The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914)

I'm a little unclear on some details, but this appears to have been part of a series of adventures built around the character, "Octavius, the Amateur Detective." Based on a title card's invitation to read the story in "The Pictorial Review," I'm assuming it was a series of short stories adapted into film. If "The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus" is any indication, these were comedy adventures.

The story starts with Octavius being asked to come to a friend's family Christmas party and dress as Santa. He purchases a costume and heads over. While at the party, he's introduced to Grace, who is... some relation to his friends. Or something. He's also informed that there's a spare Santa suit in a spare room, though he decides to wear his own.

Unbeknownst to Octavius, a burglar skulking outside overheard that there was a spare Santa suit, broke in, and changed. While Octavius is getting changed, the thief sneaks in and knocks him unconscious. The thief then steals the presents, unnoticed because the family mistakes him for Octavius.

When the detective wakes up a few minutes later, he explains what happened to Grace, and they discover the gifts are missing. Octavius boasts that, "Octavius never fails!" (I'm guessing that's a catchphrase or running gag) and charges out, still dressed as Saint Nick.

He spots the thief getting on a train, follows him, and tries to attack, but the train crew assumes he's attempting to steal from the other Santa and stops him. He tries again at the next station, but the cop makes the same assumption.

He trails the burglar, who sets down his basket of stolen goods to look at a paper. Octavius sneaks over and steals back the presents, and the thief gives chase. When the same cop spots them, Octavius convinces him the thief is the man the cop stopped earlier, still after his basket. The thief is arrested, albeit for the wrong crime, and Octavius returns to the party and distributes the gifts as Santa.

After changing out of the costume, his adult friends leave him and Grace alone. Unfortunately for them, a couple kids are more nosey, and follow them behind a curtain, where they're kissing. Annoyed, Octavius bribes the kids to take off, only to look up and lock eyes on the camera. Furious, he gives the audience an angry look and closes the curtain.

So... probably not the most compelling crime story you could tell with multiple Santas, but still interesting as an early example of the "criminal dressed as Claus" trope that's become a common staple of multiple genres of Christmas stories.

From a storytelling perspective, this was a bit awkward. Dialogue was pared back - most title cards only contained the cast, characters, and occasionally a brief explanation. There were a handful of cards containing speech, but they were rare. That wouldn't be an issue if this were easier to follow, but character relationships and events weren't always clear. For example, it wasn't immediately obvious how he was interacting with bystanders or why no one was at least willing to entertain the possibility the other Santa might be a criminal. Some more dialogue might have shed some light on that.

I'll also admit to being a little disappointed they didn't reveal at the end that the basket was full of *other people's* gifts, which would have meant Octavius accidentally pursued, stole from, and got an innocent Santa arrested - a much more entertaining twist, in my opinion. Until distributing the presents, this felt like a real possibility, though that was largely due to the lack of specificity in the storytelling.

This wasn't at all bad, and - given how early it was in the media - it's unfair to judge this against modern genre stories. Also, for what it's worth, I thought the fourth wall gag at the end was fun. Still, while this is neat for what it is, I wasn't overly impressed.