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Shower of Stars' presentation of "A Christmas Carol" won an Emmy in
1954 for Best Art Direction in a Taped Program and was nominated for
three others (Best Actor Single Performance - March, Best Individual
Program, and Best Original Music - Herrmann). A DVD of the performance
is available through PassportDVD.com.
March does a fine job with the material, even in a couple of strangely static musical interludes--after Marley's ghost exits and when Tiny Tim insists on singing his Christmas song for Scrooge at the dinner table. Those moments could have received better treatment. Yes, March's nose is augmented; but this is a typical opera stage convention for crotchety characters of any ethnicity. It's not too terribly distracting.
The music is drop-dead gorgeous. Bernard Herrmann wrote some of the most hauntingly beautiful music ever heard at the movies. This presentation is no exception.
A few flaws... Ray Middleton's performance is a bit over the top as Fred. The "Very Merry Christmas" song goes on forever when it's introduced by the Ghost of Christmas Present. The ending is not very strong; the 2.5 minute "Bless Us Everyone" song at the finale is accompanied only by one loooooooooooong closeup of March reacting to what he hears. The director could have used this song to much better effect.
Overall, "A Christmas Carol" is a very enjoyable Christmas treat! I wish there were a copy of it in it's original color presentation.
This version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL puts me in mind of the 1910 Edison
rendition, which is to say it's main virtue is it's historical kitsch
Even viewers like me who track down every version of the CAROL that they
will likely be disappointed in this production.
Sadly, Maxwell Anderson and Bernard Herrman turn in work that is not up to their usual high standards. In addition to that a distractingly loooooong fake nose on Frederic March and the manner in which the Christmas Yet To Come segment is hopelessly rushed mar the presentation.
The little extras help make this worth having , though. Viewers can get the feel of what live single-sponsor television broadcasts were like in the 1950's and will certainly laugh at the ads for new automobiles with three-figure selling prices. The Roger Wagner Singers belt out a few obscure Holiday songs from time-to-time, presumably to allow time for the next scene to be set up by the stagehands.
Though the story is presented in a pretty soulless "paint-by-numbers" way and lacks the usual emotional appeal it does contain a few interesting touches, like having the same actress who portrays Scrooge's lost love Belle play The Ghost of Christmas Past and having the same actor who portrays Scrooge's nephew Fred (Ray Middleton, who would go on to be in 1776)play The Ghost of Christmas Present.
Overall, this adaptation of the Dickens classic is best for CHRISTMAS CAROL enthusiasts who can't live without every version of the story they can lay their hands on.
Frederic March! Basil Rathbone! Maxwell Anderson! Bernard Herrman!
Charles Dickens! I certainly hope they got paid well. (With Dickens, I
suppose, it didn't matter.)
A denatured adaptation of one of the quirkiest, wittiest, richest stories ever, the majority of the screen time is taken up with over-orchestrated, lyrically clichéd and underwritten pastiche carols and folk songs (although Herrman's music has some lovely melodic and harmonic passages), and with "heartwarming" live commercials for 1956 Chryslers.
March's Scrooge is saddled with an incredibly fake nose, right up there with Alec Guiness's in "Lawrence of Arabia". Worse, March is forced to show redemption and emotion in endless close-ups that show him reacting to the aforementioned songs. Still, fine actor that he is, he does manage to show some moments of humanity.
Rathbone, as Marley, is robbed of 90% of the terrific dialogue originally in Dickens, but he too is able to infuse his character with some pathos and horror.
A fascinating look at what the majority of live TV drama was like in the 50's. Bad as TV can be now, if anyone pines for the good old days, make them watch this.
If you're really lucky, you might be able to find this episode of "Shower of Stars" in video stores. It is the most hysterically awful adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic ever. Despite appearances by Fredric March as a hook-nosed, Jewish-stereotype Scrooge, and the great Basil Rathbone as Marley, this production does not even do a good job of getting the story right. It kind of assumes we've all heard the story before, so instead it fills up the minutes with some of the most truly terrible songs ever composed ("What Shall I Give My Love for Christmas?" "Old Kris Kringle," "God Bless Us Everyone," just to name a few). "A Very Merry Christmas" has some of the most ingenious lyrics ever composed for the light opera: "A very, a merry, a very merry Christmas. A very, a merry, a very merry Christmas." Then the bridge: "Days may come and days may go, but this is the day of mistletoe." There is also a fantastic exchange between meek Bob Cratchit and the ultra-ebullient nephew Fred--Fred: "BOB!! How is that small child of yours?" Bob (timidly): "Very poor, I'm afraid. We don't know if he'll make it through the New Year." Fred: "Well, send him my best! And a MERRY Christmas to you, Bob! And may your days be happy, all year 'round!!" The show is only an hour long, and you get the feeling that the writers and actors made up the script as they went along. By the time they get to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, they realized they had only five minutes left, so they dropped the scene altogether and proceeded straight to Scrooge's redemption. This scene consists of Scrooge showing up at Bob's house and kind of freaking everybody out--he acts like the creepy Skeksis from "The Dark Crystal," and spaces out while Tiny Tim sings a three-minute long reprise of "God Bless Us Everyone." It has to be seen to be believed--I really wish the folks at MST3K would get a hold of this and butcher it.
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