Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914)
This is a somewhat sophisticated Edison short release, timed to coincide with the story’s appearance in the December issue of “Pictorial Review.” It appears to be part of a series of movies starring “Octavius, Amateur Detective,” a sort of spoiled American Sherlock Holmes.
At the beginning, Octavius (Barry O’Moore) is taking tea when his butler arrives with an invitation to attend a party and play Santa Claus for the children. The butler seems quite concerned about Octavius’s reaction, and looks relieved when his master laughs. Octavius goes to a store and buys a Santa Claus suit, although when he arrives, the wife tells him they already have one. After hanging around for a while, meeting the children and a pretty young woman who was also invited to the party, Octavius goes upstairs to change. Meanwhile, a burglar has entered the home and scouted it out a bit. He changes into the spare Santa Claus suit and knocks Octavius out. He goes downstairs, is seen by the wife and is able to steal all the presents (apparently they look like the most expensive things in the house, even though they’re wrapped and he has no idea what they are). Then he leaves the house, just as Octavius wakes up.
Octavius finds the wife and the looted Christmas tree, and quickly figures out what happened. Undeterred by the fact that he is wearing a Santa suit, Octavius begins the chase! He tracks the thief to a train station, just barely managing to board the train before it pulls away. He confronts the other Santa, but is deterred by the conductor. Then, when they reach the next station, the thief gets off, and Octavius tries telling his story to a police officer. The other Santa shows him a name written on a package, and presumably convinces the cop it’s his name. Octavius follows the burglar until he goes into a store and puts his basket down while shopping. Octavius grabs the basket and runs back to the cop. The cop, who had prevented one Santa Claus from taking a basket away from another once before, assumes that the two Santas are in the same roles again, and arrests the man trying to take the basket away from Octavius. Octavius rides the train back to the previous town, and brings the basket of toys just like a real Santa Claus, distributing toys to the family’s children. Then there’s an extended ending in which Octavius and the pretty young woman try to get away from the kids to smooch. Ultimately, Octavius has to give them hush money.
I haven’t seen any other Octavius, Amateur Detective films, but I wasn’t too taken with the character here. He does manage to recover the stolen goods, but more through doggedness and deception than through brilliant deduction and insights. He comes across as sort of a doof, if not an idiot. His success seems to rely on an opponent dumb enough to rob a house while people are home and wear a highly-visible getup in his escape. I was somewhat impressed by the editing, which made good use of cross-cutting, especially during the initial break-in sequence and the chase. The camera was set quite close to the actors as well, not just cutting off feet but entire legs and sometimes the tops of heads. This seemed especially unusual for the conservative Edison Studios, where we expect entire bodies to be shown. On the whole, it’s a technically proficient, but narratively lightweight Christmas piece.
Director: Charles M. Seay
Run Time: 15 Min
You can watch it for free: here.