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Carol for Another Christmas

Thursday December, 18 2014 at 12:45 AM

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When you think of Christmas, the name "Rod Serling" doesn't normally come to mind, yet Serling wrote one of the most unusual versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol ever shown on television. Carol for Another Christmas (1964) was conceived at a time when the threat of nuclear annihilation was still very much a part of the American psyche, as was the assassination of President John Kennedy. It was hard to be an optimist in 1964.

Carol for Another Christmas was shot at the Michael Myerberg Studios in New York City and produced for ABC, to air as part of a series in support of the United Nations. The Xerox Corporation underwrote the project, which cost $4 million dollars and enabled the specials to air without commercial interruption. Carol for Another Christmas was shown on American broadcast television only once, on December 28, 1964. Hollywood veteran Joseph L. Mankiewicz, best known for All About Eve (1950), directed and Henry Mancini wrote the theme music, which later appeared on his album A Merry Mancini Christmas.

Peter Sellers, recently recovered from a near-fatal heart attack, was reunited with his Dr. Strangelove (1964) co-star, Sterling Hayden for the film. Hayden played the "Scrooge" character (here, called "Daniel Grudge"), a tycoon who has held a grudge for twenty years over the death of his son, Marley, killed in action on Christmas Eve, 1944. Peter Fonda played the son, but his scenes were cut out of the finished film, although he can be seen in photographs on the set.

The death of Marley has left Grudge embittered and angry, with a "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" attitude toward foreign relations. In order to bring about his reformation, Grudge is visited by the three Ghosts of Christmas. Actor-singer Steve Lawrence, dressed as a WWI doughboy, appeared as The Ghost of Christmas Past, with The Ghost of Christmas Present, played by Pat Hingle, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, played by Robert Shaw, taking the audience and Grudge through a post-apocalyptic land. There, he is shown the dangers of the present and a possibly more frightening future. Also in the cast was Eva Marie Saint as a Navy WAVE, Ben Gazzara, in the "Nephew Fred" role, and wearing a 10 gallon hat and a Pilgrim costume, Peter Sellers. Sellers played an original character created by Serling, called Imperial Me, a Mad Max-like leader of a gang of apocalypse survivors.

. Whether it was because the film was so dark, the victim of bad timing or simply did not fit in with the lighter fare and children's programming that normally dominates the Christmas season, Carol for Another Christmas languished in obscurity until recently. Although it can be described as somewhat of a downer, the film is a must-see, not just because it has not been generally available for nearly 50 years and contains a long-forgotten Peter Sellers performance, but because it is a reflection of both its time and the state of mind of one of television's most brilliant writers.

Despite the less-than stellar critical reviews, Carol for Another Christmas earned two Emmy nominations, for "Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment, Art Directors and Set Decorators" for Jack Wright, Jr. and Gene Callahan, and "Outstanding Program Achievements in Entertainment" for director Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay: Rod Serling; Charles Dickens (short story, uncredited)
Cinematography: Arthur J. Ornitz
Art Direction:
Music: Henry Mancini
Film Editing: Nathan Greene, Robert Lawrence
Cast: Sterling Hayden (Daniel Grudge), Eva Marie Saint (The Wave), Ben Gazzara (Fred), Barbara Ainteer (Ruby), Steve Lawrence (Ghost of Christmas Past), James Shigeta (The Doctor), Pat Hingle (Ghost of Christmas Present), Robert Shaw (Ghost of Christmas Future), Peter Sellers (Imperial Me), Britt Ekland (The Mother)
BW-84m.

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
The Internet Movie Database
Hall, Phil "The Bootleg Files: A Carol for Another Christmas" www.filmthreat.com
Vinciguerra, Thomas "Marley is Dead, Killed in a Nuclear War" The New York Times 20 Dec 07.
VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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