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Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (1991)

Who would have ever thought ……. as a matter of fact perhaps you don’t even know that the iconic tough guy and screen legend Charles Bronson played it gentle, against type starring in a made for TV movie for the Christmas season. Truth is it’s one of his better roles and it gave him a chance to appear opposite another actor of note which didn’t happen all that often during Bronson’s final years on camera. It’s none other than Ed Asner and their scenes together sparkle, brightening the film immensely.

Bronson stars as Francis Church. The author of the fabled Christmas story and the movie’s title. For those of us who know the Bronson story, this film holds a special interest as he is starring as recent widow having lost the love his life and finds himself turning to the bottle and quite possibly even suicide. Bronson’s real life love, Jill Ireland, had recently passed away after her long courageous battle with cancer. Knowing that lends authenticity to the scenes of Charlie mourning her death in the graveyard and in others as he stares longingly at her photo inside the cover of his pocket watch.

Running parallel to the story of Bronson the writer under Asner’s newspaper, The Sun, is the story of a poor Irish family headed by Richard Thomas and his wife, Tamsin Kelsey. They’re struggling to make their way in New York City circa 1897. Jobs are hard to come by and Thomas is badly in need of a job to feed his family and on a couple of occasions lets his Irish temper get the best of him costing him general laboring work. His little girl Virginia (well played by a young Katharine Isabelle) is subject to hazing and teasing as the holiday season approaches from school girls as to the believability of Saint Nick. When she approaches her wise father, John Boy Walton, he has a gentle approach to her question of whether there is such a thing as Santa Claus and talks of newspapers printing truth and, “If you see it in The Sun then it’s so.”

This little girl is wise beyond her years and pens a letter to the editor of the Sun to ask if there is such a thing as Santa Claus. This will bring the parallel stories together when editor Asner knows his old pal Bronson needs some meaning in his life and assigns him to answer the girls letter in an editorial. This leads to the film’s most comical scene when crime fighting reporter Bronson can’t believe the assignment Ed has gifted him for the Christmas season. Little does he know it’s just the tonic he needs to rebuild his life and notice the people around him who still love and respect him.

It’s a magical finale as only Christmas movies can bring us when the girls question is answered in grand style read by Thomas to the family while Bronson and a possible romantic interest look on.

Aside from only one telefilm during the 1980’s though released theatrically here in Canada, Act of Vengeance, this was Bronson’s first telefilm since 1977’s Raid On Entebbe and before that you have to go back to the 1960’s to find him turning up on the small screen. While the role is truly one of his better characterizations, the move to the small screen was indicative of what lay ahead for the mustached icon. Other than Sean Penn’s low key The Indian Runner and a poorly thought out Death Wish 5, the balance of Bronson’s career would play out on TV culminating in a police trilogy, A Family of Cops.

Surrounding Bronson with seasoned TV pros Asner and Thomas under the direction of veteran Charles Jarrot provides us with a welcome addition to the holiday themed movies that overpopulate the Christmas season. Hopefully this one finds new life thanks to a recent release on DVD and blu ray that features a 45 minute interview with the film’s producer Andrew J. Fenady that primarily focuses on Bronson and his work on this film and The Sea Wolf which also teamed the actor and producer following this effort.

On a personal note —— Merry Christmas to all of you who took the time to visit me throughout 2017. It’s much appreciated. 

Here is a copy of the famed answer from Mr. Church to little Virginia.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.
We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

In closing, isn’t it ironic that Ed Asner would go to play Saint Nick himself in that other Christmas movie that has done quite well since it’s release in 2003.

7 Comments »

  1. And a happy festive season to you, too, Mike: thanks for keeping us all entertained and informed throughout the year!

    It’s a long time since I saw this movie, and I have to confess I’d forgotten Bronson was in it! The performance that has stuck in my mind is that of the kid, Katharine Isabelle. I’ve just looked her up o Wikipedia and see she’s since become a pretty successful actor in scary movies; whodathunkit. I also discovered Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, which is pretty shameful: a definite lacuna.

    • Thank you. Little Virginia has indeed grown up into the horror genre which I only discovered recently as well while doing a bit of research. She’s really good in this and yup, way back in 91 this was required viewing for yours truly since Charlie was appearing. Really a welcome change of pace role that I’d like to think he truly enjoyed.

  2. Bronson in sentimental festive family film, what is this witchcraft!! Or is it a parallel universe where he gifts out socks and billiard balls as separate presents rather than together!! Joking aside it looks a lovely film for the festivities, one to look out for if it turns up on the telly. Haha yes indeed Ed Asner made a perfect Santa in Elf.
    Wishing you and your family a lovely Xmas and looking forward to more film knowledge in 2018.

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