Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Television made Alastair Sim’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge into a classic.  The British film had been released theatrically in the U.S. in 1951, where it was soundly panned by critics and ignored by audiences weaned on Lionel Barrymore’s near-annual portrayal on radio.  Three years later, it was put on the market for tele-airings, and Associated Artists Productions, in its pre-Bugs Bunny days, snapped it up.

New York City’s WOR had recently inaugurated its “Million Dollar Movie,” the program that aired a single film twice every weeknight.  This was literal competition for the movie house: see the film at your convenience, and if you liked it, come see it again, with only a handful of commercials subbing for the box office.  A Christmas Carol turned up during the week of December 20, 1954… and audiences have been charmed ever since.  “Colorized” and B&W versions abound on home video.  The Blu-ray has got to be just around the corner.

Chrysler’s Shower of Stars, normally a variety show that took over from the live drama series Climax every fourth week, slotted in a filmed musical version of Dickens’ timeless tale for 1954’s Yuletide.  Starring Fredric March as Scrooge and Basil Rathbone as Marley’s Ghost, with a Bernard Hermann score, it became a CBS perennial for a number of years.  Although the show was committed to color film, it seems to circulate only as a B&W kinescope.  Anyone know if the original is now just Eastman pink?

D'ja ever notice it's only at Christmastime we hear Sinatra and Crosby (and Como, and Williams, and Cole, and all those other velvet voices)?  Lately, even that tradition has been going the way of the LP.  One of the joys of video has been the resurrection of one-time-only gems, including the occasional holiday special.  Maybe this one will turn up one day....

The animated Christmas special entered the “modern era” with Magoo in ’62.  Has it really been 50 years since we were introduced to razzleberry dressing, pens and pencibles, and “I’m All Alone in the World”?  Would a latter-day “holiday”-themed cartoon dare to include an original tune titled “The Lord’s Bright Blessing”?  Although I find the "Back on Broadway" trappings to be superfluous (making the parts to edit in favor of more commercials nowadays a no-brainer), the show is easily the most entertaining piece UPA ever did in the Henry J. Saperstein era (no "Cholly" the houseboy here, praise the heavens). Courtesy of Classic Media, I'll be cuing it up Christmas Eve to celebrate its golden anniversary.

BETTER LIVING FOR TELEVISION wishes you and yours "a Christmas far more glorious than grand," and a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.