Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)

I doubt this TV adaptation left much of a mark on future interpretations, but I will say it was interesting, albeit in the same way it's interesting looking at the wreck of a 1954 Chrysler Station Wagon on the side of a road.

First, I better give a little context. Shower of Stars was an anthology show from the 1950s. For Christmas, they produced an hour-long adaptation (and I use that word generously) of Dicken's classic. Like every episode, this was broadcast in color, which was unusual for the time. This is of particular significance because every color copy of this episode has been lost. Black & white prints are pretty easy to find, though there's not much reason to bother.

The role of Scrooge is played by a comedically long prosthetic nose affixed to [checks notes] Frederick March. Basil Rathbone, who'd play Scrooge a few years later in The Stingiest Man in Town, shows up briefly as Marley's Ghost.

Virtually every existent adaptation of A Christmas Carol made before 1960 begins with someone pulling a copy of the book off a shelf and opening it. This deviates from the norm by opening with a Christmas Chorus singing a song about Christmas trees before cutting to a bookstore where someone pulls a copy of the book off a shelf and opens it. Riveting stuff, I know. Once we're done flipping through pages with the credits, we cut back to the guy in the bookshop. He purchases the book, steps into the street, goes past the aforementioned chorus, and donates money to the guys who will ask Scrooge for a donation in the next scene. How meta.

I actually want to stop a moment, back up, and talk about that chorus a little. This adaptation is a musical, with all but one of the songs being diegetic. The chorus is period accurate, assuming the period in question is a late 1990s Renaissance Faire. That comparison goes for instrumentation, dress, and musical style, and - I can't stress this enough - I am not exaggerating. I actually kind of like the opening Christmas tree song for what it is, but what it is has no business coming 500 yards within an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. The chorus gets a second song soon after - that one's about Santa Claus, because the people making this are more interested in selling station wagons than in producing anything remotely faithful to the source material.

I wasn't picking on Chrysler randomly: they're literally the company that sponsored Shower of Stars, and if you watch a recording that includes the full program, they interrupt A Christmas Carol multiple times to remind you how great their station wagons are. This is truly Dickens's immortal classic through the lens of capitalism. And if you think they're above adding dialogue so Scrooge can "humbug" Santa Claus, you're giving this version far too much credit.

All subsequent songs are sung by characters, and you will absolutely miss the chorus. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's discuss Marley and the Spirits.

I already mentioned Marley's ghost is played by Rathbone, who chews the hell out of the spirit from beyond the grave. He looks and sounds ridiculous here, but he's fun enough in a campy way. The Spirits of Christmas Past and Present are double-cast as Belle and Fred, which isn't an awful idea. I should note this is how the spirits appear to Scrooge.

This makes for a somewhat awkward sequence, as it means the Spirit of Christmas Past is, well, hot. She appears wearing a what looks like a nightgown in Scrooge's bedchamber. I have no idea if they meant to make it weirdly suggestive, but it definitely plays that way. The past section is trimmed back to a single scene that combines Fezziwig's party and Scrooge's breakup with Belle into a single sequence.

Oh, I should probably mention that young Scrooge is also hot for some reason. He's sort of a dashing, leading man type who sings a romantic duet about Christmas presents with Belle before the scene awkwardly transitions to Belle leaving him because he's changed. Just utterly bizarre stuff; one weird choice after another.

The Spirit of Christmas Present is double cast as Fred, who made a brief appearance early on. They went with perhaps the most annoying actor imaginable. I guess that's not a completely inappropriate casting choice: the character is supposed to be grandiose and loud, and he fits that bill. He shows up, gets mistaken for Fred, makes a couple "Christmas presents" puns, and sings a song that's at least sort of thematically relevant, a first for this special. Then we're off to visit the Cratchits.

They actually repurpose some of Fred's lines and give them to Bob Cratchit. It's completely out of character for Bob to tell the "I'm thinking of an animal" joke, but it seems a little late to start worrying about character, anyway. This section is otherwise pretty bland, until we get Tiny Tim singing. Like the song sung by the Spirit of Christmas Present, it's actually relevant to the moment, and also like that song, it's agonizing to sit through. Seriously, it's just awful. Just bring the renfaire singers back, I'm begging you.

At the end of this, we meet the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, who... uh... let me check my notes.

Oh, my mistake, they cut the third spirit entirely, probably because they worried it would be too interesting and distract from the goddamn Chryslers. Instead, we get a bird. Does that count?

All that remains from this section is Scrooge wandering through a cemetery and finding tombstones for him and Tim. No guide, none of the other story threads, no building sense of dread: the Spirit of Chrysler Present just motions him towards a cemetery, he finds the tombstones, then he wakes up. Cue truncated resolution.

I don't have much to say about the ending. It's shortened, but not nearly as much as the rest. We get brief resolutions to the charity collectors, Fred, and of course Cratchit. None of it's faithful to the book, but why start now? At the end, we're subjected to perhaps the adaptation's most inexplicable song as Tiny Tim starts singing, only to turn into a full chorus (an actual chorus, not the renfaire group), all the while the camera gives us a close up of Scrooge cycling through emotive faces. To be clear, the faces he's making don't align with the music, nor is it any kind of logical progression. He just goes from worried to happy to sad to happy to whatever, then repeats the transitions several times. I'm not sure what they told the actor, but I'm guessing it wasn't, "We're going to play this as one long, uninterrupted take without cutting away."

I assume it goes without saying that the production values on this were pretty laughable. The costumes look like they pulled anything vaguely historical and British out of a loft, without concern for century. The sets were a hair better, but still on the lower end of TV quality. The effects were fairly cheap, though I do want to call out a couple exceptions.

First, there's a moment where Marley's translucent ghost grabs Scrooge's arm. They quickly cut to a "solid" version of the ghost for the longer conversation, but that one moment was fairly impressive. I also thought a transition between Scrooge's window and the past was handled well. It wasn't a complicated effect or anything, but it was a nice use of space and editing.

Beyond that, there's really not much here. March isn't bad as Scrooge, but there's nothing to make him stand out. The rest of the cast ranges from fine to godawful (looking at you, Cratchit). It's an Americanized take on A Christmas Carol that lacks the conviction to actually change the setting and story. The anachronistic elements come off as cheesy and in poor taste, all the more so because they're upfront about the fact this is ultimately a car commercial.

I will say there's a part of me that wants to tag this "so bad it's good." I think it approaches the line where it's unintentionally funny - I certainly had a good time laughing at it. But I get the feeling that's largely because I'm already focused on this story. Without that connection to the source material, I doubt it'd be as enjoyable to see this flail around.

So, if you're a big enough Dickens nerd, and you've got a sense of humor about this sort of thing, maybe give this a shot. Everyone else should probably steer clear. There are, after all, intentional parodies and comedic homages that are actually good.


  1. "The most annoying actor imaginable" was Ray Middleton, a fixture of the Broadway musical theater, most notably the original cast of "Annie Get Your Gun" with Ethel Merman. This adaptation is not the greatest version of the story, but there is no denying its sincerity and frankly these overly cyncial look-backs on these old specials from a modern perspective to be perfectly honest come off as annoying and "Bah Humbug!" in the extreme. (And the less said about your diss of "Amahl And The Night Visitors", a staple of TV broadcasts for two decades and which is still performed annually every year in churches across America, the better).

    1. Are you sure "sincerity" is the word you're looking for? This adaptation entirely cuts the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and adds a song about Santa - I don't think it was even trying to be sincere. My impression is it wanted to be silly and lighthearted, with a bit of nostalgia thrown in to sell cars. I guess they sincerely wanted people to buy Chrysler station wagons.

      "And the less said about your diss of "Amahl And The Night Visitors"...the better."

      I don't mention or even allude to Amahl and the Night Visitors in the review you're replying to. I do mention it in passing in my review of The Stingiest Man in Town (, where I say, "This is the same anthology responsible for the 1955 version of Amahl and the Night Visitors." Is that what you're referring to? If so, I honestly don't recall if I intended that as a slight or if I was just saying it's the same anthology series behind both.

      As for your MIddleton comments: The "annoying actor" line was an honest reaction, but in hindsight I think the framing is unfair. I should have limited my criticism to the performance and scene, rather than imply it was intrinsic to the actor. Bad wording on my part. If Middleton's ghost appears to me this Christmas Eve, I'll apologize in person. Same goes for Bob Sweeney's Bob Cratchit, in fact - I actually feel worse about calling him out. I just rewatched a few scenes, and Sweeney seems fine to me now. No idea why his performance rubbed me the wrong way last year (Middleton's performance, in contrast, is one where I can absolutely see why I reacted as I did).

      Lastly, you say my reviews, "come off as annoying and 'Bah Humbug!' in the extreme." To which I say: THANK YOU - we always strive to be extreme here and deeply appreciate the recognition.


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