Question: I just caught up with Showtime's Dexter, and since I know from the podcast that you've been watching it, too, maybe you can answer my question. In the last episode, there's some kind of weird-looking Christmas thing on TV - all you see is Santa and a couple of stiff white reindeer flying through the air. Was that a real movie (or TV special), or was it made especially for the series? - Peachy

FlickChick: It's for real, and it's a loopy little Mexican number called Santa Claus (1959), in which Santa must battle a second-tier demon named "Mr. Pitch" for the hearts and minds of the world's children. The film first made its way onto the children's matinee circuit - yes, there was a time when theaters would book kiddie movies for the weekend and parents would drop off their little darlings to see them - courtesy of Florida-based impresario K. Gordon Murray. (I highly recommend the site The Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray for in-depth info about his nutty releases.) Murray specialized in buying inexpensive foreign films - mostly horror pictures and children's movies - and then trimming and dubbing them to suit white-bread American tastes. Among the many marvels of Santa Claus are St. Nick's mechanical reindeer (that's why they look stiff); impoverished little waif Lupita's nightmare about two-faced, grown-up-size rag dolls, brought on by Pitch's importuning; Santa's workshop in the clouds, staffed by little children in quaint national costumes; the rich, self-involved parents who regularly leave their little boy home alone so they can drink in nightclubs; Santa treed by an angry dog; Pitch and his demon peers dancing in Hell; and the bizarre "Master Eye" and "Tele-Talker," an oversized eye on a stalk and a pair of giant lips with which Santa spies on little kids so he can determine who's been bad or good. It's a trip.

Question: Regarding Letters from Iwo Jima's best-picture nomination, is this the first time a film in a foreign language has been nominated in that category? - Andrea

FlickChick: No, but it's one of a handful: By my count, the only others are Il Postino (1994), which is in Italian and Spanish and lost to Braveheart; The Emigrants (1971), which is in Swedish and lost to The Godfather; and Z (1969), which is in French and lost to Midnight Cowboy. The Emigrants and Z were also both nominated for best foreign-language film; Z won and The Emigrants lost to The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

UPDATE: Thank you, readers (see below), for adding these foreign-language best-picture nominees:

1973: Cries and Whispers (1972), in Swedish; lost to The Sting.

1998: Life Is Beautiful, in Italian; lost to Shakespeare in Love but won best forign-language film.

Question: I didn't realize until today that FlickChick was back - the link is kind of hidden. I'm so glad, because I actually have a question from my son. He was watching The Beach for about the 100th time and wonders if the three people who go to the island (DiCaprio's character and two others) knew each other before or whether they met on the island. It seems like a silly question, but he really wants to know. Thanks! - Donna

FlickChick: Spread the word, please: I never went away! I'm not joking - the column is hard to find, and I know a lot of longtime readers have just given up. As to your son's question about The Beach (2000), Richard ( Leonardo DiCaprio) met the French couple Francoise and Etienne ( Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet), in Bangkok. So he knew them before going to the island, but not for long.

Question: I read somewhere that Julie Andrews filmed The Americanization of Emily before Mary Poppins, even though the Disney film came out first. Is this correct? I have always thought Emily was a wonderful film (do you agree?) that was unfortunately eclipsed by her Mary Poppins/Maria von Trapp film persona. I have visions of Walt Disney having a small cow that his Mary would be seen as the fully adult woman of Emily. Are there any other similar gems (assuming you agree with me that Emily is a gem) out there from actors who were otherwise trapped by typecasting? - Ted

FlickChick: Mary Poppins was both the first film Julie Andrews made and the first of her films released, though not by much: Mary Poppins opened in September 1964 and The Americanization of Emily, which I agree is a gem, opened in October. In fact, Andrews was apparently cast in Emily on the basis of advance footage from Poppins. But she had already been on two widely seen musical television movies - Cinderella (1950) and High Tor (1955) - and had made a splash on Broadway after starring in The Boy Friend (1954-55) and My Fair Lady (1956-62). Even people who hadn't seen either of these hugely popular shows was aware of her clean-cut image. To be sure, she had played Camelot's (1960-63) adulterous Guenevere, but Walt Disney actually went backstage to offer her the lead in Mary Poppins immediately after seeing her. Perhaps he wasn't bothered by fictional transgressions on her part because she hadn't come up through The Mickey Mouse Club.

As for other atypical performances, off the top of my head I can recommend two: genial Henry Fonda as a stone-cold killer in Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), and Disney dad Fred McMurray in Double Indemnity (1944), as a weak-willed adjuster who lets a platinum-blonde chippie persuade him to kill her husband for his insurance. In neither case would I say the actor was actually trapped by typecasting - McMurray, for example, made Double Indemnity long before he found a niche playing nice guys in live-action Disney pictures - but people tend to associate each actor with one kind of role. Clint Eastwood, on the other hand, was totally typecast as a strong, silent loner, so I always try to steer people to Play Misty for Me (1971), in which he plays a smooth-talking, jazz-loving DJ terrorized by a female stalker. He had to give himself that role - the movie was also his directing debut. People who only knew Helena Bonham Carter for her corset roles were pretty surprised by her part as a perverse, foulmouthed tramp in Fight Club (1999), but Fight Club doesn't need me to polish its reputation, and Bonham Carter - like most English and European actors - hasn't ever really been typecast. It's just that Americans don't see most of their work.

Question: While watching The Quiet Man for the millionth time - such a great movie - I wondered what language Maureen O'Hara is speaking with Father Lonergan. She asks if she can talk to him "in Irish," but is it really an old Irish dialect? If so, did O'Hara have to learn it, or did she already know it? - Diane B.

FlickChick: It's Irish, what non-Irish people sometimes call Gaelic. Maureen O'Hara, who was born and raised in Ireland, spoke it fluently. It's still one of the two official languages of Ireland (the other is, of course, English), and students are required to study it, although estimates are that only some five percent of native-born Irish people are fluent in it today.