Today, I’m taking a look at a movie from my childhood that I only recently rediscovered a few years back. The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966) made the rounds as a kiddie matinee flick in the 1970s before becoming a staple during the Christmas season on HBO through the early 1980s. In fact, I have memories of not only seeing this on HBO but also at the Fox Theater in Newton, KS one Saturday afternoon in the early 70s.
I think we’ve all seen the plot of this movie in one form or another over the years. An evil man threatens to cancel Christmas. Here, the evil man is Phineas T. Prune, a penny pinching grouch right out of the mold of Ebenezer Scrooge, complete with top hat and swirling moustache. He owns the deed to the North Pole and Santa is running behind on his rent. Unless Santa Claus can pay the back rent, he, Mrs. Claus and all of the elves will be evicted while Prune keeps all of the Christmas toys. Santa Claus is played by Alberto Rabagliati, who certainly looks and acts the part quite well. Rabagliati might be remembered for a role in The Barefoot Contessa (1954) but, as this was his last role before his death in 1974, he has been forgotten by most of today’s American audience.
Santa visits attorney Sam Whipple for his help. As a child, Sam actually wrote Santa a thank you letter, offering to pay Santa back whenever he needed help. So now Santa is calling in that offer. Whipple is played by Paul Tripp, a well-rounded performer who also was a producer and director in addition to actually writing the children’s book that this movie is based on. The evil Prune is played by Rossano Brazzi (The Barefoot Contessa), who also made his directorial debut with this film. Rossano’s wife Lydia is Mrs. Claus and sharp eyes may also recognize Mischa Auer (Hold That Ghost, Destry Rides Again) as the elf foreman. The rest of the plot is simple as Whipple and Santa get jobs at a toy store while the elves look for a reason to disprove Prune’s claim that he was never a child. In the end, it’s the children of the world who save the day and the reason for Prune’s behavior is finally discovered.
In my opinion, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is very charming and a lost classic. Perhaps it is the European feel of the film that adds to the charm. It is a little out there at times, which reminded me of such films as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. If you or your children enjoy those films, this is one to add to your Christmas wish list. The movie was impossible to find for many years outside of a HBO Home Video VHS release in 1990. It was released on DVD in 2003 but is often out-of-stock. There are a few different uploads on YouTube but they all appear a little fuzzy. Thankfully, it has been made available for streaming on both Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. So, sit the family down for something fun and different this Christmas. You won’t be disappointed. And I challenge you not to be humming the opening theme song days after the Christmas lights are turned off.