While the Goodest of Boys tells Santa what he wants for Christmas
(Hint: It's Tokyo - it's what he asks for every year), why don't you
peruse Justin von Bosau's next edition of his continuing quest for All
Things Christmas Carol, this time taking on a live TV version, with Vincent Price providing the narration! Like Boris Karloff before him, that was another OBVIOUS choice for the role of Scrooge that never happened. Pity, as I would have loved to have seen what both of those lads could have done with the role. Onwards!
The Christmas Carol (Dec. 25, 1949) -- Live TV, Taylor Holmes as “Scrooge”
Welcome, welcome! Here we go into the next decade and a half of “live Christmas Carols” where we actually have footage! These are considered a rough batch, though are also considered at least interesting from a historical perspective. I’ve never seen a single one, so this’ll be a treat--just, it might also be a treat not left properly in the fridge.
This particular oddity was actually covered a while back (almost a decade!) on the K.A.C.: Conjure Cinema: K.A.C. 2013 - T - 13 …, which mentions especially the intriguing cast list. Looking into the Wiki of the actors sent me down a rabbit hole of Jill St. John’s romantic pursuits as well as her husband Robert Wagner’s, and my God, I don’t have time to even summarize those.
Most famously, this version is narrated by the wonderfully devilish Vincent Price, whom I list as one of those actors that I absolutely love without always realizing why. I can never tell if I adore him because he’s in horror films I like; I can’t tell if he’s talented or if he plays the same darkly humorous man you can’t trust but want to. I don’t know. I just know he’s tall and has a beaming cheshire-cat smile that’s irresistible to dislike. Unless you’re that one lady from that anecdote about “I saw you in ‘House of Wax’ and you were such a villain I just couldn’t possibly like meeting you”! As she met him. To which he grinned and apparently replied, “Madam, that is the nicest compliment anyone’s ever given me!”
Like, I’ve seen him in easily 25 films and every time, I’m just like, “Oh yay, it’s Vincent Price!" :D
Besides Mr. Price, this is a version almost universally panned. Many of the reviews I’ve read actually include Price’s narration as well as being a douring factor--but I’ll reserve judgment because I like his voice a lot, dang it. Mostly, they talk about how the sets look cheap (because, by modern standards and apparently by even later 1950s standards, they were very cheap), and how Taylor Holmes isn’t a particularly convincing Scrooge.
I’ll review, as ever, and in the end we’ll see about that!
(I’m also just going to list here the entire Wiki page, which is currently a stub: “The Christmas Carol is a 1949 low-budget, black and white television special narrated by Vincent Price. Compressing Charles Dickens' classic 1843 story into a half-hour, it is stated to be "the oldest extant straight adaptation of the story" for television. It was originally produced as a syndicated production for airing on 22 stations across the United States on Christmas Day in 1949. It was sponsored by Magnavox and represented that company's first use of television advertising. In 1952, the show was acquired by Consolidated Television Sales for further syndication. The production is considered primitive by modern standards; it is also noted for misspelling Ebenezer Scrooge's name as "Ebeneezer" in the opening credits. The cast is led by Taylor Holmes as Scrooge and includes an early appearance by Jill St. John, then age 9 and billed as Jill Oppenheim, who plays one of the Cratchit daughters. / The director was Arthur Pierson.”)
“CHARLES DICKENS’ THE CHRISTMAS CAROL” is what we’re greeted with, and we find our first easy mark, because--I know it’s been said about this version before--but could you at least get the title correct? Maybe they’re trying to be The definitive version?
A choir sings “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” in pleasant 1949 tones, until-- they pause-- “Let Nothing You Dismay”-- okay that was a weird blip, but-- pause-- “Remember Christ-- ouurr savior--” PLEASE GOD WHAT TEMPO IS THIS?! “To SSAaaaAAAAvveE” AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
I didn’t even get to, “As Told By… Vincent Price”, which would’ve lifted my spirits to be literally shuddering. Please, for the Love of Christmas, get them a metronome and a conductor who can harmonize them.
Satan’s power has led their freaking Tempo astray.
Yep - “Featuring Taylor Holmes as Ebeneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”
I never knew there were so many verses to this song. I’m not thrilled.
“Carols by the Mitchell Choirboys". I’m with Servo on this one. MITCHELL!
PLEASE, ARE THESE ALL THE PRODUCERS SONS, GET THEM OUT OF MY EARS, WHY DID THEY WRITE FIFTY LYRICS TO THIS CAROL?
“Adapted and Directed by Arthur Pierson”. Oh, buddy, I’ve got words for ya.
Blessed God of Christmas, the choirboys get tape wrapped over their mouths, so they just hum along while we track in on wonderful Vincent Price, smiling happily over a book and probably thinking about how great it’ll be to rent that House on Haunted Hill and throw a party. A haunted house party. There’ll be food and drink… and ghosts… the real horror’ll be the choir though.
They can’t even hum with a harmony completely in-key. MITCHELL!
Oh, sweet Mr. Price, putting down your beaten copy of “A Christmas Carol,” will you tell me and my bright-eyed smile that Marley was dead? I’ve been looking forward to--
“Gilbert K. Chesterton once said…” whomst??? “In everybody there is a thing that loves children, fears death, and likes sunlight.”
A plant? A lazy dog??? A mellow cat!
“And this thing enjoys Charles Dickens!” I--
Blessedly, Mr. Price and his fabulous goatee (one I think would look great on, say, a wax head of his…) tell us of Charles Dickens’ opening to “A Christmas--” “THE Christmas Carol,” raising the ghost of an idea that he’s not looking anymore at the cue cards, but at the script in the book itself.
He’s got a dapper little bowtie, though.
Jacob Marley was dead, to begin with! Unlike Barbara Steele in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” they didn’t bury him prematurely and subsequently dig him up, giving me nightmares when the body was revealed. Scrooge never painted out Marley’s name…
But here’s Scrooge now! And I don’t get why people say Price’s narration is “patronizing,” he’s talking about-- (Shut your mouth!), he’s just talking about Scrooge…
Taylor Holmes looks a bit like one of those early American presidents you were supposed to study in school but didn’t care enough about the test to memorize the names of. Dashing sideburns, little eyeglasses, looks vaguely… 50? 60? Somewhere between a rough 40 and a kind 70.
For some reason the first thing he does is bring out a hankie and blow his nose, which doesn’t exactly inspire ire in me.
Bob is similarly side-burned, although we can tell he’s younger because his hair is darker. He’s looking well-fed, perhaps not to Gene Lockhart levels, but definitely like some British aristocrat ready to sneer at orphans alongside Mr. Dickens’ villains.
Fred comes marching in, saying hello, typically bland as Fred's are wont to be. Taylor Holmes growls and gruzzles through his lines, not looking much older than his peers in his fine motions. Saying “they should be boiled in their own pudding” won’t win you that 18__ election, sir!
Their office is exceptionally not-real, but that’s a TV set and my brain just is overlooking it. Fred’s tophat is quite dapper! His wife is apparently named Caroline.
“Why did you get married?” Because she’s sweet!
Scrooge, in intimidating Bob, does so by speaking in the exact same tone and walking away from him, more preoccupied with blowing his nose. He’s kind of just that old guy, angry on the bus that you’re not going faster--not a miser my seeing-eye dogs would pull me away from.
No charity-men, it looks like. Bob’s closing up shop while the bells toll. Scrooge wanders into frame. “You’ll, er--” you’re taller than me, God damn you! “You’ll want the whole day tomorrow, I suppose?” Bob looks utterly unbothered, giving us once more absolutely no intimidation to the old grouse. Bob’s not broken in any way! Quite a fit fellow, honestly. The 15-bob-a-week diet’ll make you hearty, I guess!
A weird set choice; Scrooge pulls down a lamp from the ceiling to blow out the candle in it??? It’s a lighting design I’ve never seen before. It’s like a Jack Kirby original - streeeeeeettch to reach that lamp!
Taylor Holmes and his youthful spine blurt out, “Christmas! HUMBUG!”, at the off-set lady singing a nice rendition of “The First Noel.” Fading out, we go back to sit on the couch, listening in with a smile as Vincent Price tells us more, straight from the book we can clearly see is called “A Christmas Carol.” We don’t even need to go, “Help meeee, help meeeee”, to get his attention!
|Al (David) Hedison begging for help at the end of The Fly (1958) |
I like his narration, dang it. I can see how some would find it patronizing-sounding. I like Vincent Price’s voice, harrumph harrumph.
The metronome standing in for the grandfather clock in Scrooge’s chambers seems to have gone insane--or perhaps just hasn’t been turned down yet from Basil Rathbone’s pace. Scrooge lights some candles in his very well-lit room, and all at once (no door-knocker, I just realized. 😕 Mr. Price? Mr. Price??? We missed-- oh, sorry, I’m interrupting your organ session. Vulnavia can show me out--) there’s a sharp BANG BANG BANG on the door. In a rather nice effect for being live TV, Marley’s ghost comes sharply through the closed door, see through! Less nice is Taylor Holmes bulging gasp at nothing being there for him in the studio.
But in another moment, there is! Marley’s hastily assumed corporeal position, wandering over with no bandage about his head and a length of lumbering large chain like you’d see on a ship’s anchor acting as a loose scarf. He looks a bit like if Mitchell Ryan (Burke Devlin?!) was stick-thin and dehydrated, I suppose.
Holmes’s Scrooge folds dramatically under the pressure of one single ghost, shaking while standing perfectly upright and still. Holmes, a theatre and silent film actor before the 40s, definitely shows that he can play to the back of an auditorium. Intriguingly, the rest of his filmography is relatively famous and acclaimed: 1947’s “Nightmare Alley,” Ingrid Bergman’s 1948 “Joan of Arc,” Marilyn Monroe’s 1953 “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, as Mr. Esmond, Sr., and his final film role, in 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty” for Disney, as King Stefan.
That sadly doesn’t change that he’s not got any forward momentum here, and is about as strong as a wet napkin.
Marley stalks forward against a-- curtain-- (don’t judge us, we didn’t finish the set! It’s fine, plenty of people have curtains!), and we get to see that Marley’s got some wildly, comically large locks around his extremely loose, slip-offable chains. (Look, I get that Marley’s not supposed to be into shibari, but he doesn’t need to be Houdini to get out of these! It’s not like Vincent Price as Baka put them on him, for goodness sake.)
Boys, can we get another angle? Do we have a director here?? Hello??? You’re both standing, facing each other, in a medium shot, evenly spaced, NOT CHEATING TO FACE EVEN SLIGHTLY TO THE CAMERAS - it’s void of energy!
Marley scares Scrooge with a sound effect and raising his arms like a red panda. Taylor yelps again dramatically and falls back into an armchair, stricken. It’s-- very silly, to be honest. Marley doing it in the same boring shot from before gives him a scariness rating--out of 10: -3.
Taylor’s overacting of fright almost works as a physical performance when he gasps in his breath for lines--but doubly fails when his voice quivers and quavers along with his body. It’s just heaped on. My God, even Egghead from the 1960’s Batman series seems more grounded.
Jacob’s having none of this wibbliness though, and firmly tells Scrooge of his proclamation reclamation, signed sealed and to be delivered by Three Spirits. He then peaces out through another good SFX shot through the door that’s very clearly edited in because you can definitely see the outline where the actor’s stepping through. But it is what it is; Marley’s going back to his bedroom, harrumphing through the old house.
As the last stroke of SFX thunder fades, Scrooge gets up, darting his tongue out to maybe lick his lips in fear--but since his mouth open he just looks a bit lizardy. Either way, Scrooge wanders over to the door, and Holmes’ theatre acting is… passable, here, conveying the internal horrors and tumultuous “is it real???” through big expressions. They have to be big because WE’RE STILL ON THIS FREAKING MEDIUM SHOT; GO TO A CLOSE-UP!!! At least The Last Man on Earth is pleasantly narrating to us.
Ohhh, the curtains were his bed… why… were they pulled then? You don’t really have a bed back there, do you? Maybe you do. I’m at a loss on this one. Nope, there is a bed!
Much as I love Vincent Price, I’ll fully admit he can definitely ham up with the best of them. In many cases, it adds to the unnerving qualities of the film. Take “House of Usher”, for example. Here, perhaps because of the last scene we were treated to, Price speaking theatrically to give the narration more pizazz sort of does fall flat a bit. (He’s still great. This is my copium.)
Scrooge wakes up as the bell tolls one, conveniently having fallen asleep fully dressed, and still wearing his spectacles, which as all of us with glasses know, is extremely comfortable if your head lulls over to one side. Weird wooOOOOOO music comes on, courtesy of that staple of the genre, Mrs. Theremin, and as Scrooge blearily looks around, his bed curtains are pulled back by--
A person in a very lovely white robe that is mildly sheer where the arms drape. It’s a gorgeous robe. Similarly handsome is the young man inside the garment, so much so that you rather expect we’ve jumped to 1975 to the adult film version of “A Christmas Carol!”
Didn’t know there was an adult version of this story? With luck (not good luck, but luck nonetheless), I’ll probably be covering that next year.
Either way, Handsome Past doesn’t mind that Scrooge apparently decorates his large bedroom set with a single standing iron candelabrum that would fit in the backdrop of a lush Corman “Poe” film. Why it’s here--who knows. Adds some flair.
“WhoooooOOoo and-- what aaaaree you?”, Scrooge asks, dumbfounded. He is handsome. “I am the Ghost of Christmas Past,” this stranger says, completely calm. I can’t tell if he’s an excellent actor or if he’s doing literally nothing. Either way works.
I know this is live, and early TV, but the editing switching back and forth from each camera isn’t that great. I’ll give it somewhat of a pass because, I mean-- this is 1949. It’s just kind of not really cut on the action, just trying to anticipate good lines and reactions, I suppose. Very long medium shots.
Christmas Past is very calm, leading Scrooge out of bed and into a blackout while we change the set! Get them to the next set!!! Vincent Price reads more to us from that book that’s got the wrong title.
The next set proves to be a black backdrop of nada, but it’s at least got a huge fan blowing ripples in the Spirit’s robe, which looks nice. They point out a boy, reading alone in school (same, little guy!), and it’s Scrooge as a young’un! Taylor Scrooge is elated, recalling that he was lonely (still looking very happy to see himself), and the Spirit remarks that his playmates didn’t spend time with him “because you had shunned them!”, which might be a first? I don’t remember him being popular or unpopular, just left there by his Pops.
Young Ebeneeeeeezer seems bored rather than melancholy, though perhaps that’s unfair of me. Perhaps he’s just going through his pains internally. Perhaps when he’s an older Scrooge, those emotions will be vividly expressed in his face.
“Shall I show you another Christmas?”, Handsome Past asks, and then lists the entire Belle scene and subplot, making my smile droop lower and lower realizing we’ll be stuck on this medium shot of them against nothing, listening to the scene be done but not seeing it because that requires a cast, you know. Maybe even a set, but even then, not always! Scrooge seems horrified by the thought of paying more actors, and rushes off yelling, “Haunt me no longer!”, to stumble past the dark curtain backdrops back to the main set.
At least Vincent Price is always able to be jumped back to when we have to transition! Just as pleasant as when he sat down to chat with Kermit.
Once more with his glasses on, Scrooge wakes in bed--before the bell this time!--and a voice that’s borderline livid yells out, “SCROOGE!”
Is it the Ghost of Dickens Past?!
Evidently it’s the Ghost of Clark Kent, because we have a-- what I can only describe as DC’s “Next BIG Hero”, from some one-off only collectors would buy from 19__. Standing in a distressingly open Santa robe, with a long shirt clenched to him by a tight wide belt, some kind of strap X-ing over his chest with a Martian Manhunter-style jewel in the middle, a crown of holly or cracked duck eggs, great trimmed sideburns and a clean-shaven face (Oscar Asche must’ve eaten this beard, too!), standing hands on his hips--
Y’know, it’s-- it’s a live-- TV-- I have to cut them slack-- I mutter through my eye-twitches.
It’s like even the Ghost is annoyed, standing like Fleischer’s Superman and saying rapidly and angrily, “I am the Ghost of Christmas Present: look upon me.”
God, I yearn for the days of Lionel Braham.
Supes Present even looks as frustrated as me, listening to Scrooge’s BS about “I learned a lesson last night”, because all we got from that scene was him running off. We’re over half-way; I get that it’s easier to film all of Stave I and rush the rest, but that’s not the STORY!
Dang, Superman’s definitely the 40’s iteration, from way back when he would wrap villains’ tommy-guns around their necks and toss them out windows!
That really happened. I’m not hallucinating.
I feel like I am, because John C. Reilly as Superman as The Ghost of Christmas Present has taken us back to the utterly black non-set, guiding Benjamin Franklin Scrooge to once more gasp, show us 9/10th of his eyes, and witness:
Oh My God! My eyes will become circles too: there’s a SET!
Is it the same set as the wooden office interior, from a different angle? Probably-- keep quiet; say, who asked that?! Get out of my studio, I’m running a legitimate production here! Back in the World Between Worlds, Clark Kent Present tells us in gentler tones we’re seeing the Cratchits (dressing up the set) and here comes Bob now! Robust, happy, hearty, and sporting Tiny-- what the hell is on your head, young fellow???
Is that a dead goose? Is he bringing it back as a hat? Did you just come from a Thanksgiving football game; what the--
The child seems sedate. It might be a mannequin, displaying the brand new headwear all the young lads are trying on!
Oh it’s a-- scarf? It’s holding something over his ears for warmth?? His siblings take it off him. Why-- why? I have so many questions. One of them is why Jacob Marley didn’t get a sling to hold his mouth shut, but Tim does. Another is why, when asked about how Tim behaved, does Bob break into conversation with his wife right there in front of everyone, sounding like he’s recounting a dull day at the office.
“What a beautiful Christmas table!” “It’d be more beautiful if we had a turkey, but we’ll manage,” Mrs. Cratchit cheerfully says. (You didn’t order the turkey?! No, not the sandwiches for the crew’s lunch break, for the prop! No, it doesn’t have to be a real turkey--they’re too expensive! It’s fine! It’s fine! We’ll do it live!)
John C. Reilly digs it to Scrooge, who gasps his lines through moony Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing glasses. There, Van Helsing’s hypnotic interest with Dracula is magnetic--here, I’m praying Scrooge sounds more empathetic, less interested, and closes his mouth…
Bob offers up Scrooge to the collage of his grinning family, and his wife takes usual offense. They are by no means the most captivating version of this couple and argument, but I actually rather like their interactions with one another. They feel very natural together. And Bob even gets to kiss his wife’s cheek on live TV--you sly dog!
Tiny Tim pipes up, his jaw unbandaged, to spout, “God Bless Us, Every One,” and look around with a grin, knowing he’s done his job well. The camera seems to linger on the question I immediately have: why doesn’t he get a cup? His entire family’s drinking but we just have a shot of his happy eyes darting back and forth between them-- did we not order enough cups for the actors?! Fire that PA! Screw it, we’ll do it live!!!
Christmas Present calmly tells Scrooge in another dully-staged medium shot that the kid’s not doing great in the ol’ health department, and how his own life on the globe is very brief (“See, Tim?! You’re not special, you got longer than me!”), before blipping out at the camera just cuts to black with the stock THUNDER! sound effect. Scrooge looks around with the same melodramatic wide-eyed gasping face.
Because we can’t get ANY SET OR ANY INTERESTING STAGING, Christmas Yet To Come stalks forward to the same spot as Christmas Present and Scrooge is at the same level oh my GOD, GIVE ME SOME COMPOSITION HERE. The Ghost looks honestly like a Lego Ninjago character; both hands are uncovered as well as a band for his eyes. The clothes are dark so it almost blends in to the non-background, and don’t billow much or fall like a cloak cloak, just a very tightly-wound cloak.
When I was in college, doing horror TV episodes, and I had to figure out a “faceless monster,” the solution for low-lighting was just to wrap my head in a black tee shirt and tuck it into my heavy black long-sleeve shirt. It came out surprisingly well, though the vision was slightly gauzy, so I guess I can give them a pass for not obscuring our Yet To Come’s face entirely…
Christmas Yet To Come, in answering Scrooge’s questions, does just bow its head like a normal, same-height-as-Scrooge dude. “I fear you more than any other spectre I have seen--” it certainly seems that way when you’re standing perfectly upright and still two feet away from it!
The Ninja of Yet To Come moves out of a medium shot to a long shot then walks forward to make it a medium shot again, pointing to a dissolve into the Cratchits sad home. Apparently sorrow makes you want to sew a lot. Mrs. Cratchit, knowing its her cue, goes over and picks up Tim’s crutch sadly, and only now apparently does Bob, who was sitting with her overseeing the sewing (Work! Work faster!!) doing nothing, chooses now to get up (to another flat medium shot, MMMM my favorite!) and tell her that he saw Fred and that he offers condolences? Why’d you wait so long, Bobbert?
“He’s rather unlike his old uncle Scrooge, isn’t he?”, Mrs. Cratchit asks, glancing into the Void Dimension where a rogue musical sting stabs Scrooge in the heart, causing him to OHHHhh D: back. Though, with how he sways and clasps his hands tight, maybe he’s not minding the pain.
Ninja III: The Domination of Yet To Come either has uncannily similar staging or they use the same freaking shot of them walking forward and pointing to show the next scene.
There’s no backdrop here either! Maybe they took to heart that I love that minimalist version of “Hamlet,” without realizing that I love the MST3K lampooned version. Oh! No, there is a backdrop: a brick wall. How exciting. The XCHANC men laugh heartily at the dead man’s misfortunes and hatred, and one of them spends the scene showing us how immaculately he got his cat’s fur of the back of his jacket.
Can he move, perhaps? He’s the largest in-frame. He’s not facing us. We can’t see the ones ACTUALLY TALKING. Could he-- no? No, he won’t? All right. The camera has to track in on the rotund guy on the left LAUGHING, which shows us too a frame-- is it a window frame? What is that? A lamppost?
“Tell me what man they are speaking of!”, Scrooge implores the Spirit, who’s doing that neurodivergent thing with his arms. If you do it, you know what I mean. We all become T-Rex's. Anyway, Master Ninja starring Lee Van Cleef andTimothy Van Patten (and most importantly, Sho Kosugi!) of Yet To Come leads Scrooge once more forward into the nothingness. I’m realizing that they’re repeating this shot because they only have the medium and the long shot and every time they’re walking forward, they then go to reset themselves because the set is small. It makes sense, but like...
Anyway, Ninja Assassin of Yet To Come points down dramatically and we smash-cut to a very-obviously-not-there grave of EBENEZER SCROOGE. I can tell it’s not there because there’s grass, and the Existential Depression Void they’re wandering through doesn’t have grass! Or features! It’s literally The Nothing from Supernatural, for God’s Sake!
Maybe they’ll run into Cas there.
Scrooge, being scared to his mortal core, doesn’t show it other than clasping his hands together. He could be wearing a back brace, to be fair! But we fade in to him sitting in bed, praying to sponge away the writing on this stone in a tone as pleasant as ordering your favorite steak tip salad from down the street. Waking up, he’s elated, and the overacting almost works if his staging allowed him to move, please let this man MOVE IN HIS PERFORMANCE, it’s so static and unnatural!
“For a man who had been out of practice for years,” the narrator of Michael Jackson’s Thriller tells us, “Scrooge gave a most illustrious laugh!”
It certainly waddles between sounding joyous and being extremely forced. Not as much as the laughter from “Onmyoji,” which makes me sadly sigh every time I rewatch it. I love that film, but wow the laughter’s forced.
“The father of a long line of brilliant laughs,” the father of Edward Scissorhands informs us. Scrooge is indeed still laughing after his wardrobe change, and props to Taylor Holmes for doing some impressive twirling of his cane over his hand! Now that he’s allowed to move, his elation works very nicely, and he’s quite the lively fellow. Not old, but lively!
For some reason, after Vincent Van Ghoul from “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” tells us Scrooge went out to the street to wish everyone well, we instead cut to-- Fred-- going to-- Bob Cratchits-- and being welcomed in? Oh; it’s a precursor to Scrooge coming in with an armload of presents (“For me? For me?” the children mewl), and a bird for the missus to cook; Bob gets his salary raised, “and Tiny Tim, haha… I saw a friend of mine at church and he’s a famous surgeon and you’ll see him tomorrow and he’ll be your friend too, haha… You’re going under the knife, boy!!!!”
The camera pans in as Scrooge is hugged by Tim and Scrooge’s smile eclipses Tim’s actual parents behind him. Look at me. I’m the father now.
“Scrooge did it all, and infinitely more. And to Tiny Tim--who did not die--he was a second father.” I like how Mr. Price inflects on the did not die line! It’s emphasized without being DID NOT!!!! “And so, as Tiny Tim observed… if you feel The Tingler buzzing in your chair, don’t be embarrassed to SCREAM!”
The credits play as our… choir… sings “The First Noel” with an actual tempo this time.
Well, first and foremost, it’s worth pointing out that this is an early, live TV version. For that reason, there’s not much that can be done regarding effects, extravagant sets, rounding up lots of extras--it’s not going to be the huge elaborate production of MGM! What there is needs to be judged on its merits with the limitations in place. To that end, that they did accomplish “A Christmas Carol” is impressive, and there are some good moments that stand out despite the limitations! Marley’s entrance is striking, and the way of cutting back and forth from Spirits to Vincent to scenes kept the story going without needing to break for actors to change positions, costumes, sets, etc.
I did like the Cratchit parents, and I liked Fred! Christmas Past, as well, was calm and neat. Not quite what I’d imagine, but certainly not jarringly different. And I do like Vincent Price, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet; his narration is fine, if not perfect overall!
The rest of this though.
First and foremost, Taylor Holmes seems a very physical actor, which is not a bad thing, but which doesn’t work with what they are going for here. Scrooge’s internal journey needing to be expressed in subtle facial changes or body changes becomes, due to staging issues, expressed almost entirely through wild expressions. When he’s allowed to be mobile, going around sets in Stave I and Stave V, he works very nicely as a younger, grimmer Scrooge! When he’s constricted to the medium shot, standing beside a statuesque ghost, he has to wildly frog-bulge his eyes. I don’t know if it’s a directorial choice or a holdover from Mr. Holmes’ stage career: it doesn’t work, at least for me, and loses all seriousness and more importantly relatability to the character. He becomes a caricature.
Christmas Yet To Come being lacklustre is whatever, because, again, TV limitations. Christmas Present though, again arguably the most important spirit, is astoundingly not right, being much more angry-sounding than other versions and without the quintessential spark of Christmas cheer. Costume aside, the characterization just isn’t right. He’s not the welcoming sort--even Oscar Asche’s regal king version had an element of approachability to him!
I won’t be too upset at what scenes are cut, because I imagine that’s related to time and budget. I’m used to the Spirits getting shafted because Stage I is easier to film, and it is; we don’t get a great deal of the book from then on. That we only get Young Scrooge at school--no Fezziwig, no Belle besides her mentioned--is what it is. Fezziwig I get; Belle I’m surprised by because it’d be way easier to get two young adult actors than one child actor, but they went with the kid at school instead. Christmas Present being just the Cratchits makes sense because that’s THE SCENE, and Fred’s party becomes out of the realm of possibility with extras, as does the montage. The two evil twins of Mankind aren’t going to be on TV just yet; I get it. And honestly, Grouchy Present isn’t a Spirit you really want to be near--which tells you everything about the character.
Getting a little more of Stave IV’s Yet To Come is okay, but by that point you’re hoping for anything. I was just sort of glazing over, which isn’t a great indicator for the film.
Honestly, more than anything else, the main problem is that there’s almost no attempt to have interesting staging here. Stave I has probably the best, because the shots have a clear background and foreground with Bob sitting behind Scrooge and Fred’s conversation. After that--Marley and Scrooge, even in the frame against a backdrop of curtains. The Void the Spirits lead him through. Solo shots of kid Scrooge and Tiny Tim; the Cratchits at home where the adults stand next to one another; the men against a brick wall standing evenly. There’s no spacing that makes it interesting to watch, and because they didn’t bother with sets (again, probably budgetary, which is what it is), there’s no way to create depth or variety in the shots.
If they can’t have depth, then they need motion to keep it engaging, and everyone is static. I wouldn’t be this hard on the subject, except that this story has been done as an engaging play since the book came out over 100 years ago by this point.
Even if the performances were sublime, this just is boring to watch.
Add on to that the fact that we’re trying to read directly from the book and remain loyal to the source material, while misspelling the main character’s name and the TITLE and like--
It’s just a mess, man. At least it has Vincent Price.
This can be watched here if you feel so inclined! I’m not sure I can in good faith recommend it, beyond as a neat “history of TV and of adaptations” episode.
A Christmas Carol (1950) -- Live TV, Bransby Williams as “Scrooge”
One more wonderful live version, this time starring Bransby Williams, whose voice kicked off hearing Scrooge speak! I was looking forward to this--it’s always a treasure when actors are able to do the role for literally decades, and we get a finely-honed performance from them years later. This one was from 1950, a British live production, and--
It is in fact, another sadly lost version.
That gives Mr. Williams the upsetting honor of being the only Scrooge now with two lost versions, considering his own, important, first-sound-film version was also lost two and a half decades earlier.
At least the recordings of his voice survived! Not all forgotten, Bransby.
Once Christmas is over and the presents have been opened, it's only natural to turn our eyes to the New Year to see what's coming - surely it MUST be better than what we've already gone through, right? Well, who better to ask than THIS fellow? He's had a 70% success chance so far! Well, Nostradamus, ol' pal, what do you got for us? What's that, you say? Mars disaster? Cannibals walking the Earth? Ummmm, OK ... so pretty much picking up where we left off this year, eh? Well, we're here now - you might as well see the rest of it!
We close today with a Christmas miracle! As I've mentioned before, while working on these articles, I listen to the Christmas Records YouTube channel and just let them autoplay. As of today's writing, the channel has 343 different LPs up, and I've run through the whole lot at least once (no, not all this year!) - I finished the new ones and went all the way back to the beginning and stopped dead in my tracks, hearing a tale I have not heard since I was a little boy in grade school way back in the 1960s! I don't know how many, if any, of you readers are familiar with this story, but it was one of my favorites as a child, and I have chills typing this, as I had forgotten it with so many years going by. It's the LAST thing you would expect to find in our usual K.A.C. articles, but I'm delighted to share (or reacquaint) you with the story of The Juggler Of Our Lady. Give it a listen below!
Back tomorrow with our next-to-last entry for the year!