This DVD collection brings together a diverse group of Christmas films, from early American shorts by leading producers to independent productions.
A Holiday Pageant at Home (1901) A family performs recitations and plays before a painted flat representing their home. Edited together pretty much from complete takes, including the actors standing stiffly and looking at the director near the camera before receiving their cue for action.
A Winter Straw Ride (1906) A group of what appears to be students go on a winter ride and end up cavorting in the snow. Although the film was directed by Edison director Edwin S. Porter, it plays like a home movie that aims to be a chase film.
A Trap for Santa (1909) This somber film directed by D.W. Griffith tells the tale of a family whose father is out of work. He drinks to forget his troubles and eventually leaves the family behind. The mother is turned away from an employment agency. An aunt’s estate is settled in time to save the mother and her two children from eviction and starvation. Now well-to-do, the mother moves her family into her inherited home. On Christmas eve, she explains to her children that with no chimney in the house Santa will have to come in through the window. That evening, the children decide to set a trap for Santa. The wayward father is forced to resort to burglary, and he is caught when fate brings him through his family’s window. A single shot in the film appears to have been restored from a Library of Congress paper print or a substandard 16mm reduction print.
A Christmas Accident (1912) A contented family lives next to a family headed by a Scrooge-like old man. A grocery order intended for the old man’s home is mistakenly delivered to the family next door. When the mistake is discovered, the family tries to return the food, which is rejected on principle. Next, the old man’s dog is discovered poisoned. On Christmas eve, the old man goes into a snowstorm to shop for a turkey. As he comes home, the storm causes him to stumble into the wrong home and he is immediately welcomed by the family next door. He is overwhelmed when he is given a present of a small teddy bear because his dog had died. The old man’s heart is redeemed by Christmas.
The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914) Octavius purchases a Santa costume for a Christmas party visit to entertain the Randall family’s children. During the party, a burglar enters the house and while searching for loot he is nearly discovered by Octavius who is changing into his Santa costume instead of the one provided by Mrs. Randall. The thief decides to disguise himself in the other Santa outfit and saps Octavius (but don’t blink or you’ll miss that important plot turn). The thief begins helping himself to the presents. Octavius comes to and the amateur detective jumps on the trail of the burglar. The film features a surprising twist and a drawn-out ending. The film is tightly cropped and portions of a handwritten letter gets cropped out along with the top of an occasional head.
Santa Claus vs. Cupid (1915) Scenario by future director Alan Crosland. After the cast has been introduced and it has been established that coachman Binks Mulligan’s wife is ill, the story turns to the effecrts of Mr. Beck and Mr. Norwood as they court the same woman. She appears to prefer Beck. To impress her, Norwood conspires to play Santa at her Christmas eve children’s party, a job that is supposed to be filled by Beck. Mulligan, meanwhile, has been invited into the house kitchen. Desperate for money to save his wife, Mulligan masks himself and holds up Beck. Beck is locked in a closet while Mulligan loots the toys for the party. Santa, in the form of Norwood, comes to the rescue.
Santa Claus (1925) Santa Claus is a two-reeler independently produced by Mr. and Mrs. F.E. Kleinschmidt. The film is part Christmas story, part Alaskan travelogue. Two children ask Santa what he does all year long and Santa recounts his yearly preparations for Christmas. The part of Santa is played by at least three different people in the film. And, in a couple of shots, the shadow of the hand-cranking cameraman can be seen in the foreground.
A Christmas Carol (1910) This Edison-produced adaptation of the Charles Dickens novella has been compressed into a single reel but is well made. All of the requisite elements are there, except Tiny Tim, to allow this version to hold its own among the cinema’s many adaptations of the story.
The Night Before Christmas (1905) An adaptation of the poem, directed by Edwin S. Porter. Let this be a lesson to bad little children. They might just be one of the names that Santa is seen crossing off his list. The film also features an intriguing circular special effect model shot of Santa’s reindeer and sleigh. The source print is a little soft of detail and flat in some of the shots.
All of the films have been transferred from 35mm prints, except as noted above. Some of the films have been tightly framed but the cropping rarely distracts the viewer. Most of the source prints feature very good detail and broad greyscale tonal ranges. The video transfers are very good but the DVD’s video bit rate rarely exceeds 5 megabytes per second, which means the video information has been highly compressed. The compression results can be seen in still frames as jagged diagonal edges and in full motion as what appears to be film grain but is instead the averaging of the grey levels of many film grains contained in the larger than should be tolerated image pixels. The lower the bit rate, the noisier and rougher the image. The higher the bit rate (7 to 8 Mbps should be a target compression rate), the smoother the resulting image quality.
The films are accompanied by a music score performed by a small orchestral group comprised of strings, piano, harp and handbells. The adequate but well-recorded score was composed (with arrangements of traditional Christmas themes) by pianist Al Kryszak.
Overall, the well-produced disc gathers together several quality prints into a fairly cohesive social and seasonal program. We recommend that you treat your family and friends to this collection of motion pictures that bring a Christmas past into your home.
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