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VULTURE DROPPINGS OF THE WEEK: Variations On ‘A Christmas Carol’

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Charles DickensA Christmas Carol, the beloved literature classic and perennial yuletide favorite, begins with the heartwarming opening lines:

Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

There’s also no doubt that Dickens’ novel  has been used as a source for more TV and film adaptations than the combined works of John Grisham, Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde. The 1901 British short, Scrooge, was the first one and proved to be the beginning of countless other stage, film and TV versions of the Dickens’ tale.

Hollywood producers seem to think that the average viewer just can’t get enough of that miserly old man getting his Holiday comeuppance. The latest take on it is the Robert Zemeckis digital 3D version starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge. It’s one of the more ambitious attempts in a long line of adaptations that go from bad to, well, Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past:

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1. ‘EBBIE’ (1995)

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EBBIE_1Susan Lucci, best known for portraying the conniving Erica Kane on All My Children, got the role of a Lifetime (the channel, that is) in Ebbie. For those who thought you couldn’t feminize the name Ebenezer: you were dead wrong! Lucci plays Elizabeth “Ebbie” Scrooge, the heartless CEO of a successful department store. Ebbie’s the kind of woman who inspires the floor manager of the store to say:

She’s scary… but alluring in an odd sort of way.

Funny, you could say the same thing about most Lifetime movies. Right before closing time, Ebbie fires a longtime security guard, humiliates her niece, and forces her aide, Roberta Cratchet (Wendy Crewson), to work on Christmas day rather than spend precious time with her family. It all leads to a visit by Jake Marley and the following exchange:

MARLEY_EBBIEJake Marley: Change the agenda Ebbie. Reverse the priorities. I taught you everything.

Ebbie: Yes Jake, you did.

Jake Marley: And you know squat! You know the price of everything and the value of nothing. What you sow you reap! Do you remember Eb’? You and me? We used to be such go-getters. Always hungry. Never off the job. Do you remember what we used to say? We said, “There’ll be plenty of time to rest when we’re dead.” Well, there’s NOT!

Apparently badly written exchanges like that one are enough to convince olEBBIE_4d Ebbie to change her ways and by the end of the movie she is transformed into a kinder, wiser, gentler CEO. Now there’s a fantasy if I saw one. Sadly, Ebbie was never released on video and there are no video clips (as of this writing) currently available online. The movie did, however, open the floodgates of Christmas Carol adaptations starring women and was followed by Cicely Tyson‘s turn in Ms. Scrooge, Sally Kellerman in Mrs. Scrooge and the following two movies.

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2. ‘A CAROL CHRISTMAS’ (2003)

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CAROL_CHRISTMAS_1Before she gave up acting to star in her own reality TV show, hawk products on the Home Shopping Network, and write tell-all books about herself, Tori Spelling was a television staple. Especially in crappy Hallmark movies, that carry about as much weight as their greeting cards. One of Spelling’s masterworks is A Carol Christmas, in which she stars as a Beverly Hills “Scrooge” cleverly named Carol (apparently, screenwriter Tom Amundsen (Full House) took everything about the Dickens classic far too literally). This movie is so bad that it makes Ebbie look like It’s A Wonderful Life. In the midst of her scrooge-ery, Carol gets a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Present, played by Dinah Mahnoff (Empty Nest). She also comes across none other than Gary CAROL_CHRISTMAS_2Coleman, who plays the Ghost of Christmas Past. The veteran Diff’rent Strokes actor took time out from his run for Governor of California in 2003 to talk about his role with Variety, saying:

I try to straighten out Tori Spelling’s life — she plays a bitchy talkshow host.

I don’t know about you, but the movie lost me right there: Coleman helping somebody straighten out their life? That’s quite a stretch, even for the Hallmark Channel. By the end, A Carol Christmas reaches heights of cringe-worthiness that shoot into the stratosphere. But, of course, that’s besides the point. Spelling, Amundsen and director Matthew Irmas were fully aware of the movie’s potential camp factor and aimed for it unrelentingly. Case in point: a cameo from William Shatner, spouts lines like:

You’ve got to stop feeling sorry for yourself!

The obvious campiness of A Carol Christmas didn’t go completely unappreciated, though. In the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley wrote:

There are Christmas specials that are so ghastly they are almost fun to watch. A Carol Christmas, starring Tori Spelling as a tyrannical television diva, was a high point.

The special was a high point in that you have to be high to watch it.

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3. ‘A DIVA’S CHRISTMAS CAROL’ (2000)

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divas christmas carol tv“Christmas can be such a bitch” is the tagline for A Diva’s Christmas Carol, which stars Vanessafilmxmas3 Williams as a superstar singer named Ebony. Like all adaptations of A Christmas Carol, William’s cruel heartlessness is demonstrated early on. In this case, after the Ebony character decides to schedule a charity concert on Christmas day, she coldly tells her disappointed staff, “Christmas is a marketing machine we can’t ignore.

KATHY_GRIFFIN_VANESSA_WILLIAMS_CHRISTMASWhen Ebony decides to skip out on her niece Olivia’s invitation to spend time with the family, she, naturally, she gets paid a visit by none other than Marli Jacob (Chilli from TLC), Ebony’s late singing partner. Marli warns the diva that she’ll be visited by two more ghosts (played by Kathy Griffin and John Taylor of Duran Duran). Richard Shenkman, whose credits include Playboy: Playmate’s Paradise, wrote and directed A Diva’s Christmas Carol for VH1. So I guess this was a big step up. These IMDb user comments pretty much sum up the movie to a tee. One fans writes:

This is a lame, sloppily made rehash of the classic Christmas Carol story. Really charmless and fake; while the story itself is of course a fantasy, there isn’t enough reality in the characters or acting to give it any solid ground from which to tug at our emotions, where it so obviously and painfully tries near the end. It’s good to laugh at for a while, but it’s so annoying and substance-less, it probably won’t hold your attention for very long.

Another fan adds:

This special is amazingly terrible. Over-acting is not a strong enough word for the performances of everyone. Vanessa Williams plays a scrooge-like character and is not believable at all. This was like an accident on the freeway; you can’t help but take a look.

Or maybe you can.

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