November 29, 2012

"Carol for Another Christmas" on TCM December 16

Last year around this time I wrote a brief piece about Carol for Another Christmas, the Rod Serling-written take on "A Christmas Carol" that was part of a series of made-for-TV movies produced by the United Nations.* Carol was shown on December 28, 1964 on ABC, sponsored by Xerox and presented without commercial interruption.

*Based on my article “The UN Goes to the Movies” for TVParty!
 
I’m bringing it up again this year because there's actually something new to report: thanks to Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, we now know that TCM will be showing Carol for Another Christmas on Sunday, December 16 at 8pm ET – the first time on TV since that 1964 broadcast* - and I’ll be very, very interested to see it for a number of reasons. First, there’s the curiosity factor – having written and read so much about it over the years, it will be nice to actually see it.

*Although bootleg video versions have been available for years on what I call the "gray" market - bootlegs that have not had an authorized, official release, as opposed to cheap knock-offs of commercially available videos.  You could also see it if you're fortunate enough to visit the Paley Center in New York.

But I’m also curious to see what other people think about it. Over the years, Carol has attained something of a reputation as a “lost classic” of 60s television, likely due to Serling's authorship.  And it indeed has a sterling pedigree – directed by Academy Award winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz (his one and only foray into television), with music by fellow Oscar winner Henry Mancini, and an all-star cast including Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, Ben Gazzara, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Shaw and Steve Lawrence – among others.

And yet much of the critical reaction to Carol for Another Christmas was just that - critical.  C. O. (Doc) Erickson, production supervisor, remembered that “Joe and Rod were inspired to do it because they felt it was important to do the U.N.’s business and promote it.” According to Erickson, “I thought it was overdone. It was too long, too tiring and beat you over the head too much.”

This kind of heavy-handedness wasn’t unusual for Serling, who was often given to lapsing into what Twilight Zone director Lamont Johnson referred to as “messianic moods.” This often happened when Serling felt strongly about his subject. “Serling has two poles in his writing,” said Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion. “There’s his powerful, human-oriented writing, and his very didactic writing, and ‘Carol’ falls on the didactic side.”

The consensus from critics was that it was, indeed, a show given to pomposity and stiffness – the Bootleg Files called it “a dreary, unsubtle rant. . . one of the worst Christmas-themed productions of all time” – and that the only notable thing to recommend it was the title track by Mancini, which has since become a regular on many Christmas compilation albums.*  It’s been said that even hard-core Serling aficionados might have trouble stomaching this, and I’ve no doubt it’ll irritate me more than once, and perhaps bore me as well.

*I should note that this opinion is not unanimous.  There are people who've seen Carol and quite liked it, while at the same time acknowledging why others might not.

Still, I have a professional curiosity, which will be my excuse for viewing. And who knows – the bar’s been set so low, it might actually be a pleasant surprise. (Or not, as the case may be.)  But in the end, it’s television history, and that’s something that bears watching, even though (as I said last year) history ain’t always pretty.

2 comments

  1. Watched it last night, based on years of Serling fandom and its reputation as a lost film. And I found it to be really horrid--extraordinarily heavy-handed and more preachy than the preachiest Twilight Zone episodes. Based on what I've read about it, I was prepared for that, but it exceeded expectations.

    And once the film got to the sequence with Peter Sellers as the "Imperial Me," it was a dumpster fire. Up to there, I could see what Serling was getting at--the need for countries to cooperate, and for people to pay heed to interests other than their own. I assume Imperial Me was supposed to show the logical end-point of isolationism run amok, but by that point I was too busy being entertained by the ludicrous parade of symbols Serling trotted out to notice.

    The film has been justifiably buried for 48 years, in other words. However, I'm interested in other perspectives from people who saw it.

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  2. J, I'm working on a review of Carol, but short version: you're spot on. It showed promise as a truly innovative interpretation of Dickens, and much of the cinematography is quite good - but, as my wife said after watching it, you wind up having to run to the store for more bandages after being hit over the head so much. I think you're right as to what "Imperial Me" stood for, but Sellers was too far over the top to effectively convey it.

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