Thursday, January 17, 2013

Carol for Another Christmas

CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS – made for TV        B                     
USA  (84 mi)  1964

There’s only one side I’m on, first, last, and always—our side. Don’t you ever forget that. And spread it around. I want all the members of your various domestic and international orders of the bleeding hearts to know precisely where Daniel Grudge stands. Because anytime you, and/or one of your fuzzy-fellowed do-gooders, tries to get me, or friends of mine, or my city, state, or my country, involved in any of your so-called causes, then I intend to be there every time with a body block that’ll throw all of you on your…involved butts…And tonight, especially tonight, I’m in no mood for the brotherhood of man.  —Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden)

Wouldn’t you think we could come up with something that could keep a kid from getting killed at the age of 18?
—Ghost of Christmas Past (Steve Lawrence)

Rod Serling’s grim television adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which played one time only on December 28, 1964, just about a year after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.  The movie stars Sterling Hayden as Daniel Grudge, a successful industrial tycoon, but a staunch conservative who served in the military during World War II, but who’s son was killed in action on Christmas Eve in 1944, an event that has scarred him for life and left him embittered about ever getting involved in other people’s affairs.  Grudge believes every man, woman, and child should rise or fall on their own without any help from anybody else, and frowns upon the benevolent actions of his nephew Fred, Ben Gazzara, calling him a “do-gooder” whose actions only stir up trouble.  When Fred comes to visit him on Christmas Eve to protest Grudge putting an end to a professor exchange program at the university where he works, after a lot of chest pumping promoting isolationism and non-involvement, Grudge shows him the door, lecturing him about the dangers of causes, where problems get blown all out of proportion and suddenly become a catastrophe to the entire world, where he’s become sick of each and every one.  Hayden is excellent in the role as a gruff, but plainly outspoken man who’s apparently seen it all and has had enough of people whining for hand-outs, telling them all to basically “shut the fuck up.”

Joseph L. Mankiewicz was an early triple threat in Hollywood, a successful writer, director, and producer, perhaps best known for the scathing depiction of behind-the-scenes backstabbing and ruthless ambition in show business from ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), where this is his only venture into television, directing with a certain satirical cynicism, where the film is divided into thirds, Christmas Past, Present, and Future, featuring an excellent cast and an exquisite Black and White production design.  There’s no effort to add any element of ghostly apparitions, instead each section is connected by Grudge’s highly personalized interior thoughts.  Thought of more as Christmas Eve reflections, each section weighs heavily on Grudge’s stubborn conscious, where he’s forced to defend himself against imaginary characters that already know his whole life history, including the rationale behind all his thoughts, often making a mockery of his deluded, ivory tower beliefs, as if barricading himself behind a giant fortress will somehow protect him from life’s tragedies.  Steve Lawrence plays Christmas Past as something of a sarcastic hipster, given the misty set design of the barely seen deck of a World War I battleship carrying caskets of the dead from all nations, a temporary purgatory set in the murky fog of one of Eugene O’Neil’s sea plays, given an unworldly effect where Grudge is forced to confront how prevalent death is on the international stage, as the body count continues to grow for any number of all-but-forgotten causes, made worse by an indifferent world that tends to look the other way, where parents continue to senselessly lose children, exactly as he did.  In another scene he walks into a moment from his own past, seeing the devastating aftereffects of Hiroshima, where blind and mutilated children have survived, but what kind of life can they expect? 

Pat Hinkle plays Christmas present, seen gorging alone on a banquet of food, sitting at the head of a long table filled with the delicacies of Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but with the snap of his fingers, a curtain opens with people starving behind barbed wire, quoting what were at the time present day statistics where 10 million people around the world were displaced persons, where starvation was an accepted part of the human condition.  When Grudge protests, suggesting this display of gluttony right in front of the starving masses was insulting, as humans tend to care, so Hinkle snaps his fingers and they all disappear from sight, asking him if he’s hungry now?  This vivid use of darkness with brief glimpses of light is extremely effective, as most of it takes place in the moral abyss of a black void.  When Grudge walks into the future, he recognizes his own home town reduced to rubble, where among the rabble are the last surviving people on earth.  Lost in a nightmarish Hell on earth, this final section is so darkly disturbing that this may be the reason it was never shown again, as so soon after the Kennedy assassination it’s filled with unpleasant apocalyptic overtones.  Robert Shaw as Christmas Future is overshadowed by the looming presence of communal madness, as personified by Peter Sellers, the appointed leader, a kind of judge and jury, self-styled jester who comes across a bit like a reality TV game show host who thoroughly manipulates what’s left of the masses into a crazed, lynch-mob hysteria, where any and all outsiders are deemed a potentially murderous threat, set in a hallucination-tinged weirdness of post nuclear insanity, a collective state of mind where reason no longer prevails.  This vision of life as we know it evaporating into thin air, where all we’re left with is the ruins of a once thriving world, sends a chilling message of personal responsibility, where it takes more than the colonial empire-building mindset or individual protected self-interests when living globally, as actions have consequences.  While the starkly satiric messages are shrouded in cynicism and gloom, Rod Serling succeeds in creating a Twilight Zone movie, very much resembling the darkly acid tone of what would later become the impending end of the world, Y2K Millennium disaster movies that were all the rage during the end of the 20th century.

Both Sterling Hayden as General Jack Ripper and Peter Sellers in no less than 3 roles, Captain Lionel Mandrake, American President Merkin Miffley, and the infamous Dr. Strangelove, worked together again in their very next film project, Stanley Kubrick’s even more audaciously satiric DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964). 

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