Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden) is a rich man spending Christmas Eve alone in his big house, listening to old Andrews Sisters records, lost in memories of his son Marley, a soldier who was killed in a Christmas battle during WWII. He's a strict isolationist who blames American idealism for getting us into foreign wars and getting his son killed; he's against the United Nations, and has recently hurt the career of a professor at a local university who had become involved in an exchange program with a university in Poland. His nephew Fred (Ben Gazarra) arrives to try to get him to change his mind about the program. They argue about international affairs; Fred says we need the U.N.'s diplomacy because as long as countries are talking, they're not fighting, but Grudge says that butting in and trying to help what he snarlingly calls "the needy and oppressed" of other countries just gets us into wars, and is instead in favor of the stance of "mutually assured destruction," in which all sides have enough weapons to destroy each other and so theoretically won't use them. After Fred leaves, Grudge has a vision of his dead son seated at the dinner table and suddenly finds himself with the Ghost of Christmas Past, a WWI soldier (Steve Lawrence) on a transport ship full of dead soldiers. Grudge is taken back to his own past as an officer in post-war Hiroshima where he and a nurse (Eva Marie Saint) visit a doctor who is caring for several young women whose eyes and faces were burned away when they looked up at the blast. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Pat Hingle) takes him to a camp full of starving displaced persons. In a vision of the future, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Robert Shaw) shows him a post-nuclear civilization which has adopted Grudge's belief against getting involved with others; a madman called the Imperial Me (Peter Sellers) espouses his philosophy of killing off other bands of survivors, followed by killing each other off until only one Me will be left. Of course, if you know your Dickens, you can guess how Grudge's philosophy changes the next morning.

This adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" is quite unusual in many respects. It was produced as a TV-movie and aired only once, sponsored by Xerox and blatantly presented as propaganda for the United Nations. Written by Twilight Zone's Rod Serling in his heavily didactic mode, it was the only television work directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (ALL ABOUT EVE, CLEOPATRA). It's stagy but imaginatively shot and well-acted, the biggest surprise being singer Steve Lawrence (pictured above left with Hayden) who does a very nice job with Serling's preachy dialogue. Sellers (pictured) is a bit over-the-top (as is the entire future segment) but that's partly because he's not a character but a stand-in for an idea—isolationism taken to a personal extreme. The Christmas aspect of the plot is relatively minor, and Grudge's transformation at the end is not played with giddy joy—in fact, his change is much more subtle than Ebenezer Scrooge's, and not one that Grudge seems happy about. Perhaps the most you could say is that he becomes more tolerant of both his nephew Fred and the United Nations. I remember seeing ads for this show when I was a child and because of Serling's involvement, wanted to see it but didn't. I’ve been waiting over forty years, and thanks to Turner Classic Movies airing over this holiday season, I can cross this off my need-to-see list. If not exactly a classic, it is interesting and intermittently compelling. [TCM]

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