January 8, 2013

Review: Carol for Another Christmas

From my latest piece for TVParty!:

A couple of years or so ago, I wrote an article for TVParty! on a series of made-for-TV movies produced by the United Nations to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its founding. It was hailed at the time as a significant event in television, and yet today hardly anyone remembers it, including the UN itself. (I know, because I called a librarian at the UN and got the vocal equivalent of a blank stare when I asked her about it.)

My curiosity had been piqued by a TV Guide article about the first special in the series, Carol for Another Christmas, written by Rod Serling and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It was broadcast for the first and only time on December 28, 1964 (since then it’s been available only at the Paley Center in New York, the UCLA archives, or in the bootleg market), and in the intervening 48 years it’s attracted something of a cult following, along the lines of “It’s Serling, for God’s sake!” Some even referred to it as a “lost classic.” The fact that most critics had said it wasn’t very good was almost beside the point for them. So when TCM announced they’d be airing Carol for Another Christmas on December 16, I thought it might be a good idea to cut through the myth and rumor with a look at the actual movie.

[...]

So what do we make of this? Despite the negative reviews that had come out at the time, I was willing to set it all aside and judge it not on rumor or hearsay, but fact. That lasted through the opening credits and the initial, suitably dark scene, until the dialogue started. It was all downhill from there.

Your feelings about the questions debated in the story probably depend on your own political beliefs. Serling and Mankiewicz were political liberals, deeply committed to the United Nations and its mission. Having said that, even liberals will be put off by the shrillness of the script and the paper-thin one-dimensional characters. From the first, the movie plays like a bad version of a bad Twilight Zone episode (and, for all the greatness of that series, there were many). Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, said that “Serling has two poles in his writing. There’s his powerful, human-oriented writing, and his very didactic writing, and ‘Carol’ falls on the didactic side.” These characters are really “caricatures”, figureheads for Serling’s political polemics. They don’t talk to each other, but at each other. As a critic once said of a Serling-penned Twilight Zone script, it sounded like a bunch of Rod Serlings sitting around a table talking to each other.

Read the entire piece here.

***

In that article, I alluded to evidence that the version of Carol for Another Christmas shown on TCM might not, in fact, have been the original version.  In question: the absence of Henry Mancini's lovely theme, which many critics agreed was the best part of Carol:

I’d figured the theme would have been used for either the opening or closing credit scene; instead, for each we were given a series of Christmas carols by a children’s choir. Combined with the strange look of the opening graphics, I’m convinced that this movie was altered from its original presentation, and Mancini’s theme was deleted in favor of the carols.

That suspicion has now been verified by two sources: Zachary Kelley, who provided an extensive review of Carol a couple of years ago, told me that the copy he had watched did contain Mancini's theme, and that the credits did not have the superimposed, added-at-a-later-date look


And Chip Arcuri, at the wonderful Yule Log site (and if you've never gone there, make it your mission between now and next Christmas) confirms that not only was Mancini's theme missing from the opening title montage, his name was deleted from the credits, and nobody knows why.

I spoke with Felice Mancini tonight and she told me that she has absolutely no idea why her father's music was removed from TCM's print of the film. She's especially disappointed because it's one of her favorites of her father tunes. She's going check into it to see why this happened.

So while we've solved one mystery - seeing the long-ago show - we've created another one.  Somehow I suspect that Dickens, who wrote those "scary ghost stories of Christmases long ago" that Andy Williams sings about in "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," would be amused by the whole thing.

2 comments

  1. I missed this when TCM showed it :( Even though it doesn't sound good, it still sounds kinda interesting. Around the same time period, I think the UN helped finance a dreadful, international drug-smuggling movie called THE POPPY IS ALSO A FLOWER.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right you are, Rick. "The Poppy Is Also a Flower" was the last of the four movies made by the Telsun Foundation for the UN - the other two being "Once Upon a Tractor" and "Who Has Seen the Wind?" "Poppy" was a bomb, even with Trevor Howard as one of the stars, and Princess Grace as the hostess. Considering what great casts these movies have, it shows what happens when you try to preach rather than create.

      "Carol" was deeply flawed for that and many reasons, but it did have potential - as I mentioned, it could have been a very provocative reinterpretation of the story, had it not fallen into that didactic trap.

      Delete

And now for something completely different.