Saturday, December 9, 2017

Anderson's Carol

I just watched the 1954 television version of A Christmas Carol adapted by the playwright Maxwell Anderson.

You would think I would have been familiar with it already. I'm a big fan of the works of Charles Dickens, and I even penned my own stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which was done in 2007.

However, I had never seen this version until I came across it on the blog Laughing Academy. CBS originally ran the hour-long program the night before Christmas Eve, sponsored by Chrysler, which comically interrupted the story to try to sell station wagons to viewers.

The version stars Fredric March as Scrooge and Basil Rathbone as Marley's Ghost, but I was more interested in the adapter. Maxwell Anderson was no mere hack. He had won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1933 for Both Your Houses. I remember him more for his 1948 play Anne of a Thousand Days. (When I was in middle school, I played a choir boy in a production of it at the University of West Florida.)

Anderson is credited with writing both the adaptation and the lyrics, which might seem odd, until you remember that he penned the lyrics for the Kurt Weill musical Knickerbocker Holiday, including the hit "September Song":

                    But it's a long, long while from May to December
                    And the days grow short when you reach September
                    And the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
                    And I haven't got time for the waiting game…

Yes, this adaptation is a musical, and though not every number is a "September Song," some of the lyrics aren't bad, including those for the opening carol, "On This Darkest Day of Winter."

The most interesting aspect of Anderson's script is the use of double casting. Belle also plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Fred is also the Ghost of Christmas Present. A stuffed blackbird in Scrooge's apartments (an allusion to Grip in Barnaby Rudge perhaps?) then becomes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

This adaptation definitely feels like something from the early 1950s. It's not brilliant, but it is fun, and it's only an hour long, so if you're looking for a short adaptation of the classic story, it's worth watching.