An American Christmas Carol (1979)

AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL (1979)
Article #1494 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-17-2005
Posting Date: 9-14-2005
Directed by Eric Till
Featuring Henry Winkler, R.H. Thomson, Susan Hogan

Benedict Slade, after spending the day before Christmas repossessing various pieces of merchandise and firing his assistant, is visited by the ghost of his former partner, and then by spirits to teach him the true meaning of Christmas.

The idea of updating the Dickens classic to take place in America has something of the air of gimmick, and had the script been written with only this in mind, it would have been disastrous. However, the script does a fine job with the idea. By setting the action during the great depression, it manages to capture something deeply American while still holding on somewhat to the ambiance of the original settings of the story. It also does a fine job with filling the story with the proper details to maintain interest, and after awhile you find yourself watching just to see the kinds of inventions the movie will use to adapt the story to its setting. And somehow, it all remains quite true to the source in spirit.

However, there are problems. From a story perspective, the movie fumbles the “Ghost of Christmas Present” section somewhat; by emphasizing the hardships that the Thatcher family (the equivalent to the Cratchits) are enduring, it feels too much like a guilt trip is being placed on Slade (the Scrooge character). Instead, it should be emphasizing the fact that somehow, through all the hardships, the Thatchers are still finding the strength to celebrate a joyous Christmas. Another problem is Henry Winkler’s performance, which is half a success and half a failure. Winkler manages to come up with a unique and interesting take on the Scrooge character, but he fails to make us believe he’s really the age of his character; his voice sounds too young, and he moves too swiftly and assuredly for a man of his supposed age. This problem is compounded by his rather unconvincing make-up, which also makes him look too old and obscures his eyes, and his hands and the lower part of his neck look much too young. Though these are problems, they’re not fatal; overall, the movie works quite well. Still, it’s no replacement for some of the classic earlier versions of the story.

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