Now sometimes bizarre can be funny. A thing can be total wackadoo, but work. “Rich Little’s Christmas Carol” does just that. It first came out in 1978 on Canadian television and made it’s HBO premiere the following year. HBO replayed it every Christmas until the mid 1980’s. I first saw it as a 1st grader in December 1983 in a hotel in Gattlinburg, TN on my family’s road trip to Disney World and Epcot. I remember the small TV. I remember that the hotel room had a light smell of cigarette smoke and I remember that someone left a Newsweek in the hotel room.
Now this special is completely dated, but dated in a very charming way. The production values are low, the jokes are corny, and it probably shouldn’t have been made a musical, but mostly it works.
Rich Little is up there with Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey and Darrel Hammond, but he was popular way before them. This is basically a one man show, one man playing many men and a woman.
Most of the parts are pitch perfect: W.C Fields as Scrooge, Paul Lynde as Bob Cratchit and Groucho Marx as Fezziwig. Even Richard Nixon as Jacob Marley was inspired. Yes at this time, Richard Nixon was still alive and not dead as a doornail but Little plays it perfectly.
As it was a Christmas special in the 1970’s there had to be musical numbers. Groucho Marx’s “Your Typical Office Party” was pretty weak but Little’s Groucho is fun to watch. The best musical segment had Rich Little singing a duet as W.C Fields and Jimmy Stewart as Scrooge’s friend Dick Wilkins. It is very interesting to watch. To sing a song with yourself in two different voices and to make it work is quite an accomplishment. https://youtu.be/rs2nYxdYUsQ the song is at the 2:37 mark. Little known fact Rich Little and Jimmy Stewart were good friends and he did a one man show about Stewart.
A lot of the references are stuck in the 70’s and 80’s such as Columbo, Edith Bunker, Truman Copote and George Burns. The dated references are part of the charm. It is like a Christmas comedy time capsule.
The one thing I hated when I was a kid and I still don’t like it, The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come has to be scary. He normally shouldn’t talk but that would not work with Little being an impressionist. He could have picked John Wayne or James Mason. Even George Burns would have made a better Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come than the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Little played these three as the businessmen in front of the customs house. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLE3840A76971894A7 If you want to subject yourself to the ten least funny minutes of any Christmas special it starts at the 2:20 mark.
Andrew Ryan of the Canadian newspaper “The Globe and Mail”considered Rich Little one of the five worst Scrooges of all time. “Rich Little – Rich Little’s Christmas Carol (1979) HBO gave Canadian-born comedian Rich Little free reign with this cable remake of the Charles Dickens’ story and mercy did he hog the spotlight. Since Little was an impressionist by trade, he played his Scrooge as W.C. Fields, except unlike the real Fields, his version was snapping off one-liners like a character from Three’s Company. Even more unforgivably, Little assumed virtually every other character in the story. For reasons still unknown, he played Bob Cratchit as Paul Lynde, Jacob Marley as Richard Nixon and the Ghost of Christmas Past became Humphrey Bogart. Then and now, it was painfully unfunny.”
I agree with some of his points but it is hard to not hog the spotlight when you are playing all the roles. I still smile and chuckle except for The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come segment. That was just horrid. Maybe it is that whenever I watch it, I am back on that wonderful trip to DisneyWorld with my folks. I am almost seven years old again and that is a great feeling.
All in all this was pretty faithful to Dicken’s work. And it won’t be the last time I write about this seminal piece in this series of blogs.