L’assassinat du Père Noël (1941, Christian-Jaque)

An unexpectedly excellent Christmas movie (Katy was suspicious of the title) that turned out far better than Good Sam. The movie expertly sets up a series of eccentric characters in a secluded mountain town, building suspense as Christmas draws near because two major characters wear the santa suit and we know from the title that one of them will die. But instead a third santa is killed, plus the local church’s prize jewel is stolen from the nativity exhibit, and the movie becomes a somewhat lighthearted murder-mystery.

It’s just not Christmas without a crazy cat lady:

Cornusse (Harry Baur, star of Raymond Bernard’s Les Miserables, tortured to death by the Gestapo a couple years after this movie) is a globe-maker whose daughter Catherine (Renee Faure, star of Bresson’s Les anges du peche) suffers from Disney Princess Syndrome. A Baron (Raymond Rouleau) returns to his castle after a decade-long tour of the world, stricken with leprosy. Villard (Robert Le Vigan of Duvivier’s remake of The Phantom Carriage) is an athiest schoolteacher planning his annual fireworks assault on the church during Christmas services. Mother Michel (Marie-Helene Daste – wife of Jean, appropriate since the teacher/student rapport was bringing Zero de Conduite to mind) is a crazy woman who wanders the town asking about her long-dead (and stuffed) cat.

Globe-maker and daughter:

Villard is trying to win Catherine’s heart, but he’s too ordinary for her – she pines after the mysterious baron. She sneaks off to his castle while her father Cornusse plays Santa throughout town. When Santa comes to the castle looking for the three kids of the groundskeeper (one of whom is sick in bed and grumping about Christmas), the Baron lets him fall asleep then takes the suit.

Great scene: Villard whirls about in celebration with the other pub denizens, the camera whirling with him, alternating with shots rotating around broken-hearted Catherine

But when Santa shows up murdered it’s neither of the men – a stranger. Turns out Jean Brochard (of Diabolique and I Vitelloni) hired the man to steal the diamond, then killed him and planned to flee town alone. Mystery solved, jewelry returned, and the Baron never had leprosy (he’s just antisocial) so he and Catherine live happily ever after.