Continuing my immersion in Christmas movies and TV shows, with a particular emphasis on Dickens:
SHOWER OF STARS was a 1950s TV anthology show, and Amazon Prime streams their 1954 adaptation of A Christmas Carol with Fredric March as Scrooge. While March at his best is a terrific actor, he comes off more like a slightly grumpy relative than Dickens’ bitter miser; a bigger problem is that there’s a lot of time devoted to singing and while the voices are good, the songs are forgettable. It also annoys me that like Scrooged, the horror of Christmas Future is simply “you’re going to be dead!” Yeah, who isn’t? “Days shall come and days shall go/but this is the day of mistletoe!”
THE GIFTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST is a commercial my friend Ross taped for me, in which the title spirit confronts a bad gift-giver with reminders of every rotten gift he ever gave (“Motor oil on a rope — for your mother!”). The solution? Shop at Meijer (a department store, I assume).
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2015) got my attention because it was Starring Colin Baker, but it turns out that means he introduces and occasionally narrates this bland direct-to-video version (about the level of a so-so community theater production) as Charles Dickens, rather than playing Scrooge. Nothing about it stands out. “This story could happen anywhere — even here!”
GEORGE BURNS COMEDY WEEK was an anthology show with Burns providing the introduction (“Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1943 — I was 17.”) to Christmas Carol II: The Sequel, in which James Whitmore as Scrooge is so compulsively generous (“That’s the largest tip we’ve ever gotten — and you don’t even eat here!”) the Cratchitts (Roddy McDowell and Samantha Eggar) are slowly going corrupt because it’s so easy to suck money out of Ebenezer. Can the three spirits provide a course correction? A good one to revisit, with Ed Begley Jr. as Tiny Tim. “You will no longer refer to me as Tiny Tim — I wish to be known as Tiny Timothy!”
The classic WKRP IN CINCINNATI episode Bah, Humbug! has the station’s manager Carlson skimping on Christmas bonuses so he can impress the owner with his cost-cutting; after eating one possibly mind-altering brownie he finds himself trapped “in one of those Christmas Carol things” as he looks back at the early years, his current disgruntled staff and the bleak fate awaiting them all …Only it’s all done with real humor and warmth that makes it a pleasure to rewatch (the sitcom remains a classic). “Kids, grandmothers, that’s all very nice — but I’m in it for the bread.”
Moving away from Dickens, BEYOND TOMORROW (1940) has lonely oldsters C. Aubrey Smith, Harry Carey and Charles Winninger befriend two young people on Christmas (hence the more marketable title Beyond Christmas); the kids fall in love but when girl loses boy, will the now deceased seniors’ ghosts be able to turn things around? Mostly shows sappy schmaltz about the season predates Hallmark Channel’s holiday rom-coms, and I could have done without Smith’s embrace of the white man’s burden (“What was Australia before England redeemed it from the Aborigines?”). “And now do you believe in the immortal spirit of man?”
THE CHRISTMAS CALENDAR (2017) has a small-town baker fighting a losing battle against the Big Box Grocery’s new bakery when an advent calendar dropped off by a secret admirer makes her store a media sensation. Forgettable.
HOOVES OF FIRE is a claymation special in which Rudolph’s son Robbie arrives at the North Pole to follow in Dad’s footsteps, only to find a vindictive Blitzen (why should Rudolph be famous for one ride when Blitzen’s been leading the sleigh for years?) out to destroy his career. The kind of thing it’s fun to catch every few years, but not a perennial. “I looked him up in the phone book under ‘Wise Old Mentors Who Can Save The Day.”
CLAYMATION CHRISTMAS CAROL is the delightfully inventive special in which two dinosaurs introduce animated versions of “Carol of the Bells,” “Joy to the World,” “We Three Kings” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” while trying to figure out what “wassail” is. I’d have given this a pass this year, but it was right after WKRP on my off-air tape so I couldn’t resist. “There are no Christmas songs about snacks!”
As TYG watched COYOTE UGLY (2000) I wound up following along and enjoying it more than I expected. Piper Perabo plays an aspiring singer who while waiting for her big break winds up paying the bills by working at Maria Bello’s eponymous bar; too bad strutting her stuff on top of the bar freaks father John Goodman out, not to mention interfering with her efforts to find either an audition or true love. Nothing deathless, but watchable. “Stage fright DNA? That’s right, I saw that on E/R last week.”
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