Brian’s Exploratory Christmas Endeavor ’20: An American Christmas Carol

Amazon.com: An American Christmas Carol, actor Henry Winkler: Henry Winkler,  David Wayne, Chris Wiggins, R.H. Thomson, Ken Pogue, Eric Till, Stanley  Chase, Jon Slan, Jerome Coopersmith: Movies & TV

Not to be confused with An All-American Christmas Carol, this is apparently a fondly-remembered made-for-TV Christmas flick starring small-screen legend Henry Winkler.

You take a certain gamble when you feature a young actor in old-person make-up. It’s very jarring to see a man who grew in his old age to look like this…

Q&A with actor F Murray Abraham | Financial Times
F. Murray Abraham, circa now-ish

…slathered up in old-age make-up in a movie from 30 years ago, like this…

F. Murray Abraham, circa 1984

It’s even more jarring on a TV budget, when the transformation takes a fellow like Henry Winkler, who grew to look like this…

Henry Winkler (32417040488).jpg
Henry Winkler circa now-ish

…and makes him into this…

Henry Winkler, circa 1979

I have nothing more to say about it than that. Putting young people in serious old-age make-up always rubs me the wrong way, especially when 30-40 years lapse and you can see what they actually grow to look like. Actually, as long as we’re here, let’s revisit Winona Ryder’s make-up in Edward Scissorhands

Ew

Boy, that’s really something, isn’t it?

Anyway, this movie ain’t bad. In the long legacy of adaptations of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, this one sits closer to the top than the bottom of the pile. Usually, when adapting A Christmas Carol, it goes one of two ways: either it is a more-or-less straight adaptation, or it is a totally out-there formulation which still follows A Christmas Carol’s every last story beat. These latter category adaptations are never as interesting as they could be, because they stick so close to the source material.

This one definitely sticks to the structure—visited by three ghosts and all that—but it does it with an amount of tweaks to the story which I think do a good enough job of livening things up. I particularly like that this “American” take on the story makes the Ebeneezer Scrooge stand-in, Winkler’s Slade, into a convincingly greedy industrialist. That’s appropriately American.

Slade, in this version, was an orphan, taken in by a craftsman furniture-maker named Brewster, who seeks to make a good worker of Slade. He takes care of him, and mentors him to adulthood, at which time Slade’s ambitions outgrow his adoptive father figure’s—he is interested in assembly lines, cheap mass-manufactured products, and installment plans. Mr. Brewster on the other hand isn’t in a hurry to compete in ways which degrade the quality of his products.

It isn’t so much that, like Scrooge, Slade is simply in love with money. It’s more as if he has something to prove, orphan that he is. He seems to be carrying a real complex about proving that he can do better and better, accomplish more and more. Not be cause he needs more, but because he needs to prove to someone, anyone, everyone, that his existence is valid by virtue of being important and successful.

The scenes of a younger Slade played by an out-of-makeup Winkler genuinely help make the older Slade an easier pill to swallow. Somewhere around the Ghost of Christmas Present chunk of the film, he becomes a character I can actually buy.

All in all, it’s pretty decent. Competently shot, cromulently acted…and it’s got Henry Winkler in it. Decent stuff.

GBU Christmas-Adjusted Rating: 7/10
GOOD

An American Christmas Carol is streaming for free on Shout! Factory’s website.

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