Monday, December 24, 2001


Neither of these are "classic movies," I suppose, but this is what I watched on the eve of Christmas Eve and they're quite appropriate for the season. The first is a 1954 television production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL with Fredric March as Scrooge and Basil Rathbone as Marley's ghost. It begins well, but becomes awful. For starters, March is lukewarm as Scrooge, especially in the last stretch. His transformation scene, which is usually a good chunk of material for an actor to chew on, is very weak, at least partly due to the writing--it was shortened quite a bit from the original story and from alternate movie versions. But the worst part was the music. It wasn't exactly a musical, but there were several songs sung, sometimes by carolers, and they were all shrill and repetitious. Given that Bernard Herrmann wrote the music and Maxwell Anderson wrote the lyrics and adaptation, I was surprised at how shabby the material was. I missed hearing more traditional carols in the background, as most filmed versions of the Scrooge story have. During the last song, sung by Tiny Tim at Christmas dinner, the camera stays on March's face and he has the unpleasant chore of staring straight ahead, changing emotions every 20 seconds or so, from sad to thoughtful to cheery, and back to sad, I think! It's a downright laughable way to end the show. Rathbone was better in his fairly small role as Marley, but not enough to salvage the show for me.

I had a better TV-watching experience with THE SONS OF MISTLETOE, a new made-for-TV holday film. The plot is corny and predictable--George Newbern (who I remember as the guy who likes his sister a little too much on "Friends") plays a likeable mild-mannered guy who runs an orphanage in the small town of Mistletoe. Roma Downey plays the daughter of a recently deceased department store owner; she has returned to town to sell off the family properties, which includes the orphanage. Can Newbern get Downey to resume her father's generous patronage of the orphanage? The orphan kids are cute, and of course, there's one troublemaker (well played by Scott Terra) who winds up redeemed on Christmas day. Downey's character is not exactly a Scrooge, which is a plus, but she plays the part so woodenly, it's difficult to know what the character's thoughts and motivations are at any given moment. Newbern is much better and is the movie's saving grace. Doris Roberts is her usual self as the town's sheriff (she looks like an older version of Frances McDormand in FARGO, but has none of the quirky charm of that character). For a TV-movie at this time of year when all TV movies are sappy and predictable, this one was better than average.

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