Film discussion

Fantastic [Santa] Beards and Where to Find Them

Ho Ho Ho! Christmas is fast approaching and, as usual, the glut of Festive Film watching is upon us. As happens every year, there is bound to be a Santa or two appearing on our screens, portrayed by various different actors, but one thing that is prevalent to each and every depiction of jolly ol’ Saint Nick is the big, white bushy beard. Where would we be without that beard to cover up whomever is wearing it? Well, a lot of confused and sad children, that’s where. And nobody wants that, especially at Christmas!

In celebration of Papa Noel, his famous beard, and the season of festive films, we’re taking a look at some actors who have worn it down the years and, more importantly, worn it well!

First up is the newest addition to the Sinterklaas gang: Kurt Russell. Moving elegantly and effortlessly into more senior roles, Kurt has grabbed this with both hands and is looking extremely good at present in The Christmas Chronicles, currently showing on Netflix. Fully embracing his advancing years, Kurt is showing the more mature side of his facial hair in such films as Bone Tomahawk and GOTG Vol 2, especially considering his earlier effort as The Thing’s RJ MacReady (his frost-coated beard does NOT count for being a white beard by the way!).

Next we have Tim Allen in The Santa Clause. Although he doesn’t begin the movie with the beard he “grows into it” as we go along, eventually succumbing to the pressure and tradition of being Santa Claus. A fun family movie with the sequels best left ignored, it is a great reflection on the inevitability of growing a beard as you age: it doesn’t matter how much you shave, eventually you’ll give in and just let it grow.

In Jon Favreau’s wonderfully silly Elf, the big, jolly giver of presents is played by Ed Asner. But Elf’s version of Santa shows a more human side to this character and not the omniscient character of yore. Beard-wise this is a standard effort, but it gets this place in the list by being all the more enticing due to the surrounding film and Santa’s candid advice to the naive young Buddy.

Rise of the Guardians is an animated film about the personifications of various childhood tales (Jack Frost, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and the Sandman) as they attempt to thwart the rise of Pitch Black/The Boogeyman. Nicholas St. North (or Santa as you might know him, voiced by Alec Baldwin) is a Russian mob version of Father Christmas, replete with multiple tattoos and a penchant for weapons. He is definitely a badass and you would not want to get on his naughty list! But what about his beard I hear you cry? Well, it isn’t the bushy, overwhelming beast of some Santas, perhaps constrained by the animation, but it is a great version consisting of decent length and colour, even with the Russian twist to his overall image.

Dan Ackroyd in Trading Places. OK so, I’m not sure where this one sits. I know it is a fake beard but – and I might need to investigate more – most of the other Santa beards are going to be a product of some amazing make-up department. Why is an actual fake beard disguise any different? Well, this one has a whole salmon hiding inside it for starters (or is that the main course?!). Added to the drunken performance and dishevelled attire, this is one of my favourites! Oh, and the beard definitely isn’t being looked after in any way, shape or form. This is a grimy, disgusting and abusive Santa. Bah! Definitely not one for the kids!

Now Christmas wouldn’t be a proper Christmas without an alternative option. Just like a vegetarian nut roast or an enforced visit to relatives who have different traditions, for all those Bah Humbuggers out there we have some Non-Santa related beard-wearers that crop up in films, but that would still be amazing to see as the grand deliverers of presents: Not-Santa-but-still-amazing beards.

Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) in Kill Bill Vol 2 is about as far from the depiction of Santa as you could get while still also having a white beard. But not only are his beard and eyebrows gorgeous and elegant but his beard plays a great part in the scenes of training The Bride, performing as an expression of disdain or challenge with a swish or a flick. You would have to be worthy to get any presents out of Pai Mei.

Jeff Bridges has been skirting around the beard-wearing for a while now and has numerous versions of it and all are worthy entrants here, but it is as Roycephus “Roy” Pulsipher in R.I.P.D. that I feel it deserves the place. Not an all out beard but it is a quite stylised moustache and beard combo that suits him down to the ground. Roy is not really one for the altruistic present giving, but he has a good heart. Somewhere deep down inside.

Now, Obi Wan’s beard in Star Wars: A New Hope? Ah, a classic. The wasteland-living, sand-blasted hermit Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars. This beard is both functional and stylish and Alec Guinness wears it impeccably well. Who wouldn’t want the old Jedi master force-delivering their presents on Christmas Eve?

Then there’s Sean Connery in anything he’s been in post 1989. Another famous beard that has been around for a while and has made a number of appearances in such films as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Entrapment and The Hunt for Red October, but it is in The Rock that it stands out for me, especially before he gets all cleaned up. I think I would prefer Dr Jones Snr being the one to deliver the presents but John Patrick Mason from The Rock is more likely to be able to get into, and out of, any dwelling!

Finally, there’s the Vitruvius/Gandalf/Dumbledore (The Lego Movie/The Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter, respectively). Of all the beards on show here, this little triumvirate is by far the best and most impressive. All incredibly long, giving an aura of wisdom, but backed up by some serious skills as well, these beards aren’t to be taken lightly. Yes, they are all pretty much the same character but they are all now iconic and intrinsically linked with the beard they all wear. The magic that permeates all three of these impressive, aged beardies would come in extremely handy for the sudden appearance of presents on Christmas morning (and perfectly wrapped too, no doubt).

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