritual purity with wealth, luxury and grandiosity.

On the other hand them's mighty purdy Angels. Amirite?

So, there are more songs, set in a loose medley featuring Angels working and Angels praising God interspersed with images of Michael holding his treasure box. At one point, just to hammer it home for all the folks out there in TV-land who haven't been paying full attention or perhaps lack the mental acuity to suss out the ultimate resolution of the plot, Michael openly explains that the gift he gives needs to be something wonderful, but the only wonderful thing he has is his box.

As he deliberates parting with his treasures, a subtle halo appears behind his head, and even I've gotta admit that's kind of a nice touch.

I like televisual references to renaissance art as much as the next guy.

Finally, we join the procession of Angels presenting their gifts to God so He may judge their worthiness. The song accompanying this is a cut slightly above most of the other dreck in the production, structured as a choral cantata and designed to appeal to folks like me who enjoy these sorts of vocal works. Yes, I know. Despite my not being Christian and having a deeply ingrained distrust of religious institutions, I still enjoy early, baroque, classical, romantic and even modern choral music, most of which was written for church-based Christian worship.

I like to pretend this makes me "an eclectic fellow" rather than "a hypocrite."

This piece is a little too Aaron Copeland-y for my tastes, but I can't really complain when I compare it to the dross that came before it. It's also performed by classically trained singers with excellent voices, so I'll take what I can get.

Refreshingly not terrible.

Aside from all the ornate crowns, jewels, beads and baubles, the Angels' gifts include a new color only the Christ child can see, and special music only the Christ child can hear, which is kind of neat. The latter gift is presented by the only person of color in Heaven since Cab Calloway, no doubt chosen for her stellar singing voice, but I'm still not convinced the place isn't mostly segregated.

They were both there on work visas from the Black People Heaven on the other side of town.

Now Michael gets a reprise of his maudlin box o' shit song from a few scenes back, extolling the beauties of his dead butterfly, white stones, robin's eggs and other childish trinkets. It's a prelude to his moment of epiphany, when he finally decides to selflessly, and blunt-force trauma symbolically, give it all up to Jesus, allowing both his generous gesture and his personal identity to be absorbed into the religio-polical juggernaut of mainstream Christianity.

On his way up to present the gift he runs into Peace, who tells him maybe a box o' shit isn't such a great choice for the Christ child, but Michael boldly tells him he's made up his mind about it.

Once he sees all the grand, gilded gifts lined up around God's throne, however, he gets cold feet and surreptitiously slips it in where he thinks the Lord won't notice it. He bows to God then shuffles back down and hides behind the Angel at the very end of the procession, who turns out to be his pal Patience, back from the Heavenly hinterlands on a special visa of his own.

They have a warm reunion, but it's cut short by God's announcing how pleased he is that every single Angel in all of Heaven snapped to attention and busted hump to make all this shit at the instant he announced his decree.

God seems high maintenance, just like Santa.

God declares that out of all the useless junk he's collected for his Son's birthday Michael's useless junk is the best, because it contains "the miracles of Earth and men," over whom Jesus will reign as king for all eternity.

God likes it so much, in fact, that he decides to transform it into a star that will shine over Bethlehem at the moment of Christ's birth. He motions for Michael, now dressed in the sacred raiment of a full-fledged Angel, to stand by his side, and..

Wait a gosh-darned minute! Was this God's master plan all along? He sent his murder bird to push a fucking eight-year-old kid off a cliff just so he could get a box of junk to light on fire and hang in the sky for Jesus' birthday?

Verily, He doth work in mysterious ways!

The End.

Well, there's not much more to say about it, really. Though The Littlest Angel trades in some heavy theological and philosophical conundrums that have puzzled mankind since our first unsteady strides into self-awareness, it offers nothing new, noteworthy or worthwhile to the conversations surrounding them, and with its lazy, shallow writing, dull, repetitive songs and bafflingly weird production choices it fails even as light entertainment for viewers of a religious bent. Without Fred Gwynne's occasional and miraculous extraction of some welcome emotional truth, it would not have been worth the time it took to review it, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to any of you to view for yourself.

Why not watch Santa Claus vs. the Devil instead?

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in July & August 2022.

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