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Rich Little plays everyone in this hour long Canadian-produced show,
and he's perfect in every role. The story has been changed only in
Scrooge's profession: He's the owner of the Boat and Bottle Works,
where Scrooge empties the liquor bottles and Cratchit stuffs the boats
in them. Rich does all his best impressions: Scrooge (W.C. Fields), Bob
Cratchit (Paul Lynde), Nephew Fred (Johnny Carson), Mrs. Cratchit
(Edith Bunker), Tiny Tim (Truman Capote, in one of the funniest
impressions), Jacob Marley (Richard Nixon, whose "chains" are a mass of
reel-to-reel tapes, representing the erased 18 1/2 minutes), the men of
business who discuss Scrooge after he's dead (John Wayne (perfection
itself), James Mason, and George Burns), the boy Scrooge greets from
his window Christmas morning (Jack Benny, playing his violin), and of
course the three ghosts - Past (Humphrey Bogart, who shows up seated at
his bar table with empty bottles strewn around), Present (Columbo) and
Future (Inspector Clouseau, who sets fire to the bed curtains with his
candle). At the end, Scrooge reforms and pledges to go on the wagon.
He's hired someone else to empty the bottles who shows real promise:
This is an inventive, extremely funny show. Rich is still the best impressionist around, and his John Wayne is just adorable; no one does Wayne better. The sets are also outstanding; this is one of the best Carol adaptations I've seen for atmosphere, and it's superlative comedy enhances the story.
The show was released years ago on laserdisc but is unavailable anywhere else, as far as I know, and this is a shame because it's a classic. If you can scare it up anywhere, don't hesitate to buy it. It will become a Christmas tradition with you, as it is with our family.
This show has a clever, sideways premise: a comedian does impressions
of various celebrities "performing" in a production of A Christmas
Carol. I've seen very little of Rich Little (no, pun not intended), but
this program of his sounded fun so I looked it up. I suppose that the
more impressions you recognize, the more you will like the show;
fortunately many of the targets are figures like John Wayne, Groucho
Marx and Richard Nixon, whose personas are well-known even to folks who
haven't seen much of them in films or TV.
The small-scale period sets are nicely done for a comedy special on TV, but the TV sitcom laugh track is unwelcome, especially since it pops up for everything including the lamer jokes (like the twice-used "and those were his good/bad points" bit); I eventually stopped noticing though. But the central gag makes everything worthwhile. Little certainly has a talent and versatile voice for impressions. Some I was prepared for because of what I read before watching, and I was able to guess a couple other obscure ones. The only two I had no clue about were the kid that Scrooge hires to buy the goose (long-ago comedian Jack Benny) and Tiny Tim (writer Truman Capote; I could only guess it was some sort of Elton John or Robert Evans with a Droopy the Dog voice). On-screen text at the end or beginning identifying each celebrity would've helped. Though I had no knowledge of W.C. Fields performances, Little's depiction of Fields performing as Scrooge was amusing enough to hold the main role. (Little even sneaks in a sly, cleaned-up version of Fields's vulgar joke about fish.)
Standouts include "Paul Lynde" as Bob Cratchit. I only remember Paul Lynde as the voice of Templeton the rat from "Charlotte's Web", but just based on that it is eerie how well Little evokes Lynde. "James Stewart's" appearance was good too, but note that he was not Scrooge's boss as the IMDb credit says, but rather his co-worker Dick Wilkins. And "Richard Nixon" as the ghost of Marley comes with a great visual gag: instead of chains and strongboxes, he's weighed down by footage from his White House audio tapes.
"Johnny Carson" as Fred, the nephew of Scrooge, is an entertaining parody that even includes a reference to Carson's turbaned psychic gimmick. But the impression is also a striking jab at the big-time talk show host, who was still an NBC star at the time. As Fred hosts his holiday party, he does a stand-up routine that bombs; the guests sit in silence as Fred drags out his failed jokes and slow delivery.
Some of the impressions show up too briefly, including John Wayne as a businessman talking about the dead Scrooge. Speaking of this scene, I believe the first businessman with the walking stick and cultured voice is supposed to be James Mason. Likewise I wanted to see more of him. (Oddly, "Mason" doesn't show up in the final montage.)
This adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" is fantastic. Rich Little's
impersonations of W.C. Fields, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson, Edith
Bunker, Truman Capote, Jack Benny etc. are typically excellent... and
the replacement of the more typical mannerisms of characters in
Dickens' classic with these impersonations is extremely well done.
The only conclusion I can draw from the outrageously low score this movie currently has on IMDb is that some of the people who've rated this movie are not familiar with a significant number of the actors and comedians who are parodied and impersonated in the movie.
Well, that, or IMDb's "weighted average" system is garbage.
This movie is a classic.
Rich Little's Christmas Carol was a ritual at our house when I was a child,
I just recently picked up the laserdisc and now I can enjoy this time and
Little is outstanding in all the roles he plays here, and he does play ALL the roles here! This is quite possibly the funniest TV special you will see this time of year. Dicken's original tale has been parodied to perfection by Little. It's all here from Scrooge's "Boat & Bottle" business to Richard Nixon...I mean Jacob Marley's ghost! Even Tiny Tim doesn't escape the laughs.
I'll leave you with this quote from The Ghost of Christmas Future and Scrooge...
"You hate Christmas! You have never lifted a finger to help anyone!" "Ahh, no, that's not true. I've given many people who needed my help the finger."
(Note: Also see Rich Little's Robin Hood. It is absent from IMDB at this time.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The people who rate this movie down must not appreciate the difficulty
Rich Little faced in not only the production of this TV movie, but also
the difficulty of capturing the vocal, visual, and personality quirks
of several stars of television and motion pictures.
I saw this movie when it first aired on HBO in 1978-79. I laughed and laughed and it wasn't until a couple of years later that I wanted to videotape it, and never could seem to catch it. Finally, a friend loaned me a copy that was far from perfect, but it satisfied my need for laughter during the Christmas season until it finally deteriorated to the point that it was unwatchable. I found it on Amazon a few years ago on DVD.
The backdrop for the story is, of course, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In this particular telling, the cast is played by many stars of TV and motion pictures, who are, in turn, played by Rich Little. Many of the newer generation who have not seen the old movies of the 40's, 50's, and 60's, nor the Golden Age of TV will not recognize the parts Little plays. Those of us Baby Boomers remember them well and will appreciate the individuality Little gives to each star. The three businessmen who make jokes are represented by George Burns, John Wayne, and Maurice Chevalier, NOT James Mason. The portrayal of Bob Cratchit's wife (Edith Bunker) is particularly hilarious.
Much of Dickens' story is omitted due to time constrictions, but Little has written a tight script that progresses rapidly to its conclusion. If you can identify the characters, watch some of their material, and you will appreciate this Canadian gem for years to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I got this DVD from the public library recently because I remembered
the wonderful gallery of impersonations that Rich Little used to do
back in the 70s and 80s on many TV variety shows. A real quality
variety show was never complete back then without an appearance by
Little doing Stewart, Nixon, Carson, etc.
The problem with this production is that it needed a professional comedy writer to ratchet up the laugh meter a little. Little's script is rather ho-hum and tired in the joke dept.
His impressions are still quite amazing and on target, but I felt that if you are going to do a version of Christmas Carol focused on impersonations of famous people, the script has to be full of really good jokes, not the bland, tame fair that Little himself is capable of serving up.
I didn't see any point in watching the second feature on the DVD (Robin Hood), since it promised only more of the same stale brand of jokes.
This is nice for nostalgic value, nevertheless; but don't expect your kids to laugh at its dated humor and forgotten celeb impressions.
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