The End of the World has, once more, come and gone, but the fear that bred the most recent bit of apocalyptic silliness comes from someplace real, even if worrying about old calendars misplaces that fear entirely. Apocalyptic terror informs this weekend’s review which, as in the past few years, examines an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

This most-bizarre twist on the familiar tale plays in 2012 for the first time in more than forty years (on TCM). Rod Serling wrote the script; the Cold War provided the context. Daniel Grudge replaces Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit becomes a servant named Charles, and a maniacal Peter Sellers presides over a Twilight Zonesque future.

Title: Carol for Another Christmas

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Written by Rod Serling. Loosely based on the story by Charles Dickens.

Cast
Sterling Hayden as Daniel Grudge
Ben Gazzara as Fred
Barbara Ann Teer as Ruby
Peter Rodrigues as Charles
Steve Lawrence as the Ghost of Christmas Past
Pat Hingle as the Ghost of Christmas Present
Robert Shaw as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
Peter Sellers as Imperial Me
Eva Marie Saint as Lt. Gibson
James Shigeta as the Doctor
Britt Ekland as Mother
Gordon Spencer as Marley
Joe Santos as 32
Peter Fonda as not listed because, apparently, whatever he did in this film, it ended up on the cutting room floor.

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.

Premise:

At the height of the Cold War, a wealthy American supports a policy of strict isolationism, and the aiming of weapons at anyone who dares challenge it. He dismisses his college-professor nephew who challenges that view as untenable in the modern era. Of course, he doesn’t consider at all the views of his servants.

Then on Christmas Eve– the anniversary of his son, Marley’s, death– some spirits show him the past, present, and a terribly grim possible future.

High Points:

The vision of the future plays like a classic Star Trek episode crossed with Theatre of the Absurd. It entertains, in its own disturbing fashion, and nobody does crazy like Peter Sellers.

Low Point:

Dickens wrote a story both entertaining and didactic. Wedded to a polemic about the Cold War, international relations, and nuclear annihilation, it becomes excessively didactic. It’s not that I disagree with any particular point-—the screenplay itself recognizes that our global problems lack easy solutions—-but the dramatization of those questions becomes verbose and ranty. The encounter with Christmas Present, in particular, is preachy with a side of preachiness, served up at the Preach-tree Café on Preacher Street.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 By 1964, the media had already adapted Dickens’ tale many times, but the application of the basic story to new contexts remained fresh territory. Carol for Another Christmas represents something new. For all the numerous adaptations we’ve seen since, none of them resemble Serling and Mankiewicz’s bizarre, nightmarish vision.

Effects: 4/6 The film has few effects, all typical for mid-1960s television. The film does make effective use of traditional stagecraft. Mankiewicz knew how to create a setting, even on a limited budget.

Production: 5/6

Acting: 5/6 The film features a few standout performances, and the actors do their best with a verbose script…

Story: 4/6 …Few writers can touch Serling’s success in the mass media but, in his weaker moments, dialogue becomes tortuous and unbelievable. This film has a few of his weaker moments.

Even without the Cold War looming, many of the questions relevant to 1964 have not lost their significance.

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 4/6.

In total, Carol for Another Christmas receives 29/42.