Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas Kid review

The Christmas Kid AKA Joe Navidad (1967)
Dir. Sidney W. Pink
Starring: Jeffrey Hunter, Louis Hayward, Perla Cristal, Jack Taylor

On a Christmas Day, a baby is born in an old Pony Express shelter. After his mother dies during childbirth, he is raised by a resentful father and the 3 caring men that discovered him after birth, only to have to have to deal with corruption and evil as an adult.

This is a weird little movie, that oddly transposes the story of Jesus into a western setting. The movie stars Jeffrey Hunter, as Joe, the grown up version of the baby from the beginning. The opening in the manger is pretty good, and the ending is good, but the stretch in the middle is kind of rough. The film has some scenes with the Joe being a bad teenager, being abused by a drunken dad but being taught how to be decent by the three men that discovered and helped to name him. Then the film awkwardly cuts to him as an adult, being tempted by the corruption that the people in charge of the town New Jasper are using to stay in power after a copper boom brings money to the city. But during the scenes with Joe as an adult you get to know him as a character, and as you see him tempted by the villains of the film, and ultimately do the right thing.

The film has a strange feel to it. It's odd that it's a spaghetti western, but it feels more like a traditional American western in terms. It's also oddly structured and paced. The movie is only 90 minutes but it felt a bit longer. It was filmed in Madrid rather than Almeria like more spaghetti westerns, but it story is told more like an American film but it is shot like an Italian production. It gives the movie a strange feel. It has a kind of cheap look to it, but all the actors seem to be doing a pretty good job, so that distracts from the cheap nature of the film's look. The best thing about the movie is probably Louis Haywood as the the richest man in town Culligan. He plays him in a way that makes him seem like the devil. He's a good foil for Hunter's Jesus character.

There is some biblical connections to the film, like the opening scene that directly references the birth of Christ with an old Pony Express station standing in for the manger. After the mother dies during labor, John wants to call the baby Cain cause he killed his mother. He's named by the three wise men from the local town, the mayor, a lawyer, and the doctor. Or Joe's romantic involvement with local prostitute Marie (Cristal). And then there is the finale, where the film's main bad guy pays off Jud $10,000 to lie about Joe being involved in a robbery, in order for him to be tried and hung (alongside 2 actual criminals). Granted this film has more of a happy ending with Jud's guilt causing him to recant his false testimony and for Joe not to be hung. Some of the biblical references are more subtle than others, but they are there. One of the more fun things about the film are looking for them while watching.

The Christmas Kid is an interesting oddity, but if you're looking for a good Christmas western then you are better off with 3 Godfathers, which is far superior and much easier to find. Although it could be interesting to pair in a double feature with King of Kings, where Jeffery Hunter actually played Jesus. But as of this writing, a VHS quality rip of the complete film of is up on YouTube, so it's there if you want to see it. I don't believe that it ever got a dvd release, so unless you happen upon a VHS copy, that's your only option. 

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