Your jaded Weekend Politics Thread host believed he had seen every possible filmic take on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. He knew from Alistair Sim’s 1840s fussbudgetry to Mr. Magoo’s Swing Sixties flailing, and from an out-of-time Michael Caine’s winking to Bill Murray’s go-go ’80s drinking. Surely, Uvular imbibed the infinitude of interpretations of this solstitial story.
Then, the Turner Classic Movie hub of HBO Max served up A Carol for Another Christmas.2 More on that in a bit.
George C. Scott’s portrayal of Ebeneezer Scrooge for a 1984 CBS Special Presentation edges to the top as the Uvetide favorite because the writers sketched in how terrible a time Young Ebbie endured at boarding school. Blame a cruel and uncaring world for Scrooge’s cruelty and lack of caring, the earliest part of the traipse through past Christmases encourages viewers. And that quickly earns empathy other Scrooges go without until much later.
One3 suspects Dickens would join Uvular in appreciating the Scott-starring adaption of this modern morality play. After all, the O.G. Chuck D. survived a childhood a certain thread header host feels inclined to dub “sociological.”
Given the chance, Dickens gave full throat to critiques of capitalism, caste and coal rations. Also sensing what sold, Dickens wrapped things up with a fully earned happy ending. He did such a good job that no one can resist retelling his tale with only the minor tweaks of adding or eliding details, shifting time periods, substituting species, and featuring puppets.
Too few retellers, updaters, and reimaginers seize opportunities to truly explore the space Dickens afforded them. The scaffold serves as the entire structure, and ninety-eleven approaches to depicting a screwed-down person unscrewing themselves via the dual magic of deep self-reflection and far self-projection yield ninety-eleven versions of “share the wealth to regain your health.”
Then, the Turner Classic Movie hub of HBO Max served up A Carol for Another Christmas.4
Written for television by Rod Serling, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz,5 and aired in 1964, the movie stars Sterling Hayden as Scrooge stand-in and nuclear missile engineer Daniel Grudge. A never-better Steve Lawrence of Steve & Edie fame plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, while a gonzo Pat Hingle6 nails the role of Christmas Present. Robert Shaw somehow appears sober in serving as the Ghost of Christmas Future who introduces Grudge to Peter Sellers’s Imperial Me, who might as well have handed a playbook to the likes of Rodrigo Duterte, Jair Bolsonaro, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.7
No spoilers, but Serling cracked the Carol code. He succeeded in shifting viewers’ attention away from the pocketbook issues of miserliness versus philanthropy and toward isolationism versus internationalism, personal charity versus foreign aid, and anarchic autonomy versus communitarianism. A weird-for-peacenik-Serling insistence that the United States has/had a moral imperative to commit to waging full-scale war in Vietnam does not break focus on a unique tryptic of Dickensian dialectics.
Everyone may not love this Serling-Mankiewicz joint, but it definitely merits consideration as a land of Carol contrasts. What has you cogitating? Commit you communiques to the comment section.