Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Christmas Quickie




There is an old Russian proverb that states:


The wondrous thing about a dancing bear is not that it dances well . . . but that it dances at all.


And sometimes, given the fledgling technology and the miniscule budgets available for that experimental medium called Television back in 1949, it helps if you adopt that slightly bemused attitude.


The `golden age’ of televised drama was still a few years away, recording technology was limited (film or kinescope), and as far as  special effects went . . .  heck, receiving TV images in your home was a pretty impressive special effect just by itself!


So I didn’t really expect much when I recently screened a short (25 minute) television version of The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens produced in 1949.


I’m a hard sell when it comes to that hoary Christmas tale, anyway.  Since in my 57 years, I’m certain I’ve seen several hundred adaptations of the story.


Seems like every TV show did their own version of the story when I was growing up, everything from Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol in 1962, to Rich Little’s HBO special in 1978.

For a good list of the dozens of adaptations of Dicken’s classic, you might find this wikipedia article of interest.


But today’s offering from 1949, narrated by Vincent Price, was better than I expected.  Particularly given the notoriously bad reviews I’ve read of this production over the years.


It is short enough not to wear out its welcome, even for young children (who often find the movie versions tedious). Vincent Price does well in his role as narrator, and 71 year-old  Broadway and movie actor Taylor Holmes acquits himself well enough as Ol’ Ebenezer.


If you blink, you’ll miss it, but this is also Jill St. John’s first television screen role (she was 9) as (Missie Cratchit), although she is billed as Jill Oppenheim.


Vincent Price, at this point in his career was considered a straight dramatic actor, and had not yet become identified with the horror genre. In fact, his biggest claim to fame in the late 1940s was playing The Saint on the radio (1947-1951).


The worst part about this show is the slightly blurry picture.  I don’t know if there are any better copies floating around, but the one on the Internet Archive has seen better days.


Still, you could do worse this holiday season.   Despite the poor special effects and production values, I found it charming.


Just as long as I remembered the story of the dancing bear.



The Christmas Carol (as told by Vincent Price) (1949)




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