Wednesday, December 3, 2014

#1,570. Rich Little's Christmas Carol (1978)

Directed By: Trevor Evans

Starring: Rich Little

Line from the movie: "Do you know he's so cheap he even has a burglar alarm on his garbage cans?"

Trivia: This movie premiered on HBO in December of 1979

A one-man show starring master impersonator Rich Little, this version of A Christmas Carol was, for years, a regular fixture on HBO, and my brother and I looked forward to seeing it whenever December rolled around. With Little taking on each and every role, this hour-long comedy special puts a unique spin on Dickens’ classic Christmas tale, and is pretty funny to boot.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Little doing an impersonation of W.C. Fields) owns a “Boat in the Bottle” business, the joke being that Scrooge, an alcoholic, empties the bottles while his assistant, Bob Cratchit (the voice of Paul Lynde) builds the boats. 

Along with drinking all the time, Scrooge is a cheapskate, refusing to donate money to the poor when some good Samaritans (Laurel and Hardy) show up at his office seeking Christmastime donations. He’s such a miserable old miser that he even turns down an invitation to Christmas dinner from his nephew Fred (voice of Johnny Carson), his only living relative. 

But as anyone familiar with the Dickens story knows, Scrooge’s deceased business partner Jacob Marley (the voice of Richard Nixon) intercedes on the skinflint’s behalf, sending the spirits of Christmas Past (Humphrey Bogart), Present (Peter Falk, as Columbo) and Future (the indomitable Inspector Clouseau, a character played by Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther and its sequels) to help him change his ways and, if possible, sober him up a little in the process.

Rich Little does a fine job impersonating a number of famous people (his Johnny Carson is especially good), and what I found particularly entertaining was how he allowed the personalities of each celebrity to shine through, even if it meant changing the story a little. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (as well as every film version), Bob Cratchit is a kind, somewhat meek man who Scrooge pushes around in the early scenes. With Paul Lynde’s persona in control, however, Cratchit becomes a wise-ass, rattling off a stream of insults directed at his boss. When Scrooge pays him his meager salary, Cratchit walks away, at which point Scrooge asks where he’s going. Cratchit replies that he’s taking his pay to the bank, because “it’s too little to go by itself”. 
Equally as sly is Scrooge’s nephew, Fred - aka Johnny Carson - who at his Christmas party even delivers a short monologue! 

Other famous personalities are also represented, including Edith Bunker (Mrs. Cratchit), Groucho Marx (Fezziwig), and, in a very brief appearance, author Truman Capote as Tiny Tim. Along with the jokes, Little gives us a few musical numbers as well, including a catchy tune titled “This Will Be the Merriest Christmas Yet”.

As much as I enjoy Rich Little’s Christmas Carol, there’s no denying the special is showing its age. Many younger viewers will have no idea who some of these celebrities are (Paul Lynde was a regular on the ‘70s game show The Hollywood Squares, and I’m sure there are those who have never seen a single episode of that series). This, along with the special's over-reliance on a laugh track (which gets annoying after a while), might turn some people off. 

But if you’re looking for a few harmless chuckles this Holiday season, Rich Little’s Christmas Carol should be your first stop.

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