The year 2015 saw many of our brightest stars grow dim. Cracked Rear Viewer would like to pay a pictorial tribute to some of the actors, athletes, and artists who passed on this year:
REQUIESCAT IN PACE
The year 2015 saw many of our brightest stars grow dim. Cracked Rear Viewer would like to pay a pictorial tribute to some of the actors, athletes, and artists who passed on this year:
REQUIESCAT IN PACE
(The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.) Here’s the stats for CRV in 2015. All in all, I’d say not bad for the first six months!
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.
When George Clayton Johnson died on Christmas Day 2015, the science fiction world lost one of its giants. The free-spirited Johnson was a mainly a short story and teleplay writer associated with greats like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson in a loose knit collective known as The Southern California School of Writers. He wrote many story ideas and scripts for THE TWILIGHT ZONE, including the classic episodes “A Game of Pool” (starring Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters) and “Kick the Can” (redone by Stephen Spielberg in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE). Johnson wrote the first aired STAR TREK episode (“The Man Trap”), the story for OCEAN’S 11, and was a driving force behind the creation of the San Diego Comic Con. Perhaps his best known work was a novel he did in collaboration with William F. Nolan in 1967, LOGAN’S RUN, made into a big-budget movie by MGM in 1976. David Zelag Goodman adapted the screenplay, allegedly changing some key elements to make it more cinematic. I’ve never read the book, but I can tell you LOGAN’S RUN is eye-poppingly stunning, a visual feast of colors and state-of-the-art (at the time) special effects. It’s amazing what could be done pre-CGI, and the story is greatly enhanced by the film’s look and feel.
In the post-apocalyptic world of 2274 AD, a huge domed city run by computers is populated by hedonistic youths who live only for pleasure. When they reach the age of thirty, they’re taken to a ritualistic “time of renewal” called Carousel. A crowd gathers to watch as the participants are beamed upwards and float toward a shining ball of light, and when they reach a certain point are disintegrated in a shower of sparks, supposedly renewed into new bodies. The crowd oohs and aahs as if they’re watching a fireworks display, but it’s more like a backyard bug zapper with humans as the insects.
Logan and his buddy Francis are two ‘Sandmen’, whose job is to track down and terminate Runners, those who try to escape their fate at Carousel. Sandmen are well-respected in the dome, doing the dirty work for their computer masters. Logan meets Jessica via “The Circuit”, a sort of hologram dating service, and jauntily says, “Let’s have sex!” But the girl turns him down, fearing the Sandman after friend was terminated by one. Jessica’s wearing an Ankh, and Logan is soon summoned to a debriefing room where the computer tells him its the symbol of a rebel band who help runners escape to Sanctuary in the outside world. Logan discovers “Renewal” is a scam, and 1056 runners have gone unaccounted for. The ‘Life-Clock’ embedded in his hand is reprogrammed to approach ‘Last Day’ and become a runner himself, giving him the task of escaping to the outside and destroying Sanctuary. Unfortunately for Logan, this means he loses the remaining four years of his life. Now the hunter becomes the hunted and enlists Jessica’s aid to reach Sanctuary, with former friend Francis in dogged pursuit.
There’s action and thrills along the way, as Logan and Jessica encounter thieving feral children, a murderous face-changing doctor, flooding tunnels, and an ice cavern guarded by a robot named Box, Francis always at their heels. When they finally make it to the outside world, they find the ruins of Washington, DC! The pair stumbles upon a sight they’ve never beheld before…an Old Man living in the former Senate chambers. The Old Man has only cats as his companions, and welcomes the couple with quotes from T.S. Eliot. Logan and Jessica are convinced Sanctuary doesn’t exist and decide to stay, but their reverie is interrupted by an unwanted intruder…Francis!
I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen the movie yet. Suffice it to say there’s a few more surprises in store before the conclusion. Michael York is perfect in the role of Logan, even if he was a baby-faced 34 at the time of filming. York has appeared in some major productions, including THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, Zeffirelli’s ROMEO AND JULIET, CABARET, Richard Lester’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS and its sequel THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, JESUS OF NAZARETH, and the Austin Powers spy spoofs. The latest issue of Shock Cinema magazine has a great article/interview with the British star, for those of you who still read magazines (I know I do, and the quarterly Shock Cinema is a personal favorite!)Jenny Agutter (Jessica) first came to prominence in Nicholas Roeg’s 1971 WALKABOUT, and won an Emmy that same year for THE SNOW GOOSE. Agutter most recently appeared in Marvel’s THE AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Richard Jordan (Francis) acted with Burt Lancaster in VALDEZ IS COMING, Robert Mitchum in THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, and Charles Bronson in CHATO’S LAND, but is best remembered as the star of the TV mini-series CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS. The voice of Box was Roscoe Lee Browne, whose credits include Alfred Hitchcock’s TOPAZ, THE COWBOYS (with John Wayne), and THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES (director William Wyler’s last film). And the Old Man is played by the great Peter Ustinov, a two-time Oscar winner (SPARTACUS, TOPKAPI), three-time Emmy winner, Grammy and Golden Globe winner. Ustinov was an actor, playwright, director, star of Disney comedies and dramatic films, and all-around humanitarian.
Director Michael Anderson helmed the 1956 Best Picture winning AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, and a wide range of films from ALL THE FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS to ORCA. His son Michael Anderson Jr. appears as the doctor here. He can also be seen in THE SUNDOWNERS, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, and Sam Peckinpah’s MAJOR DUNDEE. Anderson Jr. costarred with Barbara Hershey in the 1960’s youth-oriented TV Western THE MONROES.
Farrah Fawcett has a small part as the doctor’s receptionist. This was around the time she was just starting to hit it big on CHARLIE’S ANGELS. Her iconic 70s poster was on the walls of lusting teenage boys all across America. This has nothing to do with LOGAN’S RUN, I just wanted an excuse to put the poster in here!
Those state-of-the-art special effects I mentioned earlier won an Academy Award for L.B. Abbott. He’d previously won for DOCTOR DOOLITTLE, TORA! TORA! TORA!, and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. The Art Direction and Set Designs by Dale Hennesy were nominated, but lost to ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, of all things! Hennesy had won for 1966’s FANTASTIC VOYAGE, and his work can be seen in Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, and the 1976 remake of KING KONG. Jerry Goldsmith’s score enhances the film’s different moods, using electronic sounds for the domed city and a full orchestration in the outside world scenes.
The film LOGAN’S RUN was so popular a TV series and Marvel comic were based upon it. Neither of them lasted very long, probably because STAR WARS came along in 1977 to completely dominate science fiction fandom. LOGAN’S RUN is a dazzling piece of science fiction entertainment, one I really enjoyed watching. I think you will, too.
It’s time again for me to make room on the DVR! This edition features five Fabulous 40’s films of mystery and suspense, with super sleuths like Dick Tracy and Sherlock Holmes in the mix for good measure. Here’s five capsule reviews of some crime flicks from the 1940s:
WHISTLING IN THE DARK (MGM 1941, D: S. Sylvan Simon): The first of three movies starring comedian Red Skelton as Wally Benton, aka radio detective ‘The Fox’. Skelton is kidnapped by a phony spiritual cult led by Conrad Veidt to devise “the perfect murder”. Ann Rutherford and Virginia Grey play rivals for Red’s affections, while Eve Arden is her usual wisecracking self as Red’s manager. Some of the jokes and gags are pretty dated, but Red’s genial personality makes the whole thing tolerable. Fun Fact: Rags Ragland (Sylvester) was once the Burlesque comedy partner of Phil Silvers.
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (Universal 1942, D: Roy William Neill): Basil Rathbone IS Sherlock Holmes in this fourth entry in the series. All the gang from 221B Baker Street are along for the ride (Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Mary Gordon) as Holmes tries to foil a plot to steal a new bomb sight (for the war effort, don’t you know) by his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty. A secret code holds all the answers. That Grand Old Villain Lionel Atwill plays “The Napoleon of Crime”, and it’s terrific to watch screen vets Rathbone and Atwill engage in a battle of wits. In fact, it’s my favorite Universal Holmes movie because of the pairing of the two. Fun Fact #1: Rathbone and Atwill also costarred in 1939’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Fun Fact #2: Kaaren Verne (Charlotte) was the second wife of another screen villain, Peter Lorre!
TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE (RKO 1945, D: Anthony Mann): Ann Rutherford’s back as a female cab driver who helps an amnesia victim (Tom Conway) piece things together in this early effort from director Anthony Mann. Unlike Mann’s later films, the tone’s light and breezy here. There’s lots of plot twists to keep you guessing, and Conway and Rutherford have good onscreen chemistry. Cracked Rear Viewers will recognize supporting players Lester Matthews (The Raven), Jean Brooks (The Seventh Victim), and Jane Greer (Out of the Past). Hollywood’s favorite drunk Jack Norton does his schtick in a bar scene (where else?). Fun Fact: Actor Dick Lane (reporter Haley) later became a TV sports commentator in the 50’s, announcing pro wrestling and Roller Derby matches!
DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME (RKO 1947, D: John Rawlins): Chester Gould’s stalwart comic-strip cop (personified by Ralph Byrd) goes up against gangster Gruesome, who uses a paralyzing gas to commit bank robberies. Boris Karloff is Gruesome (of course he is!), and adds his special brand of menace to the proceedings. (At one point, Dick’s aide Pat exclaims, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we were doing business with Boris Karloff!”) Gould’s trademark quirky character names like L.E. Thal and Dr. A. Tomic are all in good fun, and the Familiar Face Brigade includes Anne Gwynne, Milton Parsons, Skelton Knaggs, and Robert Clarke, among others. Fast moving and fun, especially for Karloff fans. Fun Fact: Boris played many gangsters early in his career, including a role in the 1932 Howard Hawks classic SCARFACE.
THE THREAT (RKO 1949, D: Felix Feist): Convict Red Kluger (Charles McGraw) busts out of Folsom Prison and kidnaps the cop who sent him away (Michael O’Shea), the DA (Frank Conroy), and his former partner’s moll (Virginia Grey again). The police go on a manhunt to capture Kluger and save the others in this taut, suspenseful ‘B’ crime noir. Quite brutal and violent for it time, with McGraw outstanding as the vicious killer on the loose. A very underrated and overlooked film that deserves some attention. Highly recommended! Fun Fact: Inspector Murphy is played by Robert Shayne, better known as Inspector Henderson on TV’s SUPERMAN.
Enjoy others in the series:
It seems like just yesterday little CRV was born, but it was actually June 26, 2015! On that date I debuted my first post, a look at the early Peter Lorre noir The Face Behind the Mask. I was so green at the time I didn’t even know how to add pictures! Cracked Rear Viewer has come a long way since then, with a loyal following that seems to grow week by week. There’s now 154 posts (including this one) to choose from, covering everything from horror and science fiction to Western and gangster dramas to comedy classics. Though my main focus is films from the 1930’s to the 1970’s, I’ve occasionally stepped out of that box to look at movies from other eras. I’ve added ongoing series like CLEANING OUT THE DVR, THAT’S BLAXPLOITATION!, PRE-CODE CONFIDENTIAL, and the latest, ROCKIN’ N THE FILM WORLD, as well as NEWS & NOTES for non-film posts. I’ve recently begun running PREVIEWS OF COMING ATTRACTIONS, featuring trailers for upcoming films in review. But I wouldn’t be working on this labor of love without you Dear Readers who take the time to follow me on this trek through film history. Thanks to one and all!
And according to you Dear Readers, here are the top ten (actually eleven…there’s a tie!) most popular posts of the past six months:
And a list of (mostly earlier) posts that might spark your interest:
There’s much more to see, including some full films and short subjects to watch and enjoy! And much more to come as I look forward to another six months of movie madness to share with you, Dear Reader. So stay tuned, and don’t forget to bring your own popcorn! As Stan Lee would say, “Excelsior!”
Out of all the myriad movie permutations of the Charles Dickens classic over the years, this 1938 production still remains my favorite. The MGM treatment is in full effect, putting their glossy stamp on Victorian Era London and giving the production a high-polished look. Director Edwin L. Marin brings Hugo Butler’s tight script to life in just over an hour, keeping the story moving along swiftly with no overblown padding. Marin was a competent storyteller whose steady hand guided everything from Bela Lugosi mysteries (THE DEATH KISS) to MGM’s Maisie series with Ann Sothern to Randolph Scott Westerns. A CHRISTMAS CAROL was produced by a 28-year-old tyro named Joseph L. Mankiewicz, later to become an Academy Award winning director ( A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, ALL ABOUT EVE), who did his own take on the story with 1964’s Carol for Another Christmas.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 1843 you already know the story. Ebenezer Scrooge is a mean, rotten old skinflint who hates mankind in general, and Christmas in particular. He fires his clerk Bob Cratchit on Christmas Eve, even though Cratchit has a wife and six kids, including crippled Tiny Tim. He disinherits nephew Fred for getting engaged to the woman he loves. Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his dead partner Jacob Marley, who’s wrapped in chains and cursed to wander the earth for his sins. Marley tells Scrooge he’ll be visited by three spirits this eve, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and given a chance to change his miserable ways. The miserly old sourpuss repents, and learns to love both Christmas and his fellow-men.
Lionel Barrymore was set to play Scrooge when he became ill. He was replaced by character actor Reginald Owen, who is wonderful as the crusty Scrooge. He blusters, bullies, and berates all around him, his favorite curse a dour “Humbug!”, and his turnabout into a warm-hearted human is a joy to behold. Owen dominates the screen in this, his only starring role. He appeared in over 80 films, lending his presence to A TALE OF TWO CITIES, MRS. MINIVER, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, and MARY POPPINS, among many more.
For Gene Lockhart (Cratchit), this movie was a family affair. His wife Kathleen costars as Mrs. Cratchit, and 13-year-old daughter June makes her debut as one of the children. Yes, that June Lockhart, the one who played TV moms on the hit series LASSIE and LOST IN SPACE. Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim will melt even the coldest of hearts, and the Cratchit family’s anguish over Tim’s death will bring tears to your eyes. Barry McKay and Lynne Carver are fine as the lovers Fred and Bess. McKay’s best known as a star of British musicals with Jessie Mathews, while Carver was strictly a B player most remembered as Nurse Alice Raymond in a couple of DR. KILDARE films (with A CHRISTMAS CAROL’s original star Lionel Barrymore as cantankerous Dr. Guillespie).
The ghost of Jacob Marley was Leo G. Carroll, who later encountered ghosts of his own in the television version of TOPPER. Carroll is remembered by horror fans as the acromegalic doctor who let loose the giant TARANTULA in the 1956 thriller. He was a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock, appearing in seven of the Master of Suspense’s films, and later found a new audience as spy chief Mr. Waverly on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. If the Ghost of Christmas Past looks familiar to you, that’s because it’s pretty Ann Rutherford, one of Scarlett O’Hara’s sisters in GONE WITH THE WIND, and girlfriend of Andy Hardy in the long running Mickey Rooney series. The other two ghosts were Lionel Braham (Present), who gives a robust, jolly performance, and D’Arcy Corrigan (Future), who’s hooded, black cloaked face is never seen, silent as death as well. This apparition is particularly eerie, and used to scare the daylights out of me as a child.
Franz Waxman’s musical score sets the film’s mood, going from dark in the beginning to spritely by film’s end. Sidney Wagner’s cinematography also adds to the atmosphere, and MGM’s ace set designer Edwin B. Willis outdoes himself. Jack Dawn was MGM’s answer to Universal’s Jack Pierce. His makeup jobs for Owen and the various ghosts are often overlooked by viewers, but they’re excellently crafted. Dawn’s work can also be seen in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, THE WIZARD OF OZ, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (with Spencer Tracy), and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. The special effects crew deserve a round of applause too for their contributions to A CHRISTMAS CAROL (I can’t find any information on who they were… any fans out there know?)
Well, I’m off to wrap presents for my loved ones, and will be away from the keyboard for a few days. To all you dear readers out there, I’d like to leave you with the words of Ebenezer Scrooge after his conversion, and the sentiments of little Tiny Tim:
“To all of us, everywhere, a Merry Christmas to all of us, my dears!”
“God bless us, everyone”
On September 1, 1948, movie star Robert Mitchum went to a house party with an acquaintance and two young women. The quartet was raided by LA police and arrested for possession of marijuana. Local cops were out to clean up the Hollywood “dope scene”, and Mitchum was used to set an example. Sentenced to 60 days in jail, Mitchum and his bosses at RKO figured his career was over. But during all this hubbub, the studio reluctantly released RACHEL AND THE STRANGER, a Western with Loretta Young and William Holden that Mitchum finished before the bust. It was a hit with audiences, who cheered at the sight of the laconic pothead on-screen! Mitchum did his time, then went on to make THE BIG STEAL with his Out of the Past costar Jane Greer. It looked like all was forgiven, but RKO was still unsure, and tried to soften Mitchum’s image by casting him in the Christmas themed romantic comedy HOLIDAY AFFAIR.
This lightweight holiday tale has Mitchum playing Steve Mason, an idealistic dreamer who we find selling toy trains at a large department store in New York City. Pretty young Connie Ennis (a 22-year-old Janet Leigh) pushes her way through the crowd to buy a train set for her son. She’s really a “comparison shopper” working for a rival store, and Steve sees through her right off the bat. She brings the train set home, to return tomorrow, but her precocious 6-year-old son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) peeks inside the box and thinks it’s for him. When she returns it the next day, Steve is supposed to turn her in for being a spy. But after they talk, he has a change of heart and lets her go, causing him to get fired.
Connie’s a war widow dating lawyer Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), a practical guy who wants to settle down. Timmy’s not too crazy about Carl, at one point kicking him in the shins and saying, “You’re not my father!” Carl and Steve become rivals for Connie’s affections, and complications arise. But it’s all pretty harmless, and you know from the get-go Janet’s going to wind up choosing Mitchum over boring Wendell Corey, who’s got all the charisma of a doormat. HOLIDAY AFFAIR will make you smile, but it’s not laugh-out-loud funny. There’s some good moments, and it’s a rare chance to see Mitchum do romantic comedy, but this isn’t a can’t miss film. In fact, it didn’t do well at the box office, and RKO put Bob back in noir territory with his next film, Where Danger Lives. It’s only when HOLIDAY AFFAIR began showing on television that it developed a devoted following.
Young Janet Leigh is lovely to look at, and showed glimpses of better things to come. I never cared that much for Wendell Corey, who seemed stiff and boring in most of the roles I’ve seen him in. He’s stiff and boring here, too. But little Gordon Gebert is swell as Timmy, a natural child actor who actually acts like a child. Harry Morgan (billed as Henry) has a small part as an exasperated cop, and gives the scene he’s in a boost. Director Don Hartman was primarily a comedy writer, with credits including some Hope and Crosby “Road” trips and two Danny Kaye vehicles (WONDER MAN, THE KID FROM BROOKLYN). Screenwriter Isobel Lennert was responsible for films like ANCHORS AWEIGH and EAST SIDE WEST SIDE. After being sidetracked by the House Un-American Activities committee (where she named names), Miss Lennert continued her career with PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES and FUNNY GIRL.
Robert Mitchum went on to a long and successful film career after his marijuana arrest and incarceration. Photos from the pot trial show Mitchum with co-defendant Lila Leeds, a 20-year-old bit player married to Lana Turner’s ex. Miss Leeds also did sixty days in stir, and upon release she chose to star in something called I SHOULDA SAID NO! (aka WILD WEED), an exploitation movie along the lines of REEFER MADNESS. The film, and the pot bust publicity, did nothing to further her acting career, and she tumbled into a cycle of more arrests, heroin addiction, and prostitution. Lila Leeds eventually found religion, and volunteered at local missions in LA. She died in obscurity in 1999.
Merry Christmas, everybody!!
Deck the halls with slaughtered bodies, fa-la-la-lala, lala-la-la!
What better way to spend the Yuletide Season than with SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, a movie about a psycho Santa running amok in Utah? This 1984 slasher shocker was directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr., usually associated with wholesome family fare like THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS, IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK, and ANCIENT SECRETS OF THE BIBLE. But Sellier occasionally dipped his toes into exploitation (THE BOOGENS, THE ANNIHILATORS), and hit the bloody nail on the head with this one. The movie was considered controversial in its day, and TriStar actually pulled it from theaters a week after its release due to protests from national PTA groups. Today, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT is regarded as a classic of the slasher genre and holds up quite well next to fright films like FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
We begin our tawdry little tale in 1971, with the Chapman family driving their station wagon to visit Grampa at Utah Mental Hospital. Gramps is catatonic until mom, dad, and baby sis leave the room. Then the creepy old geezer scares the beejeezus out of young Billy, telling him Santa Claus is going to punish him for being naughty. Billy’s pretty freaked out by this, but the worst is yet to come.
An armed robber in a Santa suit (the always welcome Charles Dierkop) kills a clerk, and ends up with “thirty-one bucks? Merry fucking Christmas”. The crook pulls the old “broke down by the side of the road” routine, hoping to score, when who should pull up but the Chapmans. The killer Claus shoots dad in the head and rapes mom, slashing her throat in the process. Billy runs and hides, scared to death while Santa searches for him.
Cut to 1974, where we find Billy and his sister at St. Mary’s Orphanage. Sister Margaret is sensitive to Billy’s fear of Christmas, but Mother Superior is an old-school ogre who thrives on punishment. When Billy’s caught peeping through a keyhole at two teens gettin’ it on, Mother Superior doles out the punishment with an iron hand, her mantra being “Punishment is absolute…punishment is good”. Holy Catholic guilt!!
Ten years later, Sister Margaret helps Billy get a job at Ira’s Toy Store. Things go well at first, until Christmastime. When Mr. Simms’s Santa breaks his ankle ice skating, he recruits Billy to don the red suit and beard of Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick. At the after-hours Christmas party, the employees get drunk celebrating. Billy follows two of them to the backroom, and catches them in fragrante delicto. This is more than he can handle, and he brutally murders them both. After slaughtering the rest of his coworkers, Billy leaves to go on a killing spree, creatively exterminating another sexually active pair (one of whom is cult movie queen Linnea Quigley) and some punks before heading to the orphanage, axe in hand and ready to “punish”.
Didn’t anyone think of sending Billy to a therapist? I guess we wouldn’t have a movie if they did. Robert Brian Wilson is outstanding as Billy, though the film’s (then) controversial nature kind of did in his career. Wilson got work on soaps and TV episodes, but by the 90s he was out of acting altogether. Seen today, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT is fun, a big hunk of 80s Xmas cheese with boobs and gore galore. The movie spawned five (!) sequels and a 2012 remake, none of which capture the loopy spirit of the original. So snuggle in your beds with visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads this Christmas…
But you better watch out!!
You’d think with a cast featuring Sterling Hayden, Ben Gazzara, Peter Sellers, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Shaw, and other notables, a script by Rod Serling, score by Henry Mancini, and direction from Oscar winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz that CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS was a long-lost big screen spectacular, right? Wrong. It’s actually a made-for-TV movie produced by the Telsun Foundation, Telsun being Television Series for the United Nations. That’s right, the UN (funded in part by the Xerox Corporation) once produced a series of television specials with big name artists in an attempt to promote brotherhood and world peace (or to create a New World Order, depending on which way you lean in the political spectrum).
The first entry was a take on Charles Dickens’ classic A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Sterling Hayden starred as Daniel Grudge, filling in for Scrooge. Grudge is a wealthy industrialist whose son was killed in World War II , and who is now a staunch isolationist that believes might makes right, namely by having a strong national defense. His nephew Fred (Ben Gazzara) is on the opposite side of the issue, believing that open communication and negotiations will be of greater benefit. They argue their views on Christmas Eve before Grudge throws Fred out, at which point the image of Grudge’s son Marley appears, along with the playing of The Andrews Sisters’ “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”.
It’s then that we hit the familiar Dickens territory with Grudge visited by the three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past (singer Steve Lawrence in a solid dramatic turn) welcomes Grudge aboard a cargo ship filled with coffins of war dead from throughout the 20th Century. He escorts Grudge through a doorway back to Hiroshima, where then-Colonel Grudge and his assistant (Eva Marie Saint) tour the aftermath of nuclear destruction, visiting a Red Cross unit full of horribly burned children. This sequence is the film’s best, and could easily have fit as an episode of Serling’s brilliant THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
Next up is the Ghost of Christmas Present (Pat Hingle), who sits before an overflowing banquet table while thousands of starving displaced persons watch from behind a barbed wire fence. Grudge is forced to see the “needy and oppressed” he derided so much up close and personal, knowing he’s done nothing to help alleviate their struggles while he lives a life of luxury.
Finally the Ghost of Christmas Future (Robert Shaw) takes Grudge to a post-nuclear apocalypse world where everyone is out for themselves. Peter Sellers (Hayden’s costar in DR. STRANGELOVE) pops up as Imperial Me, leading a band of anarchic survivors, whipping them into a frenzy with his rhetoric about killing those who’re not part of their group and the power of the individual. Sellers is good as always, giving the demagog a lunatic quality we find in many of today’s more odious politicians. Calling Donald Trump!
Grudge finally wakes up on Christmas Day, and reconciles with nephew Fred. He’s a bit more willing to admit now that maybe this international cooperation thing isn’t so bad after all. The tightly wound Hayden is perfect for the role of uptight Mr. Grudge, and the rest of the cast do yeoman’s work in support. Percy Rodriguez, James Shigeta, and Britt Eklund also appear, with Rodriguez as Grudge’s butler a particular standout. Rod Serling’s script is clever though somewhat preachy in parts but hey, it’s Rod Serling. He’s always been a “message” writer, and the teleplay has that TWILIGHT ZONE-ish quality we all know and love. Mankiewicz , one of Hollywood’s best, could direct an elementary school Christmas pageant and make it interesting. He’s aided by some fine cinematography from Arthur J. Ornitz, who’s also responsible for lensing another Serling drama, 1962’s REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT.
Telsun produced three more of these TV movies, WHO HAS SEEN THE WIND?, ONCE UPON A TRACTOR, and THE POPPY IS ALSO A FLOWER, before folding up shop. POPPY is the only one to receive a theatrical release, and the only one available on DVD, while the other two have faded into obscurity. Telsun was an interesting and well-meaning if unsuccessful experiment at promoting the UN agenda, and we’ll never see anything quite like it again. CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS has popped up on TCM during the holiday season, and though it’s message is somewhat didactic, it deserves to have a wider audience if only because of the people in front of and behind the cameras. Maybe some enterprising releasing company will pick it up someday. After all, look what Grindhouse Releasing has done for MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE. Are you listening, all you entrepreneurs out there?