'Carol for Another Christmas' features a teleplay by Rod Serling at his most dead-earnest. As often happened with this controversial writer, Serling's script ran afoul of network censors who insisted on major changes ... inevitably making the material much more innocuous. Astonishingly, 'Carol for Another Christmas' manages to be an entertaining drama anyway, well-directed (by old pro Joe Mankiewicz) with a first-rate cast.
The story is a blatant reworking of Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol', modernised and addressing the concerns of Americans in the 1960s: a fairly original idea when Serling did it. But in the years from 1964 to the present there have been dozens of rip-offs of Dickens's tale (such as the wretched movie 'Scrooged') ... so, from a 21st-century viewpoint, 'Carol for Another Christmas' suffers because it's now one of many, many, MANY reworkings of Dickens's source material. Fortunately, Serling manages sporadically to improve upon the original. For example, this story has no annoying little Tiny Tim character.
In Serling's original script, the main character in 'Carol for Another Christmas' was an embittered industrialist named Barnaby Grudge. This is clearly a Dickensian pun, but Serling also meant it as a pun on 'B. Grudge'... because Grudge begrudges charity to people less fortunate than himself. Television executives insisted that Serling must change this character's name; they were certain that 'Barnaby Grudge' would be perceived as a thinly-disguised attack on Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (same initials). Serling changed the character's name to Daniel Grudge, and Sterling Hayden gives a standout performance in the lead role as Grudge, the surrogate Scrooge.
After some surly dialogue with his black servants Charles and Ruby, and an argument with his nephew (Ben Gazzara, giving the worst performance hereabouts), Grudge gets some unwanted advice from a surrogate Marley, and then the story proper begins ... with Grudge getting a look at the state of humanity in Christmases past, present and future. (Rod Serling's birthday was 25th December, and he had a traumatic experience on Christmas Day during his wartime hitch as a paratrooper ... I wonder if either of those facts helped inspire this story. I also wonder if the title of this script was a pun on the name of Rod Serling's wife: Carol.)
Grudge's escort to the past is a World War One doughboy, extremely well-played by Steve Lawrence ... yes, the singer who married Eydie Gorme. Steve Lawrence was a very talented actor who seldom got material worthy of his talents: he gives a fine performance here, with some of the best dialogue Rod Serling ever wrote. (I'm a Serling fan, but plausible dialogue was always thin on the ground in Rod Serling's universe.) Lawrence brings Grudge to Japan on Christmas Day 1945, where a Japanese doctor and a U.S. WAVE are trying to help Japanese children who were caught in an American bombing raid. (There does seem to be an unfortunate 'blame America' tone here.)
The Ghost of Christmas Present is well-played by the excellent Pat Hingle, an actor who never achieved the stardom he deserved. Grudge finds the stocky Hingle gorging himself on food at a banquet table, while nearby Third World children starve behind a fence. Hingle invites Grudge to join him: Grudge is willing to eat, but not with those starving children watching him. The fact that those children ARE starving does not particularly disturb him.
Next stop, the future: with the flash of an atomic bomb, Grudge finds himself in the darkness and rubble which are all that remains after World War Three. These are (intentionally) the most disturbing scenes in the drama. What sort of war was this, Grudge wonders? 'A dandy', replies Robert Shaw in a lacklustre performance as the Ghost of Christmas Future. Civilisation was destroyed in the nuclear war, but now one man is trying to inspire the survivors to rebuild the world ... namely, as a dictatorship with himself as the leader. Peter Sellers gives a fascinating performance (with an American accent, better than the one he used in 'Dr Strangelove') as a dictator named Imperial Me. Unfortunately, Sellers seems to be acting in a completely different movie from everyone else. (Which sums up much of his life and career.)
SPOILERS NOW. The character arc of 'Carol for Another Christmas' follows Dickens's novel very closely, so it's no surprise that Grudge/Scrooge ultimately returns to his mansion in the present, where he now sees the error of his ways and he repents. But I found the last scene very annoying and simplistic. As proof that Grudge has reformed, we see him humbling himself by eating breakfast in the kitchen with his black servants. Surely it would be more honest and more ennobling to show Grudge inviting his servants to join him for breakfast in his posh dining room. And the three of them could do the washing-up together. Like so many other liberals, Serling seems more interested in bringing down the mighty rather than uplifting the lowly.
'Carol for Another Christmas' occasionally sinks into knee-jerk liberalism or America-bashing, but this TV movie's good points very much outweigh and outnumber its bad points. I'll rate this story 10 points out of 10. God bless us, every one.
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