It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
“Shower of Stars” presents “A Christmas Carol” –Musical #537
CBS Television Network
Fredric March, Basil Rathbone, Bob Sweeney, Christopher Cook, Craig Hill, Queenie Leonard
Themselves as hosts: William Lundigan, Mary Costa
Set in 1840 London, this is a retelling of Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Christmas Carol.” Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (March) is warned by the ghost of his friend Marley (Rathbone) that he need to change his ways or he will end up chained to his sins. On Christmas Eve night, Scrooge is visited by ghosts to show him his past, present and future life to convince him to change.
-Score by composer Bernard Herrmann and songs by Maxwell Anderson.
-Aired on the TV show “Shower of Stars,” a variety TV show that aired on CBS from 1954 to 1958. This was season 1, episode 4.
-Aired on CBS television on Dec. 23, 1954.
-Ray Middleton plays two roles, Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Sally Fraiser plays Scrooge’s old girlfriend Belle and the Ghost of Christmas Past.
-Originally filmed in color but only exists now in black and white.
Awards and Nominations:
–Bernard Herrmann was nominated for an Emmy for Best Original Music Composed for TV for “A Christmas Carol.”
-Fredric March was nominated for an Emmy for Best Actor in a Single Performance
-“A Christmas Carol” was nominated for an Emmy Best Individual Program of the Year
-Ralph Berger and Albert M. Pyke won an Emmy for Best Art Direction of a Filmed Show
–Bernard Herrmann‘s score
-Fredric March’s fake nose
-“And Bless Us Everyone” performed by Christopher Cook
-“A Very Merry Christmas” performed by Ray Middleton
-“On This Darkest Day” performed by a chorus
From Reginald Owen to Albert Finney to George C. Scott, many actors have portrayed the cantankerous Ebenezer Scrooge. Actor Fredric March is one of those actors but isn’t the best of the portrayals.
March’s variation of Ebenezer Scrooge was in the 1954 version “Christmas Carol,” which was on an episode “Chrysler Shower of Stars,” a CBS variety show that was televised from 1954 to 1958.
March gives a pretty good performance, though maybe overly exaggerated. His Scrooge repents earlier than the others and is almost immediately sorry. He also has a distractingly large, fake nose. Basil Rathbone is good as the Ghost of Jacob Marley but is only on-screen for a few moments, which is disappointing. These two are the only actors that were notable or recognizable to me.
The most notable thing to me about this TV adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” is the score by composer Bernard Herrmann. It is particularly creepy and haunting, particularly with the eerie, wordless chorus singing when Jacob Marley visits Scrooge.
However, the songs by Maxwell Anderson are majorly lacking, and I could practically picture Herrmann saying “What the heck is this?” The song lyrics lack depth and are simple to the point of laziness, constantly repeating the same lyrics. For example, young Scrooge (Craig Hill) and Belle sing a lengthy but repetitive song, “What Shall I Give My Lad/Girl for Christmas?” Then, the Ghost of Christmas Present comes in singing “A Very Merry Christmas” which is basically that line repeated over and over.
Since the songs were so simplistic, this story was almost a waste as a musical.
Ray Middleton, Sally Fraiser and Christopher Cook (Tiny Tim), do the majority of the singing. Fredric March doesn’t perform any songs, though excitedly sings a stanza of the “A Very Merry Christmas” song when he wakes up on Christmas morning.
This hour-long television special irked me because it cut out some pretty key parts of the Charles Dickens story. I know it was only an hour, but the 1938 film version of “A Christmas Carol” is only an hour and nine minutes and manages to still tell the full story.
For example, the Ghost of Christmas Future is completely cut out and makes no appearance, though Scrooge does end up in a graveyard and sees his name on a gravestone. Young Scrooge and Belle’s romance and why it breaks up is poorly explained during the “Past” sequence. During the Ghost of Christmas Present portion of the story, Scrooge usually visits both Nephew Fred’s house and Bob Cratchit’s (Bob Sweeney) home. Fred’s home is omitted and we only see the Cratchits, who make derisive jokes about Scrooge, which bothered me. While Bob Cratchit was beat down by Mr. Scrooge at work, he was never rude about him.
Also a little bizarre- The Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge’s old love, Belle, were played by the same person (Sally Fraser) and the Ghost of Christmas Present and Nephew Fred were also played by the same person (Ray Middleton). I thought this was a little bizarre and I had never seen this done before. It also made things a little confusing.
March gave a bit of a different approach to Scrooge, seeming a little more nostalgic of the past, showing pain when realizing he was the butt of a joke with the Cratchit’s and seemed remorseful sooner. I enjoyed his role, but he was the main actor I liked in the film. The only odd part is a three minute long close-up on his face at the end when Tiny Tim is singing a song. March does exhibit a great deal of emotion, but it was odd and uncomfortable. Then the camera pulls back, and the episode ends.
This episode was well received and aired the following Christmas.
If you are a fan of the Charles Dickens tale, Bernard Herrmann or Fredric March, this TV adaptation is worth a look. But if you are a looking for a top rate version of “A Christmas Carol” that isn’t a musical, I’ll direct you to the 1938 version with Reginald Owen or the 1984 TV Movie version with George C. Scott. If you want to see a superior musical version of the Dickens story, check out “Scrooge” (1970) starring Albert Finney and Alec Guinness.
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love March and Rathbone, and could not agree more with your take on this. still, as you say, certainly worth a watch just as a fan of the story or even for, curiosity. Hermann is always a draw for me as well ! as always a very review, Comet– thanks!
sorry– “as always a very GOOD review..” i wasn’t able to edit it.
Sally Fraiser’ singing was dubbed by Marilyn Horne
Interesting. Thank you for the info! It’s curious why they just didn’t hire someone who would sing, since it doesn’t look like Sally Fraser very famous (at least on TV or film, don’t know about stage.)
Basically, Fraiser appeared in small roles in A-films and B-horror and science fiction movies.