(director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; screenwriter: Rod Serling/based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; cinematographer: Arthur J. Ornitz; editors: Nathan Greene/Robert Lawrence; music: Henry Mancini; cast: Sterling Hayden (Daniel Grudge), Eva Marie Saint (The Wave), Ben Gazzara (Fred), Barbara Ainteer (Ruby), Steve Lawrence (Ghost of Christmas Past), James Shigeta (The Doctor), Pat Hingle (Ghost of Christmas Present), Robert Shaw (Ghost of Christmas Future), Peter Sellers (Imperial Me), Britt Ekland (The Mother), Percy Rodrigues (Charles, the Butler); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; ABC television network; 1964)

This is TV at its creative best.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The only time Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“Julius Caesar”/”5 Fingers”/”All About Eve”) directed a movie for TV is impressive. The film was shown once on ABC television, as a “United Nations Special” that was financed by the Xerox Corporation. It’s based on a very loose adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, that is told with a different twist. Rod Serling writes the preachy but well-written script, that he fills with liberal messages of the need for world peace, for the world to shun isolationism or be involved in endless wars, and for the powerful military countries not to nuke the world but to help instead the undeveloped countries grow. This is TV at its creative best. The talented cast all give outstanding performances. Sterling Hayden is fine as a gruff modern-day Scrooge, an embittered wealthy industrialist who is still mourning the loss of his son Marley, killed in action on Christmas Eve, 1944. This tragedy results in the tycoon’s detachment from the world and his mean streak to those not on his side.

After an argumentative visit from his liberal history professor nephew (Ben Gazzara) on Christmas Eve, Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden) is visited in his lonely mansion by three ghosts–the Ghost of Christmas Past (Steve Lawrence), dressed as a WWI doughboy while escorting a ship filled with coffins from war casualties all over the world; the Ghost of Christmas Present (Pat Hingle), who callously feasts while frail concentration camp inmates are starving while kept behind barbed wire fences; and the Ghost of Christmas Future (Robert Shaw), leading Grudge through his ruined home town after a nuclear bomb caused a post-apocalyptic period. An intellectual discourse takes place, as Grudge argues with the ghosts about the fairness of it all, and it begins to sink into him what makes the Christmas holiday a time of joy and hope for mankind.

Eva Marie Saint plays a Navy WAVE, who is in Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped and comes upon faceless suffering Japanese children. Peter Sellers is eye-catching playing an original character created by Serling, called Imperial Me, who dons a 10 gallon hat and dresses in a Pilgrim costume as the charismatic madcap leader of a gang of apocalypse survivor louts.

It was not shown again perhaps because it was too bleak for a Christmas film or it offended too many viewers because it wore its liberal views on its sleeves, or maybe it had too much controversy for sponsors because it took up the UN position for diplomacy which was not a popular stance at the time in America. In any case, it only received mixed reviews from viewers. Though it’s a flawed work, it’s worth seeing as a curio–as no matter its faults, it was always interesting.

REVIEWED ON 12/20/2014 GRADE: B  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/