Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Television Review: YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS (1991, Charles Jarrott)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Richard Thomas (STEPHEN KING'S IT '90, WONDER BOYS, THE WALTONS), Charles Bronson (DEATH WISH 3, Mandom spokesman), Ed Asner (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, LOU GRANT, JFK), Colleen Winton (THE X-FILES, BIG EYES), Katharine Isabelle (FREDDY VS. JASON, GINGER SNAPS), Frank C. Turner (UNFORGIVEN, multiple AIR BUD movies, Bev Marsh's creepy dad in IT '90).
Tag-line: None.
Best one-liner: "Aw, Frank, even you were a kid once."
eah, heh, it took me a lot of years to get over it.
"Nobody ever gets over it."

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"At last, we're going to spend Christmas the right way."

–"What do you mean? We've had plenty of good Christmas fare over the years. French survival horror, Arnold Schwarzenegger-directed romantic comedies, Arnold Schwarzenegger cold cocking reindeer, Grace Jones accidentally mailed to Pee-Wee Herman in a box, Nakatomi Plaza holiday celebrations, Vincent Schiavelli commandeering a life-sized toy choo-choo train of kidnapping and child murder, Tim Curry's shit-eating grin, Bob Mitchum and John Glover as scene partners, a John Waters Christmas, Grizzly Adams taking on Nazi elves, and my personal favorite, Gary Sinise using Ben Affleck as a dartboard."

"Ah, I don't believe, however, that you said 'Charles Bronson' anywhere on that list."

–"If there was a good Charles Bronson Christmas movie, we would have seen it already, right?"

"Wrong. Er––half wrong. What we've got here is YES, VIRGINIA THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS, a TV movie from 1991."

–"1991?! The same year as THE INDIAN RUNNER? Don't tell me you've brought me more 'stacheless Bronson!"

"No, no, there's Bronson 'stache here, no need to worry."

–"Is he playing with a baby rattle? What the hell is this movie about?"

"It's only about the most famous editorial in American newspaper history––Francis Pharcellus Church's 1897 reply to an eight-year-old girl named Virginia who asked if Santa Claus was real. Only he turned his response into a meditation on faith, fancy, romance, poetry, love, beauty, and childlike joy."

–Okay, I'm not sure where Charles Bronson is going to fit in here. Does he say 'Santa's good, I like Santa?' Does Santa try to steal his car? Does he shoot Santa?"

"No. Try and get into the Christmas spirit. He says, 'No Santa Claus?! Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.'"

–"Ha ha ha, that's pretty good, but I think his numbers are a little off. If he manages to flee the North Pole in time, Santa'll be lucky if he gets a hundred, maybe two hundred years. But I guess they didn't know about climate change back then."

"Will you stop it? It's Christmas!"

–"I just don't see how they turn this into a movie. What you just described is a ten minute vignette, tops. Girl writes Bronson; Bronson writes girl. Girl's heart is warmed. The end."

"Well, they do pad it a little. She doesn't even write Bronson till forty-five minutes into a ninety minute movie."

–"As long as they pad it with nonstop Bronson action, I'm all good."


–"Okay. Why don't you tell me what they actually pad it with."

"So... Richard Thomas is Virginia's dad."

–"'John Boy,' from THE WALTONS? 'Stuttering Bill' from the original IT?"

"The very same. Anyway, he plays an Irish dockworker (with a spotty accent) who loses his job due to racism

Ethnically motivated fistfights at the docks! What every kid loves in a Christmas movie.

and, despite being completely broke, is trying to scrape together enough to buy presents for his five-member family on Christmas."

–"That looks like some Bob Cratchit-y bullshit, and I don't have any patience for that. Hey, maybe he should've scraped together enough to buy some condoms instead."

"Whoa, will you stop it!"

–"Maybe the movie should be about Virginia? Isn't she in the one in the title?"

"Nah, it's a man's world, bub. Obviously this movie wasn't geared toward kids, or else the main characters probably wouldn't be cigar-chomping dudes who are about four hundred years old."

–"Is that Ed Asner?"

"Yep. And he's basically playing the exact character he played on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and later, LOU GRANT: he's a gruff, hard-boiled, bossy newspaperman with a corner office and an (eventual) heart of gold."

–"Nice. So tell me about Bronson."

"As a semi-fictionalized version of the historical Francis Church, he's an alcoholic writer who used to be great, a muck-raking journalist who brought the fight to the robber barons. Asner tolerates him because, even completely soused, his pages are better than most of the other reporters. There are skeptics, however: there's a subplot where some pud named Cornelius (John Novak) busts his balls every time he's at the bar.

Obviously, this leads to a solid payoff where Bronson punches him in the face.

And I'm not gonna lie to you: this is where the movie peaks. Most everybody is trying their best––Bronson and Asner included––but I'm not sure how 'directed' they were. But I can't be too hard on it: it's a TV movie from 1991."

–"Wait, why is Bronson's character such a drunk?"

"Prepare yourself: here's the one truly affecting part of the movie. Francis Church is a mess because his wife recently died. Just like Charles Bronson's real-life wife, Jill Ireland, who succumbed to cancer a year before they filmed this. All of the graveyard scenes––in stark contrast with 95% of the movie––have a genuine poignancy."

–"Man, that's heavy. So how does drunken Francis turn it all around and become an inspirational figure?"

"This is where the teleplay writers get lazy. They have him get the assignment and then he walks around town. He, uh, sees some Christmas-y things on his walk and decides to, uh, throw the bottle away and write his historic editorial."

–"He must've seen some serious shit, then, huh?"

"He saw a toy drive..."

–"Uh huh..."

"And then he saw a cop about to beat a homeless man who looked like Santa..."

–"Uh huh..."

"And then Bronson looked concerned..."

–"Uh huh..."

"And then the cop didn't actually beat the homeless man."

–"Uh huh..."

"And that's about it."

–"Uh huh."

"Hey man, this ain't ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, nor is it supposed to be. In the end, Virginia's editorial is answered, 


Richard Thomas gets a job as a cop, and a bunch of other people get jobs as cops, too, including his stock Italian immigrant pal who I forgot to mention.

 Basically, everybody becomes a cop."

–"So...are they gonna hunt Paul Kersey, New York vigilante?"

"Stop trying to bring DEATH WISH into this. It's a sweet holiday movie, where John Boy says things like 'what a bright goose of a boy.'"

–"Now that is some of that Bob Cratchit-y bullshit I was talking about."

"Don't be such a bastard. Can't you derive any pleasure in the fact that Bronson was in a 'Christmas movie period piece?'"

 –"Eh, I guess."

"Oh yeah, one last thing: so Virginia––who never interacts with Bronson 'in-scene,' and is a supporting character in her own story––is played by Katharine Isabelle, who went on to become a minor horror icon. She's a lead in multiple GINGER SNAPS movies, and appears in THE X-FILES, FREDDY VS. JASON, GOOSEBUMPS, THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER, a 30 DAYS OF NIGHT sequel, and Bryan Fuller's HANNIBAL. Here she is interacting with a produce vendor, played by fellow minor horror icon Frank C. Turner (NEEDFUL THINGS, THE FLY II, ALONE IN THE DARK, THE HITCHHIKER, WATCHERS, THE X-FILES, the new TWILIGHT ZONE, and, most notably, as Bev's creepy dad in the original IT)!"

–"Uh. Cool."


Anonymous said...


Great review. I might rate it a little higher if only because Bronson himself reportedly liked this movie, and wished he had made more like it.

Sean Gill said...


Thanks! And I definitely wish Bronson had made more films outside of his wheelhouse––this and The Indian Runner both made '91 an atypical year for him, given the previous decade of Cannon Films actioners.