On the sixth day of Christmas, TMP brings to you… propaganda and some Dickens, too. Today’s film is a retelling of A Christmas Carol, part of a campaign to prove the importance of and win public favor for the United Nations.
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Carol for Another Christmas originally aired on ABC in December of 1964 and then disappeared into the missing-movie abyss for many years. It was the only television program ever directed by Mankiewicz, according to The New York Times. A man much more experienced with television, the great Rod Serling, wrote the film.
Rediscovered by viewers through a 2012 airing on TCM, the film is now available for streaming on FilmStruck. It is perhaps best known, other than the propagandistic angle, for Peter Sellers’ performance as the “Imperial Me.”
Carol for Another Christmas was one of four television specials created to promote the mission and work of the UN. An archived article from The New York Times revealed that six specials were initially planned.
Calling on that familiar tale of Scrooge, Carol for Another Christmas stars Sterling Hayden as Daniel Grudge, a very stern and very conservative man. When we meet Dan, he’s alone in his house, listening to The Andrews Sisters’ “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” in a dark room. Soon, a visitor arrives: his nephew, Fred (Ben Gazzara). The men argue, Dan lamenting Fred’s constant involvement with international causes. Dan is a devoted isolationist, the direct opposite of Fred.
After Fred leaves, the Andrews Sisters record mysteriously begins playing on its own upstairs. Soon, Dan will be visited by several ghosts showing him the wars of the past, the worldwide struggles of the present, and the potential destruction of the future.
The film delivers a dark and grim commentary on war, as well as the push-and-pull between globalization and isolationist ideologies. Sadly, none of the issues portrayed in the film have been resolved in the present day. It may have been created as propaganda, but to the 2016 viewer, this 1964 tv movie is shockingly relevant. The Ghost of Christmas Past sums it up best, in his description of Dan’s lack of regard for world issues:
“60,000 Limeys die in Flanders. 100,000 Frogs catch it in Verdun. The Germans march through Belgium and Austria declares war on Japan. But who cares? It’s a nice summer.”
As Daniel Grudge, Sterling Hayden gives a strong performance. As the viewer discovers, Dan’s bitterness stems from the loss of his son, who died in the Army on Christmas Eve — a more than valid excuse to be angry, though not all of his views or actions can be excused by grief.
Dan’s house makes the perfect setting for ghostly visits. It’s large, empty, full of shadows, and carries a lot of heavy memories and heartbreak for the man himself.
This setting establishes a somber mood which continues throughout the film, enhanced by very nice photography. Carol for Another Christmas is definitely not one to tune in for if you’re looking for holiday cheer! Its message, however, is important — told quite heavy-handedly, but effectively.