In 1979, Henry Winkler was one of the biggest stars in television as the Fonz on Happy Days. “The Fonz” was everywhere. His likeness was on T-shirts, lunchboxes pillowcases and beyond. His catchphrase, “Ayyyyy!” became part of the American lexicon. While Winkler has always expressed appreciation for his star making role, when choosing projects to be filmed during breaks between Happy Days’ seasons, he looked for things that would show audiences a different side of him.
To that end, it’s easy to understand why the lead role in An American Christmas Carol must have appealed to him. Another retelling of the Charles Dickens classic, at just 34, the role gave him a chance to show some range, playing both a man his age and an elderly Scrooge character.
Set in the small town of Concord, New Hampshire in 1933, Benedict Slade (Winkler) is a fortunate man. With the country in the grips of the Great Depression, the financing industry has made him a very rich man. Even so, Slade remains an irritable miser; even repossessing items from an orphanage on Christmas Eve. Later that night, he is visited by the spirit of his former partner Jack Latham (Ken Pogue), who warns he will be visited by three spirits during the course of the evening. They are of course, three variations of Christmas Past, Present, and Future who will show the old man the error of his ways.
The Ghost of Christmas Past (David Wayne) reveals that young Slade spent a year in an orphanage before he was given a home and a job as an apprentice carpenter by the Brewster family. Slade would later shun their family furniture business and the love of their daughter Helen (Susan Hogan), in favor of mass production and making a fortune.
The Ghost of Christmas Present, Mr. Jessup (Gerry Parkes), the head of the orphanage, turns Slade’s attention to Mr. Thatcher (R.H. Thompson), the miser’s recently fired assistant. He has a son who is ill and on crutches. We are told that the only one person who has the power to enable young Jonathan (Chris Cragg) live a normal life is a nun in Australia, who offers a revolutionary treatment. Obviously, a household with no income can’t even begin to consider such a trip.
The Ghost of Christmas Future (Dorian Harewood) takes Slade to Jonathan’s gravesite. It’s not until Slade sees his own unkept gravesite that the wheels start to turn. Does he really want to be totally forgotten in death?
The teleplay by Jerome Coopersmith, who had previously written the Rankin-Bass cartoon ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas doesn’t follow the Dickens story to the letter, but the basic outline is there. Having the story take place in America has the air of a gimmick, but because it’s set during the depression, the story captures something nice about the American spirit of giving to others.
Unfortunately, Henry Winkler’s performance is only half a success. Winkler offers a unique and interesting take on the Scrooge character, but he doesn’t make us believe he is old. His voice sounds too young and he moves too swiftly to be believed. The problem is worsened by a lackluster makeup job, which obscures his eyes and makes his face look old, but leaves the lower part of his neck and hands looking like the 34-year-old he was. Despite those issues, An American Christmas Carol is still an enjoyable film and would make for good family viewing during this holiday season.
Apparently shot on film, this 1080p transfer shown in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio is a good one. Boasting fine colors and more detail than I would have expected, the only blemish is the occasional line running down the screen. Otherwise, considering this TV movie is more than thirty years old, this is a fine transfer.
The audio is provided via a rather straightforward LPCM 2.0 monaural track. While nothing special, it certainly meets the needs of this dialogue heavy film. Audio is clear and intelligible throughout.
Be aware that no subtitles are provided.
The following special features are available:
- A New Interview with Henry Winkler (HD, 8:41) Winkler recalls his initial reluctance to take the role, the makeup and more.
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