Sunday, December 22, 2013

Must See Streaming TV: An American Christmas Carol (1979)

I love Henry Winkler. Truly. Arthur Fonzarelli is one of the most lovable and enduring characters from my childhood. And I’m always pleasantly amused when someone busts out with an “Ayyye!” And that happens more often than you'd think! Of course, we loved Fonzie because of Winkler’s wonderful performance that held just the right amounts of machismo, over the top humor, with a little pathos thrown in to keep us on our toes.

A newspaper promo for An American Christmas Carol
However, I would be lying if I said I had seen a lot of Winker's non-Happy Days work. Oh, certainly, I've gotten a taste of his range, in movies like Scream, and his fantastically sinister turn as an abuser in the 1993 TVM The Only Way Out (a movie I’ve been dying to revisit. I have very strong memories of watching it when it premiered), but I’ve missed out on his more famous work such as Heroes and Arrested Development. So, I was eager to expand on my knowledge of Winkler’s filmography when I sat down the other day with An American Christmas Carol. This film is an obvious rift on the Charles Dickens’ classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, only now we are in Depression-era America, and Scrooge is Slade, a sinister old man who finds pleasure in repossessing important items from struggling customers on Christmas Eve. Ack. However, he’s due for a visit from a few spirits who hope to show him the errors of his ways.

A few years ago, I was in a class that concentrated on film adaptations. I chose to make a presentation on A Christmas Carol because it gave me an excuse to re-watch A Muppet Christmas Carol, and because I had never actually read the book. I had to watch quite a few Carol movies and enjoyed them all. The story resonates to some extent with just about every era, because as much as we want to wax nostalgic about the past, there is always some kind of struggle with inequality and indifference. Dickens’ reminds us time and again that we should always remember that compassion is free, so give it away, dammit! OK, he doesn’t get all extreme on the reader or anything, but indeed, it is a great story that teaches us that good will isn't just a thrift store.

So, we get that I love the story and relate to it, but what is Winkler and company going to do with this version of it? Ah, the million dollar question! An American Christmas Carol is both a gorgeous success and a bit of a bore at the same time. It’s never terrible, not by a long shot, but at certain points, it’s slow and, gah, even a bit dull. The pacing in the second half is almost too meticulous, and I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open. And that was a bummer. That said, An American Christmas Carol is still a beautiful trip back in time. The costumes and sets are splendid, and the crisp cinematography of Richard Ciupka is stunning (btw, Richard also did the cinematography for Ilsa Tigress of Sibera. I think I’m in love!). The visuals alone make this a film worth checking out.

As for Winkler, I’ve read some across-the-board reactions to his performance. Many felt that the odd old age makeup hampered his abilities to fully flex his actor muscles. With regards to the outlandish makeup, I have to agree. Thirty years later, and Hollywood still hasn't gotten old people makeup right, so imagine what audiences were thinking in 1979! Otherwise, I feel Winkler does a good job as the older Slade, and I enjoyed that vigorous step he gets from the joy of taking from the underprivileged because it is turned into a sprightly bounce after he develops a compassionate outlook on life. Joy to the world!

It would seem Winkler felt that giving Slade a spring in his step was all part of the process. In an interview, the actor said the filmmakers wanted to put weights on his feet as a way to keep him slow moving. But, Winkler said, “I realized that the elderly want to be younger and so I took off the weights immediately after the first day of shooting and made him more spry.” Winkler also confessed that he spent a total of 96 hours in the makeup chair during the seven-week shoot! In the end, the actor was very happy with the results, although he was initially hesitant to take on the role because he felt the media was set on pigeonholing him as The Fonz. However, the consummate Winkler decided his career was all about risks. This has obviously paid off, and while An American Christmas Carol is not a perfect film, it does hit the holiday spot and is definitely worth a watch.

You can either buy An American Christmas Carol on DVD or you can watch it on Amazon Instant Video!

You can read more about An American Christmas Carol at Christmas TV History!

And if you want more holiday cheer check out:

Petticoat Junction: A Cannonball Christmas
Nestor, The Long Eared Donkey (written as a guest blogger on Christmas TV History)
The Gathering (written by guest blogger Joanna Wilson from Christmas TV History)
A Mouse, A Mystery and Me
Terror on the 40th Floor
Bernard and the Genie

1 comment:

Joanna said...

Two thumbs up! And, thanks for the shout out :)