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Film / The Christmas That Almost Wasn't

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Il natale che quasi non fu (aka The Christmas That Almost Wasn't) is a fairly low-budget 1966 Italian-American Christmas film, directed by and starring Rossano Brazzi.

Cold-hearted landlord Phineas T. Prune (Brazzi) charges an exorbitant amount of rent to Santa Claus (Alberto Rabagliati), Mrs. Claus (Lydia Brazzi), and their elf workers up at the North Pole; Prune locks down the sleigh and Santa's gift-giving operations unless he pays through the nose. What can be done?

Enter Sam Whipple (Paul Tripp), a lawyer who, as a child, offered his help to Santa in his letter, and just before Christmas, Santa shows up to see the offer fulfilled...

Though initially released to theaters in 1966, it enjoyed a run on HBO in the '70s and early '80s. In 2017, it made a return as one of the films riffed on in the Netflix revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000. For more information on that episode, click here.

The Tropes That Almost Weren't:

  • Card-Carrying Villain: Prune hates compliments and kindness, and enjoys being called evil.
  • Child Hater: Phineas T. Prune. He hates everything about children, hates to see them happy, and especially hates Christmas. He's forgotten that he ever was a child, a fact he's reminded of at the end when his Freudian Excuse is rectified.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Prune, to a T. Evil Banker holding the mortgage on Santa's home? Curling black mustache? Dramatic dark coat and top hat with cane? Over the top villainy? The man ticks every box.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After Prune buys Prim's Department Store and basically steals the rent money to pay for toys he damaged, Santa and Whipple stroll listlessly down the street, hoping desperately for a miracle...
  • Deus ex Machina: Santa and Whipple are suffering a Despair Event Horizon when a boy named Charlie, improbably dragging his last-minute Christmas tree down the same street Santa and Whipple are sitting on, learns of their predicament and summons all the children on the street to contribute, lifting Santa and Whipple's spirits.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Co-star and co-writer Paul Tripp wrote the movie's theme tune. While he didn't perform the version used in the movie itself — Glenn Yarbrough did — Tripp did perform the version that was released on LP.
  • The Edwardian Era: The fashion and sets give off an early 1900's vibe.
  • Freudian Excuse: Because his letter to Santa was accidentally misplaced and never processed, Prune never got the sailboat he asked for as a kid, and so decided to forget he ever was one (a kid, that is, not a sailboat).
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: At one point Mrs. Claus implores Prune to Think of the Children! and abandon his evil plot. She has apparently forgotten that, not sixty seconds earlier, Prune had stated in no uncertain terms that he is a Child Hater whose explicit goal is to make the children of the world unhappy.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Whipple, Santa and his Mother help to clean and decorate Prune's dusty old house at the end, with "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" accompanying.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: One song wonders 'why can't every day be gay?'
  • Heel–Face Turn: Prune has a change of heart at the end when Santa's elves finally find the letter that Prune sent to Santa as a kid, allowing Santa to give Prune the toy sailboat he asked for all those years ago. This is hammered home when he gives it to a little boy at the VERY end!
  • Heroic Bystander: When Prune tries to blow Santa up with a stick of dynamite, a random boy in a tweed coat stops him before he can light the fuse.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • Under international law, no nation owns the North Pole (several nations have claimed it for themselves, but these claims are not legally recognized by the international community) so Mr. Whipple could have made a valid case that whoever Mr. Prune bought the North Pole from never owned it in the first place, making his status as Santa's landlord legally void.
    • Also, because Santa has lived continuously on the property for centuries, he may have a right of adverse possession ("squatters rights") that would limit the right to evict him. At the very least, Mr. Whipple should have filed for a preliminary injunction against eviction until these questions were settled.
    • Generally, owning a piece of property does not grant a person any rights over the possessions that a tenant living in that property might bring there. A landlord evicting a renter who fails to pay the rent can lay claim to any items left behind after the leave-by date, or possibly make an arrangement to claim some of the renter's possessions in lieu of cash, but cannot arbitrarily seize the personal possessions of the people being evicted. As such, Mr. Prune might have a claim to evict Santa if he can get through the other legal points, but he would not have the right to take away the reindeer, sleigh, and whatever items Santa could load into it when moving out.
    • On top of that, Prune exerts his questionable authority on what Santa can do with his own belongings BEFORE the rent is due. In many jurisdictions this is tantamount to Breach Of Contract and Prune would have thus voided his own (already tenuous) landlord rights.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In the soundtrack-only song "Kids Get All the Breaks," Prune complains that kids are spoiled brats and sings "Why will no one spoil me too?" Prune is a very rich man with a butler who is completely devoted to him. If he wants to be spoiled, he doesn't have to look very hard.
  • The Idealist Was Right: When Prune asks Santa why he gives out presents, Santa explains that not only is it because Good Feels Good, but also that those he gives to learn the value of giving themselves. Later, during the film's Darkest Hour, when the children learn about Santa's problem, they all join together in giving their money to Santa, as thanks for all he has done for them, allowing Santa to pay Prune's rent in time.
  • Ironic Echo: Prune, after his Heel–Face Turn, reprises "Why Can't Every Day Be Christmas?" originally sung by Whipple in the department store.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: The montage of Santa delivering toys is accomplished by panning and zooming over still shots.
  • Making a Spectacle of Yourself: Prune sports a rather steampunkish pair of goggles when he visits Santa at the department store.
  • Manchild:
    • Prune exhibits this, even before rediscovering his forgotten childhood. He's extremely petty in his actions and outlook, even breaking toys and blaming it on Santa so the rent money all goes to repairs, and fusses like a little boy when Blossom tries to give him his "soothing tonic".
    • Though he's at least more emotionally mature than Prune, Sam Whipple is still quite childish, still believes in Santa even as an adult, and gets really into playing with the toys at Prim's department store.
    • Santa himself is rather childish. Sam isn’t the only one playing with those toys when he’s supposed to be working.
  • Mrs. Claus: Referred as "Mrs. Santa" in the film and posters, she's one of the main characters and is seen reading a Christmas letter Prune sent to Santa as a child wishing for a sailboat.
  • Never Had Toys: Implied. Although it's never specifically stated that Mr. Prune had no toys as a kid, he did turn evil after an incident where Santa Claus failed to bring Prune a toy sailboat one Christmas when Prune was a kid. It was the only thing that Prune asked for that year. Prune is shown to despise children because their parents pile so much love on them. (This is made especially clear in his Villain Song, "Kids Get All the Breaks," which was only featured on the soundtrack, and not in the movie.)
  • No Song for the Wicked: Downplayed. Prune has a Villain Song, "Kids Get All the Breaks," but only on the soundtrack. In the actual movie, he does not sing until after his Heel–Face Turn, upon which he sings a joyful song about how it's good to be kind.
  • Nothing Personal: Prune may be trying to evict Santa and ruin Christmas, but he has nothing against Santa—it's the children that he hates.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Prune somehow makes his way to the North Pole, every night, just to demand the rent money from the Clauses. (The movie implies that he simply walks there!) He even times his visits to coincide with their suppertime, just so he can spoil their dinner.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Mr Whipple claims to be a good lawyer, but his lawyer skills basically have no bearing on the plot or its resolution. He does exactly one lawyer-like thing in the entire movie: delivering an impassioned opening statement... to Santa and his elves. Aside from this — and one occasion when he points out that Mr. Prune still has to pay him and Santa their wages from the department store even if he fires them, which in fairness is something Santa may not have known — he never acts like a lawyer at all. On the one occasion when you might expect his lawyering skills to be deployed, namely to find a loophole in Santa's tenancy agreement during the scene where he first confronts Prune, all he does is goad and insult Prune. He doesn't even bill his clients who owe him money.
    Tom Servo: A lawyer who forgets to send out bills? This movie just became unrealistic.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The rhymes during the song "The Name of the Song is Prune," are all fairly natural, but have nothing to do with Prune himself and exist solely to fill out the melody. This is directly noted in the chorus.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line in the department store, Mr. Prim makes a comment about "Mr. Macy" - a reference to Macy's Department Store and likely to Miracle on 34th Street, which also happens to involve Santa working at a department store and getting into legal trouble.
    • When Santa and crew show up in Prune's house and accidentally wake him up, his first reaction is to scream that three ghosts have come to haunt him.
  • Space Compression: Could be just a matter of editing, but Mr. Whipple's office seems to be just across the street from Prune's Big Fancy House.
  • Still Believes in Santa: Sam Whipple is a rather childish man. One of the ways this is shown is that he explicitly still believes in Santa.
  • Sycophantic Servant: Blossom again, who's way into Prune's plans to stop Christmas. The only reason he begins showing kindness to everyone at the end seems to be because of his boss's sudden change of heart.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Near the end when Santa finally turns in the rent money, Prune is so beside himself, he can't even bring himself to stop Santa, Mrs. Santa and the elves from loading the sleigh up (or to take the money with him, for that matter)! Of course, the fact that Santa paid him in coins didn't help, plus he did say that he didn't actually care about the money.
  • Villain Song: 'Kids Get All the Breaks' from the soundtrack. In it, Prune explains that he is a Child Hater because he believes all kids are Spoiled Brats who get more love and affection than they deserve.
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: "The Name of the Song is Prune" theory, anyway. It doesn't actually say anything about Prune himself and is just a melody that arbitrarily spouts off words that rhyme with prune.
  • Voodoo Shark: Whipple doesn't just pay the rent himself because he's behind on sending bills to his clients and so has little cash in hand. He then spends a month working in a toyshop instead of just mailing those bills.