Carol for Another Christmas (1964)

As the name suggests, A Carol for Another Christmas is an updated take on Dickens's classic, here intended for the modern world. And when I say "modern," I of course mean modern as of 1964, when it was made. Unfortunately, that's half the problem, as it's more than a little dated now (not just because it's in black and white). Actually, it feels like it might have been a bit dated when it came out, which is the other half of the problem.

Let's jump into the story, which follows Dickens's outline pretty closely, at least until the conclusion. The Scrooge analog is "Daniel Grudge," a retired US Commander with a massive amount of influence in politics and media. Standing in for Marley is [checks notes] still just a guy named Marley (feels a little lazy, if I'm being honest). Okay, technically it's "Marley Grudge," Dan's late son, killed in a war. While we're on the subject of characters whose names haven't changed, Grudge's nephew is still named Fred. Also, the ghost's names haven't changed, but I can't really fault them for that.

The story opens on Christmas Eve with Grudge experiencing vaguely supernatural events. Nothing obvious yet, just hearing things that confuse him. Fred shows up for a visit, and the two argue politics. Fred is a progressive, while Grudge is a stanch isolationist who believes America shouldn't get involved in or even talk to other nations.

Oh, did I mention this movie doubles as an ad for the UN? I'm all for diplomacy, but this is not a subtle piece of propaganda.

Soon after Fred leaves, Grudge briefly sees Marley's image, though that's all the warning he gets. Credit where it's due: this sequence is really well done and conveys the tone of a ghost story, atmospheric and creepy. He wanderers into his study, and the visitations kick off.

First, we get a sequence with the Ghost of Christmas Past on a warship full of the spirits of soldiers killed in wars. It's a cool idea, but like everything in this movie, it goes on far too long and feels the need to spell everything out, explain what's just spelled out, then explicitly debate the merits of the movie's themes. Seriously: I've read philosophical dialogues that were less direct.

They only visit one Christmas from Grudge's past, and it's one where he visited Hiroshima following World War II. My feelings in this are decidedly mixed. On one hand, there's a lot to like, starting with the set. I also appreciate the movie challenging the idea the bombing could have been justified, or that such rationalizing is even appropriate in the face of that kind of loss of life. The Japanese characters we meet are relatable; there's no real attempt to make them feel exotic or any of the usual obvious racist missteps movies of this era typically made. We're shown children suffering as a result of war.

But while it avoids a lot of the usual pitfalls, it also just wallows in suffering to a degree that immediately abandons drama for melodrama. It's all too over-the-top to deliver the emotional punch the moment deserves.

The ghost of Christmas Future is presented as a glutton eating a feast in front of starving refugees, an act Grudge berates him for until it's pointed out that it's no different than the way he lives his life while the world suffers around him. Again, in case anyone missed the already obvious symbolism.

Next, we're off to the future. I should note that, unlike the original, this ghost of Christmas Future can talk, because otherwise we wouldn't have anyone to scream the movie's point over and over again. This section is a tonal shift from what came before, leaning closer to dark comedy. Actually, it kind of feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone, which makes sense given Rod Stirling wrote the movie. Sadly, it doesn't feel like a particularly good episode, but there's more of a story here than in the previous two segments.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where nuclear war wiped out the vast majority of humanity, a group of survivors gather in the rubble of the town hall near Grudge's home. These survivors have dubbed themselves the Nation of "ME", and have adopted a philosophy of individualism and isolationism so strict, it calls for killing outsiders to prevent their ideas from spreading. Also, they openly celebrate being able to turn on each other and fight until there's only one person left alive, who will own literally everything by virtue of being the last human standing. The one voice of dissent comes from Grudge's butler, who's eventually executed for speaking out on behalf of cooperation.

Grudge wakes up the next morning on the floor of his study. Perhaps the most interesting choice in the movie was to leave it somewhat ambiguous as to whether any of this changed him significantly. He does apologize to his nephew, have coffee with the help, and express at least some optimism in the United Nation's mission, but he's not singing in the streets, repenting his ways, or vowing to keep Christmas in his heart or anything. He doesn't even say he'll use his influence to improve the world - all that's left up in the air, I assume as a challenge to the viewer to take these lessons to heart. 

I already mentioned this is written by Stirling, so while the dialogue isn't subtle, it is relatively good. Likewise, the cast on this is genuinely impressive - Peter Sellers, Eva Marie Saint, and Robert Shaw are in this, to name a few. Visually, this is also a step above what I generally associate with TV movies.

But none of that's enough to make up for the pacing or lack of subtlety. This thing beats you over the head with its argument again and again, and it doesn't bother building much of a story while it does so.

The other thing that holds this back for me is the point feels a bit old-fashioned. It's not so much the fact Grudge is an isolationist - there are still certainly isolationists today, and they still generally suck. It's that his particular brand of isolationism is kind of anachronistic. He's against American involvement, but he's not at all a nationalist. He's almost a libertarian, but he's adamant about enforcing who's allowed into the country to teach. None of this is inherently unbelievable, but it's hard to view him as a microcosm of what's wrong with America when he's clearly abnormal.

And, here's the thing: I think his ideology was outdated when this aired. The Vietnam War was escalating when this was made, and Grudge's stance wouldn't fit neatly into that debate. He's portrayed as an outdated conservative with dangerous opinions, but based on what he said, he'd have been against that war, not for it, a fact that works against the movie's real-world applicability. Or at least I think it does - this thing came out fifteen years before I was born, so maybe Grudge's ideology fit into to national debate more cleanly than I realize. But even if it did then, it doesn't now.

While this was an ambitious production with some impressive aspects, I just don't think it works well enough to warrant a recommendation. I genuinely appreciate the message it's trying to convey - things that are pro-international cooperation and anti-conservative certainly align with my beliefs - but there are definitely more succinct and effective ways to deliver that point.