BOOTLEG FILES 354: “Carol for Another Christmas” (1964 made-for-television film written by Rod Serling and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz).

LAST SEEN: We are unaware of any public exhibitions after its one and only broadcast on December 28, 1964.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The production has been out of circulation for many years.


It is somewhat ironic that Rod Serling, the writer who created some of the most memorable scripts in the history of U.S. television, would also be responsible for one of the worst Christmas-themed productions of all time. But Serling is not alone in shouldering the blame for the 1964 debacle “Carol for Another Christmas” – there is plenty of blame to go around for the creation of this mess.

Back in 1964, the Xerox Corporation agreed to underwrite a series of made-for-television films that were designed to promote the positive humanitarian activities of the United Nations. Xerox, which prided itself as a leader in corporate social responsibility, agreed to spend $4 million on this endeavor, and that was no small sum back in 1964. A nonprofit organization called the Telsun Foundation was formed to produce these films; Telsun was an abbreviated version of “Television Series for the United Nations.” One of the executives within Telsun was Edgar Rosenberg, who would later become more famous as the husband of acerbic comedian Joan Rivers.

The first production in this project was an updated version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” But instead of Victorian England’s Ebenezer Scrooge gaining a belated appreciation for the spirit of Christmas, this production would offer an isolationist U.S. industrialist who gains a belated appreciation of the spirit of U.N.-style diplomacy.

In keeping with the ghostly elements of the Dickens source, Telsun brought in “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling to write an original script. To direct the project, two-time Oscar winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz was hired. Mankiewicz was very happy for this assignment – he had just come off the disastrous 1963 Elizabeth Taylor epic “Cleopatra,” which damaged his reputation.

From the beginning, “Carol for Another Christmas” ran into problems. Telsun and Xerox envisioned the film being simultaneously broadcast on all three major U.S. networks, with Xerox agreeing to underwrite the presentation. However, CBS and NBC declined the offer. ABC agreed to run the film, provided there was name change for the main character. Serling envisioned his Scrooge replacement as Benjamin Grudge – or B. Grudge, in a punny nickname – but ABC thought that the character’s initials were a slam against right-wing presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Hence, the character became Daniel Grudge.

“Carol for Another Christmas” opens at Christmas Eve in the isolated mansion of the terminally brusque Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden). Grudge’s academician nephew (Ben Gazzara) shows up to argue about Grudge’s role in canceling an educational exchange between a local university and a university in Poland. Grudge angrily believes the Cold War atmosphere should not encourage this exchange. However, Grudge is also nursing the bitter reminder that his only son, Marley, was killed on Christmas Eve during World War II.

Grudge then receives the Dickensian three ghosts treatment. This happens somewhat abruptly – an establishing scene involving Grudge and the ghost of his son, played by Peter Fonda, was cut from the film. The loss of the scene throws the film out of kilter, because there is no clear reason regarding why Grudge is receiving this unlikely lesson. After all, many Americans hated the U.N. – but they were never spooked into changing their minds!

The ghost of Christmas past is a World War I soldier (cabaret singer Steve Lawrence, doing a ghastly Leo Gorcey imitation), and this spirit pontificates endlessly on the value of diplomacy. “When we stop talking, we start swinging,” he tells Grudge. “Then we bleed. Then we got problems. Like winding up dead.” The ghost then takes Grudge to Hiroshima after the Japanese surrender in World War II – Grudge visited a hospital as part of his duties as a Navy commander and observed young girls who were gruesomely disfigured in the atomic blast. Grudge is unmoved by their plight, despite the nagging by his WAVE chauffeur (Eva Marie Saint) and the hospital’s chief physician (James Shigeta).

Then comes the ghost of Christmas present (Pat Hingle), who is depicted as a reactionary glutton enjoying a huge dinner.  Next to his table is a barbed wire fence for a refugee camp where displaced persons live in squalor.  Grudge is appalled, especially when the ravenous ghost exaggerates Grudge’s isolationist politics.

The ghost of Christmas future (British actor Robert Shaw, wearing a white robe) escorts Grudge to the post-apocalyptic remains of his local town hall.  A raucous meeting is being chaired by a character called Imperial Me (played by Peter Sellers in his first role following a near-fatal heart attack earlier that year). This individual wears a ten-gallon hat, speaks in an LBJ-worthy twang, and bangs a huge gavel that bears the label “Giant Economy Size” while spouting the philosophy of every man for himself. “Each behind his own fence!” he exclaims. “Each behind his own barricade! Follow me, my friends and loved ones, to the perfect society! The Civilization of ‘I’!” Grudge’s African American butler shows up to make an impassioned speech about brotherhood, but a little boy holding a huge gun assassinates him.  (Sellers’ then-wife, Britt Ekland, has a non-speaking cameo as the child assassin’s approving mother.)

Grudge then wakes up on Christmas morning – hey, it was all a dream! However, he may not be entirely cured. When his nephew visits, Grudge is more pleasant than usual – but he doesn’t announce his approval of that U.S.-Poland educational exchange project. Grudge then goes into his kitchen to have breakfast while his butler and maid go about their chores.

As a holiday-themed film, “Carol for Another Christmas” is a weird offering, to put it mildly. As propaganda extolling the mission of the United Nations, the film is a dreary, unsubtle rant. Serling’s dialogue is tinny and shrill, and Mankiewicz directs his all-star cast to sell every word as if the fate of mankind depends on their performances. Only Sellers survives the shambles, thanks to the offbeat charm that he brings to his bizarre role.

“Carol for Another Christmas” was broadcast on ABC on December 28, 1964. The reviews for the film were mostly negative, and audiences were turned off by its heavy-handed style. C. O. (Doc) Erickson, the film’s production supervisor, would recall in a 2007 interview with the New York Times that the efforts was doomed to fail. “I thought it was overdone,” he said. “It was too long, too tiring and beat you over the head too much.”

Xerox and Telsun grimly went forward with three more U.N.-inspired films – “Who Has Seen the Wind?”, “Once Upon a Tractor” and “The Poppy is Also a Flower.” None of these films were successful, and Xerox took its philanthropic intentions elsewhere while Telsun disbanded.

“Carol for Another Christmas” was never rebroadcast, although 16mm prints were sold to the educational market. A soundtrack album featuring Henry Mancini’s score was later released as an LP. Clips were used in the 2000 documentary “The Unknown Peter Sellers,” but the full film was never released in any home entertainment format.

Bootleg copies of “Carol for Another Christmas” are very easy to locate, though even the most die-hard Rod Serling fan may have difficulty digesting this overcooked serving of holiday agitprop. Really, the wish for peace on earth and goodwill to men can be delivered without making a bad movie!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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  1. Ron says:

    The show is now on COX Cable “ON DEMAND” free movie TCM section . It may still be on for a few days. Rod Serling was a genius. This and Twilight Zone will last forever.

  2. John B. says:

    I’m an old guy. I watched the original broadcast ‘way back when, and every Christmas since then I’ve looked for a re-broadcast. Thanks to a friend who alerted me to this web site I know only now will I be able to see it again in just a day or two from now. As I write this, however, I have not yet seen it since it’s first broadcast in December, 1964.

    When asking why it was not rebroadcast after 1964 somewhat darker implications arise. Viewers have to appreciate the times. When they do, the film becomes all the more remarkable and Rod Serling looms ever larger as a courageous patriot as well as an artistic genius.

    At the beginning of 1964 the Univ. of Michigan held the first “teach-in” against escalating involvement of U.S. “military advisors” in South Vietnam. Hardly anyone in America knew where South Vietnam was. In February, 1964, the Univ. of Iowa held the second college “teach-in.” By mid-Spring, 1964 campuses across the country were seeing the beginnings in awareness and increasing political protests. At the U. of California at Berkeley, massive students sit-ins began.

    The supposed “Gulf of Tonkin” incident purportedly occurred in August, 1964, leading Congress to pass immediately the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” authorizing the military to send so-called “regular” troops to war. Only two senators dissented, and to the discredit of the voting public both eventually were defeated for reelection, as I recall.

    The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August, 1964 — which the government treated as a declaration of war — triggered reinvigoration of the military draft. The draft would gain great momentum by mid-1965, and mothers across American began to worry if their sons might soon be drafted.

    It was in this darkening atmosphere of 1964 — still being willfully ignored by the mass media at the time — that Rod Serling wrote “Carol for Another Christmas.” As he often did, Serling drew his theme from his deep knowledge about contemporary complexities and problems of the times, but couched that theme in a different place and time as a parable. Thus, the gathering war in South Vietnam became World War I and the “military advisers” then on the ground became a soldier of the American Expeditionary Force, played as I recall by the great jazz and pop singer Steve Lawrence who was then barely known outside of music circles.

    “Carol for Another Christmas” was deeply affecting for my mother and father. I remember them tearing up at times through the movie. They were highly educated and very well-informed about political events. They easily related the film’s story to what we knew was going on in our nation’s name in “South Vietnam.”

    By December, 1964, however, that knowledge was not yet widespread despite the early “teach-ins” and protests and the Gulf of Tonkin incident. I suspect that’s why Rod Serling was able to get the film past the TV network execs, who were never that smart or well-informed.

    A year later, however, by Christmas of 1965 the political landscape had changed dramatically. The draft was almost at full steam. American soliders’ deaths were increasing at an alarming pace. Almost all politicians in Congress — as always, peopled by pusillanimous mountebanks, ignoramuses, and charlatans — were enthusiastically thumping the drums of war and warning of the “domino effect,” which went pretty much like this: “As goes South Vietnam so goes all of Asia.” (How’d that turn out?)

    Commercial television networks and film producers are not known for their personal courage or civic virtue. By the end of 1965 they could not have missed the fact that “Carol for Another Christmas” was, in fact, a “carol” for THAT Christmas and, as it would turn out, many Christmasses to come. The film undoubtedly was suppressed for the usual reasons — political and advertiser pressure, or fear of same. Can’t have anti-war films being shown when we’re in the middle of sending our children into harm’s way of a new war!

    The gratifying thing to learn from the first rebroadcast of “Carol for Another Christmas” and this web site is that someone, somewhere saved the film from oblivion. That person had to have courage and should be regarded as a hero.

    I have wanted to see the film again for 39 years. I am looking forward to doing so in a day or two. So much has happened in the intervening years that someone who hasn’t seen might suppose it will be dated. Ah, but it’s a timeless parable. As long as we have wars … as long as sons and daughters needlessly are put at risk of injury or death by ignorant politicians… and now, as the sad history of this film demonstrates, as long as we depend too much on stateless corporations for our news, information, and arts… Carol for Another Christmas will always have a message that is relevant to all our lives.

  3. Matt J. says:

    Man, am I ever at odds with this review — I thoroughly enjoyed it! Great performances all around (especially Robert Shaw & Peter Sellers.) It was very theatrical, but if you enjoy solid story-telling, dialogue etc, and theater, you might enjoy as well.

  4. tbirdy says:

    It’s a kind of odd and disjointed production, although the explanation that Peter
    Fonda’s section set up the ghosts’ appearance would have made Hayden’s acceptance of them make more sense. I’d hardly call it a debacle, though. And I thought Steve Lawrence’s performance was pretty good.

  5. 702bdr says:

    I just had the pleasure of watching this movie last night on TCM (3/26/13). I liked it. Considering that this movie is nearly 40 years old, the points it makes are more relevant today than ever. Disappointing though is the fact Sterling Hayden did not receive top billing despite being the main character.

  6. James says:

    TCM broadcast the film today, March 26, for at least the second time. It certainly had an “all-star cast”.

  7. Warren Hogg says:

    I started to PVR the film when I realized my old friend Percy Rodrigues was in it. I would love to get a full copy but doubt I can. I knew him from the early eighties to his death and he never mentioned having done that film nor have his surviving families members ever seen it. The only project he suggested he was proud of was The Money Changers which is not available anywhere either. Although he was involved in groundbreaking productions he never made a big deal about it. Another big star cast film he did was The Atlanta Child Murders also not available anywhere.

  8. Doris Kappes says:

    I saw this last night on tv. Would love to get a copy!

  9. Robert says:

    where can I get the movie: Carol For Another Christmas (1964)?????

  10. kaye lazar says:

    if you really want to see this, request it at the paley center aka the museum of tv & radio & watch it in the private booth. that’s where i saw it. peter sellers is brilliant. it also has the greatest ever performance by singer steve lawrence. it is worth a look! thanks from kaye lazar

  11. AriochRIP says:

    I’m pretty sure that Carol For Another Christmas was originally one of Serling’s radio scripts – written much earlier than 1964. If I’m correct, would be interesting to see how much he rewrote to fit the pro-UN theme.

  12. Phil Hall says:

    No, there were a total of four Telsun-produced/Xerox-financed/UN-supportive films — this movie did not kill any additional projects. The Goldwater comparison to Grudge was in the eye of the ABC beholder (Goldwater was, of course, far more articulate and sophisticated than the Serling caricature). And, trust me, there is no need for body armor to survive the New York streets — though a Swiss bank account may be a good idea, considering how expensive a day trip to New York has become!

  13. Thanks for this. I remember, vaguely, seeing this as a child. I’m glad to know there are bootleg versions out there; I thought I’d have to go to the Museum of Television in New York, and spend a day trying to see their copy. That would mean having to travel to New York, and I’d need to buy a new suit of tactical body armor to survive those streets.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but this particular episode killed two other of these UN-themed projects. As I recall, it was specifically the implication of Goldwater’s politics espoused by Mr. Grudge, rather than the banal UN propaganda, that caused the controversy.

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