32 – A Carol For Another Christmas

Carol_for_Another_Christmas

“When we stop talking, we start swinging,then we bleed. Then we got problems. Like winding up dead.”

You can imagine how hard it is to find an apocalyptic Christmas movie, this is the time of year for ‘feel-good’ classics. However A Carol for another Christmas is right up my street, written by the great Rod Serling, a man who has played a big part in my interest in the apocalyptic genre, this tv movie also stars, Peter Sellers and Sterling Hayden who earlier in the year had starred in Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove, and finally this movie was directed by two-time oscar winner, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, again who had earlier directed that year Cleopatra. This is the traditional retelling of A Christmas Carol, which has been adapted so many times, and with each adaptation tells a story also of the time it is made, and no more so than this adaptation from the 1960’s , instead of Victorian England’s Ebenezer Scrooge gaining a belated appreciation for the spirit of Christmas, this production would offer an isolationist U.S. industrialist who gains a belated appreciation of the spirit of U.N.-style diplomacy.

Back in 1964, the Xerox Corporation agreed to underwrite a series of made-for-television films that were designed to promote the positive humanitarian activities of the United Nations. Xerox, which prided itself as a leader in corporate social responsibility, agreed to spend $4 million on this endeavor, and that was no small sum back in 1964. A nonprofit organization called the Telsun Foundation was formed to produce these films; Telsun was an abbreviated version of “Television Series for the United Nations.”

“Carol for Another Christmas” opens at Christmas Eve in the isolated mansion of the terminally brusque Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden). Grudge’s academician nephew (Ben Gazzara) shows up to argue about Grudge’s role in canceling an educational exchange between a local university and a university in Poland. Grudge angrily believes the Cold War atmosphere should not encourage this exchange. However, Grudge is also nursing the bitter reminder that his only son, Marley, was killed on Christmas Eve during World War II.

Grudge then receives the Dickensian three ghosts treatment. The ghost of Christmas past is a World War I soldier (cabaret singer Steve Lawrence) “When we stop talking, we start swinging,” he tells Grudge. “Then we bleed. Then we got problems. Like winding up dead.” The ghost then takes Grudge to Hiroshima after the Japanese surrender in World War II – Grudge visited a hospital as part of his duties as a Navy commander and observed young girls who were gruesomely disfigured in the atomic blast. Grudge is unmoved by their plight.

Then comes the ghost of Christmas present (Pat Hingle), who is depicted as a reactionary glutton enjoying a huge dinner.  Next to his table is a barbed wire fence for a refugee camp where displaced persons live in squalor.  Grudge is appalled, especially when the ravenous ghost exaggerates Grudge’s isolationist politics.

[the Ghost of Christmas Present gorges himself at a banquet table, while barbed wired keeps out starving refugees] 
Daniel Grudge: How can you sit there and eat like that, when these people are starving? 
Ghost of Christmas Present: Oh? Do they bother you? 
[he snaps his fingers, the lights go out and the refugees disappear] 
Ghost of Christmas Present: Feel better? 

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The ghost of Christmas future (British actor Robert Shaw, wearing a white robe) escorts Grudge to the post-apocalyptic remains of his local town hall.  A raucous meeting is being chaired by a character called Imperial Me (played by Peter Sellers in his first role following a near-fatal heart attack earlier that year). This individual wears a ten-gallon hat, speaks in an LBJ-worthy twang, and bangs a huge gavel that bears the label “Giant Economy Size” while spouting the philosophy of every man for himself. “Each behind his own fence!” he exclaims. “Each behind his own barricade! Follow me, my friends and loved ones, to the perfect society! The Civilization of ‘I’!” Grudge’s African American butler shows up to make an impassioned speech about brotherhood, but a little boy holding a huge gun assassinates him.

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The film itself receives a very negative review at the time, and scanning the internet it still does, however, for me it sits well on this list, it is heavy-handed, but for me it was at a time that needed heavy-handed, it is a very bleak future that Serling and Mankiewicz depict here, there is no big change in Grudge’s attitude at the end, it feels like the apocalyptic nature of the future in this film is inevitable.  But without these heavy-handed films like this and ones that followed , perhaps the apocalypse would have been inevitable.  Mankiewicz  only uses a limited amount of big sets, but he does use them very well, the ghost of Christmas past, on a boat full of coffins of world war I dead, the ghost of christmas present eating a luxurious banquet, while the starving refugees stand on the other side of a fence, and of course the ghost of christmas future in the post apocalyptic setting of town hall, where the talking would have happened. This allows for Serling’s great script, characters debating with each other, Sterling Hayden gives a great performance as Grudge, and of course Sellers, who cannot fail when ever he is on-screen.

I may have rose-tinted glasses for any of Serling’s work, but I am firmly a fan of this adaptation of A Christmas Carol, the film itself is not available on dvd, but you can watch the whole film on you tube, linked below.

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