MERRY CHRISTMAS! As always it’s hard to believe a whole year has gone by since the conclusion of Balladeer’s Blog’s previous Christmas Carol-A-Thon. This Fourth annual affair comes to a close with a look at the American Conservatory Theatre’s 1981 version, titled simply A Christmas Carol.
This is a filmed presentation of the stage play by San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre and originally aired December 21st, 1981 on the Arts Channel. The adaptation was by Dennis Powers and Laird Williamson and starred William Patterson as Ebenezer Scrooge. The only real mistake this Carol makes is that it’s one of those versions that reads WAY too much into Scrooge’s relationship with his father, even making up beatings that are never mentioned in the Dickens original. Other than that this production features some very nice touches.
During the Christmas Past segment Young Scrooge (Thomas Harrison) and Belle (Janice Hutchens) are ice-skating under starlit skies while having their breakup scene, which livens up this often tedious bit of business. When the Ghost of Christmas Present (Lawrence Hecht) shows Scrooge the Continue reading
Rufus Rose working on one of his handmade puppets.
Balladeer’s Blog’s Fourth Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon continues! This version of the Dickens classic featured beautifully crafted marionettes as all of the characters. It’s a shame this baby was in black & white since the costumes for the marionettes could have really dazzled in color I’ll bet. It also makes you wonder why more puppet versions of the Yuletide tale weren’t mounted during the Golden Age of Television.
ABC broadcast this holiday treat on December 24th, 1948 when televisions were still comparatively rare. Manipulation of marionettes is not easy but the legendary Rufus Rose Marionettes were the perfect choice for the task in that era. Rufus, best known as Howdy Doody’s off-camera operator directed this program along with his wife Margo.
Dickens’ Christmas Carol was an Continue reading
“Gee, your curtains smell terrific!”
Christmas Carol-A-Thon 2013 continues here at Balladeer’s Blog! Time once again for an under-the-radar version of A Christmas Carol. This time it’s the 1977 BBC TV version starring Michael Hordern as Scrooge. Hordern was better known to some people as the voice of Paddington Bear way back when. There’s a lot of charm to this 58 minute version even though it’s got 70′s sitcom-style lighting and special effects that even the makers of the original Dr Who show could have looked down their noses at.
The dialogue is drawn directly from Dickens so it flows nicely and the segment with Continue reading
Balladeer’s Blog’s Christmas Carol-A-Thon for 2013 continues! This time around I’m examining a 1965 production from California PBS station KCET. The title may not sound action-packed and appealing but Dr Frank Baxter was to the 1950′s and 1960′s what Carl Sagan and The Reduced Shakespeare Company were to later decades.
Just as The Reduced Shakespeare Company made the works of the Bard of Avon more accessible and therefore more popular among non-Shakespeare fans Dr Baxter’s Shakespeare on TV series inspired younger generations to take an interest in the works of the great Elizabethan playwright. And like Carl Sagan’s series Cosmos made him a virtual rockstar of the scientific field Dr Baxter’s entertaining and educational Bell Laboratory Science Series of film shorts made him enormously popular among teachers and students in every school that used those shorts as classroom aids. The Bell Laboratory Science Series educational shorts were so effective and beloved they were still being used in the 70′s and 80′s.
This black & white hour-long holiday special features Baxter at a Continue reading
Welcome back to Balladeer’s Blog’s Fourth Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon, during which I examine various obscure and/or forgotten versions of the Dickens classic.
THE TRAIL TO CHRISTMAS (1957) – This is a fun western-style adaptation of the venerable Dickens story. The Trail to Christmas originally aired as a Yuletide episode of G.E. Theater on December 15th, 1957. That means this black & white wonder has an introduction by G.E. Theater‘s usual host Ronald Reagan and as an added bonus this Cowpoke Carol was directed by Jimmy Stewart himself!
Stewart also starred in the half-hour story as Bart, a cowboy who encounters a little boy named Johnny Carterville in the desert around Christmas. The boy has run away from home, bearing a grudge against his parents and feeling disillusioned about the holiday season of love and giving. To set Johnny straight Bart tells him the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, adapting it to the American West to give the youngster familiar points of reference. Stewart’s radio show The Six Shooter once did this same basic story under the title Brit Ponset’s Christmas Carol.
Ebenezer Scrooge (John McIntire) owns a ranch in this version of the story with Bob Cratchit (Sam Edwards) as his long-suffering ranch-hand. Will Wright portrays Scrooge’s late partner “Jake” Marley, Dennis Holmes plays Tiny Tim and Continue reading
TF1 in France
Christmas-Carol- A-Thon 2013 continues with one of the most visually enticing versions ever made. Unfortunately, it’s also virtually impossible to obtain for people who lack the nearly psychotic drive necessary to track these things down.
TF1 Television in France first aired this version of A Christmas Carol, which could be described as a Carol for the arthouse crowd. Not a put-down OR a compliment, just an observation. The performances are even more low-key than in the George C Scott version and the direction, by Pierre Boutron, is very inventive, bordering on a surrealist approach .The overall effect is like A Very Jean Cocteau Christmas or something. As with the Spanish Leyenda de Navidad this French production keeps the story in 1843 London and stars Michel Bouquet as Scrooge and Pierre Olaf as Bob Cratchit.
This 90 minute version of the Carol is one of the tiny handful that Continue reading
Ghost of Christmas Present
Aren’t we all pretty fed up with the same versions of A Christmas Carol being rammed down our throats like Razzleberry Dressing every Christmas season while many of the clever but lesser known variations of the Dickens Yuletide classic languish in obscurity? I’m one of those people who begin wallowing in the dozens of versions of this Industrial Age epic myth right after Thanksgiving and don’t let up until New Year’s Day. With the obsessive and semi- psychotic zeal of a Trekkie or an X-Phile I purchase every offbeat variation and adaptation of A Christmas Carol that I can lay my hands on.
Drawing on the extensive, albeit geeky, expertise that I’ve gained in this subject over the years I’d like to spread the word about some of the versions of the story that can be found in the remote hinterlands of home video or audio. This will be a look at variations of the actual Dickens story, set in London in the 1840′s. An entirely separate article could be written about adaptations of A Christmas Carol set in different time periods and locales, like Rod Serling’s anti-war parable Carol For Another Christmas, or the 1975 conservation short The Energy Carol or even the year 2000 Brazilian version depicting the Scrooge figure as a drug lord who repents. Just think of me as the Ghost of Christmas Carol Obscurities.
After reading this list you’ll hopefully conduct your own search for versions of the Carol beyond the limited world of Mr Magoo, Alastair Sim and George C Scott (“Dickens, you magnificent bastard! I read yer booooook!”) .
The man all mimes aspire to be … damn them.
Marcel Marceau Presents a Christmas Carol (1973) – Marcel Marceau is possibly the only name that comes to mind if you try to think of famous mimes. In fact “Famous Mimes” would make for one easy Jeopardy category because the response would always be “Who is Marcel Marceau?” Anyway, this BBC presentation featured Marceau acting out a pantomime of the Carol and playing every role. This was accompanied by narration by another actor who once portrayed Scrooge, Michael Hordern. If you prefer versions of the Carol devoid of any and all speaking there are several silent movie Carols available out there.
Shower of Stars Christmas Carol (1954) – This Carol may suck from the dramatic angle but it’s a wonderful oddity well worth owning because of its cultural kitsch value. This is a recorded version of what was first presented as a live broadcast and the barely sixty minute production provides a nice example of what live, single sponsor broadcasts were like way back when. The original advertisements are included so getting to see three-figure (yes, three-figure) sales prices for new vehicles will have modern audiences smiling. Fredric March plays Scrooge, Basil Rathbone plays Marley’s Ghost and there are some enjoyable songs scattered throughout the show.
A Christmas Carol (opera) (1982) – Thea Musgrave is one of the few true giants in the opera world from recent decades and she did a magnificent job with this opera version of the Carol. The familiarity of the Dickens story makes this presentation accessible even to viewers who are generally bewildered when it comes to operas. In addition to this Granada television production there are two other opera versions of the Carol on video. The 1978 version was sung in Welsh and Continue reading
Fezziwig’s Christmas Party
Welcome to Balladeer’s Blog’s Fourth Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon! It’s the time of year when I examine countless adaptations of the Dickens classic from television, movies, radio and elsewhere! As always new versions will be sprinkled in with the old standards.
Starting us off for 2013 is the 1995 home video Read-Along Christmas Carol. This version is just 50 minutes long and is ideal for youngsters learning how to read or for the hearing-impaired to watch. The video features a series of still drawings AND limited animation from the Dickens classic accompanied by word-balloons of dialogue (like in comic books or comic strips) appearing over the characters’ heads.
This version provides an Continue reading
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM BALLADEER’S BLOG! Has it really been a year since I wrapped up the 2011 Christmas Carol-A-Thon? As always I still have literally dozens of versions of the Dickens classic that I didn’t get a chance to include and now they’ll have to wait for 2013. Last year I closed out with the 1984 French television version of A Christmas Carol. For this season I’m wrapping up the 2012 Carol-A-Thon with one of the three 1949 American television versions.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1949) – This relic from the VERY early years of television was a syndicated production. This version’s biggest claim to fame is the on-screen presence of a bearded (despite the picture to the right) Vincent Price as the story’s narrator. For my fellow bad movie geeks the one and only Robert Clarke portrays Nephew Fred to Taylor Holmes’ Scrooge. Price is the very best element of the production, which is so haphazard that it repeatedly presents Scrooge’s first name spelled “Ebeneezer” instead of “Ebenezer” like it should be.
All things considered, this is a reasonable (but bland) presentation given its brief 25 1/2 minute running time and technical limitations. With no special effects the tableau of Marley’s Ghost walking through a solid door is accomplished by Continue reading
If you’re into celebrity trivia from the 1970′s and earlier Rich Little’s Christmas Carol will have you laughing from start to finish over all the sly jokes and riffs that abound in this Canadian- made special. For those unfamiliar with Little he was the Frank Caliendo of the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s, a first- class celebrity impressionist. The Canadian comic’s first venture into using the voices and personas of iconic celebrities as characters in the Charles Dickens classic began in the 1960′s. Part of Rich’s stand-up act was a several minute sendup of A Christmas Carol with John Wayne, Jack Benny and other figures playing roles in the famous story.
In 1979 Little expanded the story into an hour-long television special in which, through the aid of trick photography, costumes and makeup, he impersonated all of the entertainment legends that he worked into the Yuletide epic. Here is a rundown of the celebrities that Rich Little appeared as in this enjoyable Christmas special:
For the central role of Ebenezer Scrooge Little impersonated W.C. Fields, the whiskey- soaked and curmudgeonly comedian whose misanthropic humor made his persona perfect for the role. Little impersonated Hollywood Squares mainstay Paul “The JM J Bullock of his time” Lynde in the role of Bob Cratchit and long-time Tonight Show host Johnny Carson as the cheerful and charming Nephew Fred. Rich did a turn as Laurel and Hardy as the Charity Solicitors to Continue reading