Reinventing Dickens: CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS (Telsun Foundation 1964)

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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).

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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