Santa Claus: The Movie review – Dudley Moore sparkles like a bauble in Elf prototype

Frankly, I would whisper a tiny humbug to a good deal of this gloopy Christmas movie from 1985, directed by Jeannot Szwarc and now rereleased; and only a sentimental loyalty to the seasonal spirit prevents me from demanding to know if there are no workhouses for the people who made it. The whole thing only comes to something resembling life halfway through, when Dudley Moore’s perky elf takes centre-stage.

There are many other and more deserving yuletide films which should be ahead of this one in the queue for a revival, but my own sweet tooth for Christmassy schmaltz won’t allow me completely to reject this admittedly eventful and bizarre origin myth for Santa Claus, starring David Huddleston as the chortling, bearded present-giver himself. He is a kind of vaguely Euro-Scandinavian guy called Claus, much given to distributing gifts to village children, called to his mythic destiny in a fatal snowstorm like Superman arriving at the Fortress of Solitude. Dudley Moore is his devoted elf Patch who suffers a profound vocational crisis, and Burgess Meredith is the ancient chief elf (mysteriously possessed of full human adult height) who in a very peculiar elf ceremony decrees that Claus is “the chosen one”.

Patch has fish-out-of-water adventures in New York, where he encounters the greedy, Scrooge-y toy manufacturer BZ, played by John Lithgow, and a certain smudgey-faced poor child, whereupon Moore turns on the Arthur-ish comedy charm and the “elf” puns. Many years later, Will Ferrell was to get more comedy mileage from the idea of the elf away from the north pole, and out of his depth in the modern world. This is the filmic equivalent of the uneaten toffee left at the bottom of the Quality Street tin.

• Santa Claus: The Movie is released on 24 November in UK cinemas.