Il natale che quasi non fu (aka The Christmas That Almost Wasn't) (1966) is a fairly low-budget Italian-made Christmas special, directed by and co-starring Rossano Brazzi.
Phineas T. Prune charges an exorbitant amount of rent to Santa, his wife 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, 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:
- Animated Credits Opening: Complete with a very catchy theme tune.
- Big Fancy House: Prune's would be one, if it were in better upkeep. And, after the cleanup at the end, it is one again.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Prune hates compliments and kindness, and enjoys being called evil.
- Child Hater: Phineas T. Prune. He hates everything about them, 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: ... until Charlie, improbably dragging his last-minute Christmas tree down the same street Santa and Whipple are sitting, 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.
- For the Evulz: Prune also seems to have no concrete explanation for why he does what he does, until the end, when he gets better.
- 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?'
- HeelFace Turn: As we see Prune gripping his sailboat which he finally got at the end. And 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 didn't have it to sell 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. Really, Mr. Whipple should have at least 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.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Blossom views himself as one to Prune.
- The Idealist Was Right: When Prune asks Santa why he gives presents, Santa explains not only that Good Feels Good, but also so 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, as thanks for all he does for them, the children join together in giving their money to Santa, allowing him to pay Prune's rent, in what is arguably the Crowning Moment of Heartwarming for the film.
- Ironic Echo: Prune, after his HeelFace 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.
- Large Ham: Prune, who embraces every evil villain stereotype with gusto.
- Making a Spectacle of Yourself: Prune sports a rather steampunkish pair of goggles when he visits Santa at the department store.
- 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.
- Nothing Personal: Prune 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 supperertime, 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.
- 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.
- Servile Snarker: Blossom, Prune's butler.
- 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.
- 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.
- Time-Compression Montage: When Santa finally gets to deliver his gifts, after a reprise of "I've Got A Date With Santa."
- 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: "The Name of the Song is Prune"...in 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.