Made for TV Movie, 1979
Not sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m an absolute fanatic when it comes to A Christmas Carol. I love the book, but it’s other adaptations of it that really get my chestnuts roasting.
Which sounds simultaneously lewd and painful.
Anyhoo, I absolutely devour movies featuring the yuletide antics of one Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s not uncommon for me to watch a couple different versions during a Christmas season, as well as going to see it on stage. This year, however, I’ve gone plumb loco and watching them virtually nonstop. This past weekend, in the span of less than 24 hours, my eyeballs played witness to no less than four of ’em:
– 1951 Alastair Sim version
– 1984 George C. Scott
– Muppets Christmas Carol
– Mickey Christmas Carol
In my Blu-Ray changer, though, I have way more than those, including…
– 1970 Albert Finney musical version
– 1999 Patrick Stewart
– Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol (leading to what may be my favorite Simpsons parody ever)
– 1938 Reginald Owen
– 1988 Scrooged with Bill Murray
I have also seen other versions that I don’t own, including a couple older b/w versions and yes, the horrific Disney 2009 one with Jim Carrey. Shocking that he ruined not only The Grinch, but Scrooge as well. On top of all that, I often go to see it on stage and have the Campbell’s Soup radio version with Lionel Barrymore (yes, Mister Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life is Scrooge!) on my iPod.
So yeah, I know a bit about it.
While I consider the Sim version by far the best, it’s not perfect. One item that Mrs. Deal always brings up is the fact that Tiny Tim is anything but that in the Sim one; the kid looks to be going through puberty and walks with barely a limp. Contrast that with the one in the Scott version. Now THAT kid looks like someone who needs your everlasting pity: malnourished, strangely discolored, missing about 100 teeth, and nearly falling over with every step he takes. However, Bob Cratchit in that one is played by David Warner, who played the scumbag crony in Titanic. Sure, that was like 18 years later, but it doesn’t matter; you can’t feel sorry for that guy, even if his feeble looking child did just kick the bucket.
See the dilemma?
If I had my way, I’d combine all the versions into one super duper deluxe mega version. Obviously, you take the Sim version as the base and add in the kid from Scott. Get Topper from the Captain Picard version. You may not remember Topper, but he’s one of Scrooge’s nephew’s buddies, and in the book, he’s a bit of a ladies man. Most versions just kinda dismiss him, but not the case here. It’s like they told the actor “go watch Billy D. Williams from the late 70’s and be be more seductive and alluring and over the top sextastic than he is.”
Most would have viewed this as an impossibility, but not this guy. No, he feathered his hair back, parted it in the middle, grew the thickest mustache you ever did see and cranked up the charm.
And by charm, I mean SMARM.
I mean, I’m ready to rip off my panties and throw them at the guy.
And I’m not even a woman!
I could talk this stuff for hours, mixing and matching and playing fantasy booker with all things Ebenezer. But the one issue I’ve always had is the Ghost of Christmas yet to come, the Ghost of Christmas Future. No matter the version, he never looks quite right, ranging from a guy with a black sheet over his head (Sim) to a child’s first ceramics class experiment (Muppets) to an oversized Jawa (Stewart). It’s forever been a pet peeve of mine, that missing piece of the puzzle.
Thankfully, after all these years, the puzzle has been solved. And it’s been solved due to my witnessing, for the first time ever, a version of A Christmas Carol I’ve never seen. It’s called An American Christmas Carol, a 1979 TV movie that may be the most bizarre adaptation in history.
And amazingly, it’s not entirely due to the fact that THIS MAN is your Ebenezer:
Henry Winkler, who was smackdab in the middle of his run as Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days.
Someone somewhere decided that THE FONZ would make a great Ebenezer Scrooge.
And not only did they get paid to think that, they got paid to make it happen.
But that’s just the beginning of the lunacy on display here.
As noted, this is not a straight up retelling of the Dickens novella, but a tweaked version for us ‘mericuns. Set in post depression 1930’s New Hampshire, names are changed, plot details are changed, and well…eh, let’s just jump right into it, shall we?
This would be Benedict Slade. I guess “Slade” sounded more American than “Scrooge” to the producers of this film. I’d question that, but really, these same yahoos put Fonzie in old man makeup and told him to act mean, so their bizarre name choices are kinda normal in comparison. Just accept them, move along, or we’ll be here til next Christmas.
Slade runs a company called Slade and Latham which, as best I can tell, is a repo firm. Latham of course is dead (to begin with) so we have the obligatory Cratchit character helping Scroo…err, Slade out. He’s dubbed Thatcher. Thatcher isn’t the most interesting character (yeah, he has a gimp son who we’ll get to later), but I couldn’t take my eyes off him the entire 98 minutes due to the fact that he is the spitting image of Egon from Ghostbusters:
The pair drive through town in their old jalopy, gathering up seemingly random stuff from various locations. Now I ask that you, dear reader, pay attention to the folks that Fonzinezer is taking things from, as they will come back to haunt Slade in the most literal sense of the word.
First we go to the orphanage (where Slade lived at as a child) run by Mr. Jessup. They take his piano. This makes all the children very sad. Boo!
Next it’s the book shop, where Slade has loaned the owner $5,000 to restock the place. Not with books, but with, and I am just quoting here, “bow ties and ukeles!” Seeing his loan going to waste, Slade starts literally ripping books apart. The story being told here is that the leather that binds the books is worth more than the books themselves. I prefer to think that Slade is a Nazi. Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where they throw books on the fire in Munich? Imagine how much better than would have been with Fonzie in old man makeup.
Oh, and he takes the librarian’s copy of A Christmas Carol, which was given to him by his father who got it from his father who was a “friend of Mr. Dickens!” Slade retorts that the book shop owner doesn’t need books, “You make up your own stories!!!” Burn!
So yeah, you get the drift. Chandeliers are taken, grandfather clocks are repo’ed, you name it, they get loaded on that old bucket of bolts, with Slade and Egon running rampant through the town taking everything that isn’t nailed down.
But then they show up and take the token black man’s radio.
And he is NOT pleased.
You just don’t DO that!
Back to the warehouse with all the treasures we go, and Thatcher comes up with an idea to reopen the local quarry to help rebuild the town. It actually makes sense; the townspeople are unemployed, so they can’t pay Slade anything. If they worked, they could. But Slade, being an evil nasty vile sort, is not happy with such an idea.
So he promptly fires the man.
Yes, in this version not only does Scrooge belittle Cratchit, he sends him to the soup line.
Now I’ve not mentioned this yet, but this is, without question, the most depressing version of this show I’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s nothing that will make you reach for the Kleenex, but it will have your mouth agape and just how dark the whole thing is.
On the plus side, the firing gave us this shot of Thatcher with giant gold Mickey ears.
So Marl…err, LATHAM shows up, and he tells Slade to change his ways.
Another change: I’ve never seen another version where Marley looks like an old gumshoe detective. That may have spiced up the Scott version, which I found a bit dry. Patton talking with JJ Gittes? That’s money.
Oh, and hey, remember the radio I mentioned? That becomes a plot device that clues us into changes in time. For instance, the radio lights up and plays a news cast about the stock market crashing. “Again?” Slade asks. This is followed up with a story about Charles Limburgh. Which is followed up with…wait for it…yes, the first of the ghosts, in this case played by the book shop owner. They’re not actually spirits in this thing, they’re just folks Slade has run into recently. So he’s going to take Slade to his past so he can learn him some lessons.
The Bookshop Owner of Christmas Past whisks Slade back to his childhood at the orphanage, where local businessman Mr. Brewster shows up looking for an apprentice to help him at his furniture factory. Instead of choosing one of the good kids, Brewster instead chooses Slade, a known troublemaker (“he likes to FIGHT!” warns the old maid running the orphanage), and teaches him how to whittle.
No, really. He gave the kid a knife, and a stick of wood. And they whittle. And whittle. And whittle some more. So Slade becomes Brewster’s apprentice, and moves in with him. In other words, he’s basically been adopted.
And this is where it gets very weird, as we go 10 years into the future, where Slade falls in love with Brewster’s daughter. So he’s basically banging his half-sister.
Slade works his way to the top of the family business, and encourages Brewster to start using assembly lines to build chairs. Because, you know, people will buy crap if it’s cheaper. Which is, of course, true. But Brewster scoffs at the idea, noting, “when the day of quality ends in this country, we’ll all be in trouble indeed!”
Of course, the real trouble starts when Brewster doesn’t change, and his business starts going down the tubes. This leads to Slade leaving Brewster and starting an investment firm with Latham.
And growing an absolutely BOSS mustache in the process.
So the investment firm of Slade and Latham has a choice: they can either fund Brewster’s failing furniture business, or they can put their money into Slade’s new idea, which is basically to let people rent appliances and charge them a weekly fee. You know those rent-to-own places where you go and get an Xbox 360 for $30 a week, which you wind up paying $1,700 for before you actually own it?
All Slade’s idea.
This leads to Brewster’s business going into further debt…and then…
…Brewster going into the ground.
Yes, in a casket.
Did I mention this movie was horribly depressing?
Jessup and the orphans show up next, as they are the Ghosts of Christmas Present. Off to Thatcher’s house we go, as he’s explained to his wife and children that he no longer has a job thanks to being canned by Slade on Christmas Eve.
It is here that we learn that Thatcher’s son, whom he refers to as, and with the good Lord above as my witness and I am not making this up, MR. T (I pity the fool!). He has some vague illness that is never clearly defined in any manner other than randomly having some crutches laying around. Ok, that adheres somewhat to the story. What doesn’t adhere to the story is the fact that the only doctor that can cure his son is in Australia. Yes, AUSTRALIA! I’d like to think that said cure requires the boy to be in a kangaroo’s pouch for months on end.
While the parents bemoan the fact they won’t be able to send him to the land down under, the Thatcher daughter, in tears, asks, “if you don’t get another job, will we starve to death?”
The parents don’t comfort the child. In fact, they don’t even answer.
They just look sad.
And kinda hungry.
Back to bed Slade goes, only to be awoken again by his radio.
Remember how I mentioned that it was a gimmick that played stuff to let you know the era we’re about to visit? Well, it’s now playing, and I don’t even know if my brain can convince my fingers to type this, DISCO MUSIC.
That can mean only one thing: we’re about to enter THE FUTURE.
Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present to you this film’s version of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Or as I like to call him…
THE DISCO PIMP OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE!
“Ok, ok,” Slade stammers. “You can take the radio back to your farm!”
No, no you don’t, your royal pimpness!!
So The Pimp takes Slade to an auction…where things are being sold very cheaply. “Are they crazy?” Slade asks. “This is HIGH QUALITY MERCHANDISE!” But while a bed goes for ten cents, the final item goes for $50…$75…$85…$100!
What could it be?
Why a picture of Slade himself, of course, which is promptly thrown into a fire! I know I should be aghast at such a thing, but really, after we had a whole town doing the Texas two step on Scrooge’s casket in the Albert Finney version, I’m kinda desensitized to it.
And yeah, Tatcher’s kid dies. Poor Mr. T. We hardly knew ye.
Finally, we get to Slade’s grave. Now I could do a grab of that tiny tombstone with “Benedict Slade” on it…or I could give you another shot of the Ghost Pimp Daddy.
I knew you wouldn’t argue with my decision.
Slade wakes up, of course, and he loads up his truck, taking everything back that he had repoed. He also goes to Thatcher’s house, gives Thatcher his job back, and then begins to mock Mrs. Thatcher about the paltry chicken they are having for Christmas dinner. Just as she is about to read him the riot act, Old Man Slade throws a GIANT bird on the table.
And when I say “throws”, I MEANS IT!
He also gives them tickets to Australia. How he got bus, train, and plane tickets on Christmas morning in 1933 I do not know. Again, these are small details in the grand scheme of things.
The quarry is reopened, people are happy, all that jazz. But the most important thing?
Disco Pimp got his radio back.
And I got my perfect Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
If that doesn’t make for a Merry Christmas, I don’t know what does!