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.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The production has been out of circulation for many years.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It could happen.
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!
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