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The Bootleg Files: The Magic Christmas Tree

BOOTLEG FILES 752: “The Magic Christmas Tree” (1964 holiday season fiasco).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: On public domain labels.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: No copyright on the film opens it to endless duping.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Who the hell would want to offer a 4K restored version of this thing?

Some crummy movies are so cluelessly terrible that they’ve earned the designation of being “so bad they’re good.” The 1964 atrocity “The Magic Christmas Tree” doesn’t fall into that genre. Instead, it needs to be shoved into the category of “so bad they’re terrible.”

In fairness, there is nothing wrong with “The Magic Christmas Tree” that couldn’t be fixed with a blowtorch. However, since belated efforts to right cinematic wrongs with that fiery mistake-eraser is not an option, this tortured writer has no choice but to recount the production’s too-many flaws.

The film’s action begins in black-and-white, which is odd since its opening credits are in color. Three elementary school boys – two white and one black (hey, it was a 1964 film, after all) – are bickering over trading each other’s unappetizing lunches and bitching about the chores they have to undertake on Halloween night that prevents them from partying with friends. The most gregarious of the trio, a bratty kid named Mark, bullies his pal into sneaking onto the property of a decrepit house occupied by a weird old woman named Miss Finch that the school crowd insists is a witch.

The boys decide to trespass on the grounds, but Mark’s pals turn chicken and run. Mark ventures further inside the property and is caught by the old woman, who has a physical and vocal resemblance to a cartoon witch. Miss Finch’s black cat, named Lucifer (what else?), is stuck up a tree and the old bag insists Mark climb up to retrieve the feline. Mark falls out of the tree and is knocked out, at which point the film switches to color.

Mark awakens in what appears to be a different property and finds Miss Finch wearing a witch’s hat. She gives him a ring that contains a magic seed, and instructs him to plant it in the ground beneath a Thanksgiving turkey wishbone and utter some mumbo-jumbo – this will enable a magic tree to appear, and it will then grant Mark three wishes. Remember, the film opens around Halloween, so Chris has to wait a month to perform this action.

Well, Thanksgiving finally comes and Mark goes through with this routine. A tree suddenly shows up in his back yard, much to the confusion of Mark’s father, who only realizes the tree’s presence when he crashes his lawnmower into it. (Huh?) Old Daddy-O tries to chop down the tree, but it cannot be destroyed with tools, so Mark’s father inexplicably accepts the new addition to the back yard.

At Christmastime, the tree uproots and decorates itself, taking a place in Mark’s living room. It also starts talking in a snippy, effeminate male voice. The tree gives Mark three wishes, and his first wish is to have one hour where he has absolute power over his community. This leads to a lengthy and grueling sequence where a delivery truck takes off while its driver chases it, a police car takes off while its patrolman chases it, a baker chases a customer who hits him with a pie, and an antique firetruck with silly firemen zooms recklessly through the town.

The second wish finds Mark hijacking Santa Claus as his personal toy provider. This means Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick cannot take deliveries on Christmas worldwide, which causes a global panic resulting in an emergency United Nations session and the U.S. Air Force looking for missing fat guy in the red suit. But Santa refused to give Mark toys – after all, he only brings presents to good kiddies, not brats. (Santa also refuses to get up out of his chair, which gives the impression of Kris Kringle being an invalid.)

Oddly, Mark’s new-found selfishness puts him into captivity with a lumpy ogre named Greed, who wears a sleeveless leather vest, a leather studded belt and creepily bellows about Mark becoming “my little boy.” Unhappy over the prospect of becoming Greed’s slave, Mark agrees that his third wish is cancel out his second wish, enabling Santa to go about his merry way.

At this point, the film switches back to black-and-white. Mark awakes to discover – yes, you know it’s coming – this was…only…a…dream. Miss Finch plies him with cookies as he happily absorbs his quotidian life.

“The Magic Christmas Tree” short circuits at every possible level. The acting is impossible to judge because the whole film has near-nonexistent synchronization – judging by the mismatch between voices on the soundtrack and the alleged actors on the screen, I am guessing it was shot without sound and another crew of actors dubbed the lines later. The extended chase sequence is painfully executed, haphazardly edited and dismally unfunny – director Richard C. Parish, who has no other known film credit, serves up the ultimate lesson in how not to create action sequence. Chris Kroesen, the 13-year-old who plays Mark, is the least interesting child actor imaginable – I assume this was his first and only attempt at screen acting, and the poor kid is not helped by a dum-dum script and ham-handed direction.

Not surprisingly, something this bad found an audience. “The Magic Christmas Tree” was a staple of the kiddie matinee circuit during the holiday season during the mid- to late-1960s. The film was not registered for copyright protection, so it has turned up on public domain labels over the years and was later barbecued by RiffTrax. A well-worn copy can be found on YouTube.

If you have kids who are in need of punishment this holiday season, make them watch “The Magic Christmas Tree.” Trust me, they will learn never to be naughty again.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to the award-winning podcast “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud, with new episodes every Monday.