I always think of this bizarrely themed Spaghetti Western as The Gospel According to Sam Colt or Paul’s Letter to Smith & Wesson. Our title gunslinger is played by Jeffrey “Captain Pike on Star Trek” Hunter. As Jesus in the movie King of Kings, Hunter’s youthful appearance brought on ridicule from wags who called the film I Was a Teenage Jesus.
Once again Jeffrey plays a character who is born in a manger at Christmas and gets visited by three wise (well … no) men. The Christmas Kid‘s half-assed Jesus parallels continue from there in sporadic fashion. The little babe – called Christmas Joe at first – grows up to be a philosophical boy who practices pacifism.
When our hero’s home hamlet of Jaspen, Arizona becomes a Boom Town after copper is discovered, the place turns into a proverbial web of sin and vale of tears. Michael Culligan (Louis Hayward), the greedy town boss, builds an empire for himself out of crime and greed as the copper rush continues.
This being a western, the day comes when Christmas Joe must strap on a gun and pin on a badge for a three-year mission – I mean term in office – to fight the forces of evil in Arizona Territory. Now called the Christmas Kid our hero spreads the Good News of Gunplay as he blows away various bad men who leave him with no other choice.
Town boss Culligan owned the previous sheriff and finds the Christmas Kid’s incorruptible nature very aggravating. Tired of the Kid interfering in his schemes, Culligan turns the movie into The Last Temptation of Captain Pike. He tries to lure our protagonist over to the Dark Side with money, with an offer of political power if Joe plays along with him and even with the promise of sex with shapely prostitute
Lilly Von Shtupp Marie (No, not Mary Magdalene – Marie).
The Messiah – I mean the sheriff – resists all those temptations and – adding insult to injury for Culligan – the Christmas Kid even gets Marie to abandon prostitution. For such defiance Culligan has her shot, just like happened in the Bible.
Now more determined than ever to bring down the Kid, Culligan pays thirty pieces of silver to our hero’s close friend Jud (No, not Judas – Jud) to betray him. Jud does so by helping Culligan to frame the Christmas Kid for murder.
Two other gunslingers are awaiting hanging along with the Kid and, in imagery so deliriously absurd you could swear it belongs in Greaser’s Palace, the townspeople construct THREE gallows – one in the foreground for the Christmas Kid and the other two on either side and slightly behind the first one. Yep, it’s a “Christ crucified between the two thieves” tableau, which for all I know may have INSPIRED Robert Downey Jr’s father to do Greaser’s Palace.
At any rate, we never get to see the Christmas Kid hanging there between his fellow condemned prisoners because Jud repents and confesses that the Kid was framed. Culligan guns down Jud and gets shot down in turn. Our hero – now in the clear – is freed and becomes sheriff again but the other two men get hanged after all.
The finale goes ass-backwards on us, presenting the Christmas Kid reentering the town of Jaspen followed by a cheering throng and surrounded by a mob of enthusiastic fans. Any resemblance to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is, I’m sure, purely coincidental.
This little honey of a movie is so joyously tasteless you can’t help but laugh your way through it. The only down side is that – unlike the Spaghetti Western that introduces the white-clad gunslinger called the Holy Ghost – The Christmas Kid doesn’t feature the hero spouting lines like “Looks like this is your Last Supper” before he riddles bad guys with bullets.
If you want a movie that is intentionally funny while presenting a “Jesus in the oooooollld west” allegory check out the aforementioned Greaser’s Palace, where you get a very young Robert Downey, Jr as a bonus. ++
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