Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dec 12 - An American Christmas Carol (1979)

This TV special is one of the first attempts at taking the spine of the story and implanting it in a new body. Out of Victorian England and over to New England during the Depression, and Ebenezer Scrooge becomes Benedict Slade, played by America's sweetheart, Henry Winkler. Yup, TV's The Fonz at the apex of Happy Days-mania slathered in makeup and looking like if Joe Biden drank from the false holy grail.

I wasn't expecting Winkler to win me over, but he was very believable and captivating as a heartless businessman. I imagine it was a lot of fun for him to take a break from thumping jukeboxes and thumbs upping. As far as young Scrooge's go, he doesn't quite have the presence and authority of Albert Finney, but he does well enough.

The change to Depression-era America is a brilliant, natural one. It was a welcome change of scenery after a dozen in London. The production values are good and you feel like you've been transported there as well any of the more expensive England-set movies.

At the beginning of the movie, Slade is going around trying to collect payments but ends up taking as many possessions as he can stuff into his truck. One place he visits is a school and from them he takes as many leather-bound books as he can find to rip apart and reuse. And one of them is a copy of A Christmas Carol. I think it's an interesting choice to have the book exist in your movie's least in a case like this where the tone of An American Christmas Carol is very serious. In a more comedic movie, acknowledging the book's existence and winking at the camera a bit is easier to pull off. If the movie is too straight-faced it can come off a bit hokey.

Besides the geographic shift, we also go ahead in time a few decades. One way this is taken advantage of is how when a ghost comes to visit, Slade first hears anachronistic broadcasts on his radio. Before the Ghost of Christmas Past appears he hears a news broadcast referring to President Hoover and Charles Lindbergh from six years earlier. Before the final ghost, he hears unfamiliar songs that haven't been written yet in his present. It's a clever way to build up the ghosts' arrivals a little more, and sell the idea of the entire world coming loose and rolling back and forward around him.

Another unique way the ghosts are handled is that they take the form of the people Slade visited at the beginning of the movie to collect from. Since the book exists in this universe and he reads it before he's visited by any spirits, you could interpret it all as being a I like the idea of using faces of people's he knows, à la Wizard of Oz.

So it's pretty good. The direction and cinematography is a little too safe and flat, but I'd watch it again. kinda funny, squicky part worth mentioning, that gets glossed over entirely by any characters, is that Slade an orphan and gets sorta adopted by Mr. Brewster who takes him in and makes him an apprentice at his furniture company. And the "Belle" character that Slade falls for in this adaptation is Mr. Brewster's daughter Helen, his sorta half sister that he's grown up with since about twelve. In a few of the adaptations Belle is Mr. Fezziwig's daughter so I guess this was an homage to that idea, but it's like no one stopped to think how weird and creepy it is with the family dynamic they set up.

Watch it on YouTube
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. Scrooge (1970)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  4. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
  5. A Christmas Carol (1971)
  6. An American Christmas Carol (1979)
  7. Scrooge (1935)
  8. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  9. Rich Little's A Christmas Carol (1978)
  10. A Christmas Carol (1977)
  11. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  12. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  13. The Christmas Carol (1949)

No comments:

Post a Comment