It is Christmas Eve 1933, and the townspeople of Concord, NH are trying to hold onto their holiday spirit in the face of the Great Depression. But old Mr. Benedict Slade (Henry Winkler) is ruining what hope they have left by mercilessly repossessing their prized goods. Alone in his apartment, Slade is visited by three ghosts--Christmas Past, Present and Future--who take him on a fantastic journey through time that will show him the tragic consequences of his actions if he doesn't mend his ways forever.
Henry Winkler's performance as a miserly financier anchors this often-elegant 1979 TV-movie adaptation of Charles Dickens's classic holiday story of kindness and redemption. Buried under layers of old-age makeup (by Oscar winner Greg Cannom), Winkler manages to bring forth both the bitterness and the pain that fuel Benedict Slade, an elderly finance company president who spends a Depression-era Christmas Eve crushing the spirits of his fellow New Hampshire residents by evicting debtors from their homes or repossessing their belongings. Upon claiming and attempting to destroy a valuable edition of Dickens's Christmas Carol
, Slade is visited by a trio of ghosts (David Wayne, Gerard Parkes, and Dorian Harewood) who attempt to convince him to change his ways or suffer a terrible fate. Tony Award-nominated writer Jerome Coopersmith does a fine job of adapting Dickens's story, smartly adding political and financial details germane to the period that anchor its 20th-century American setting; director Eric Till capably balances the fantasy and everyday elements, and captures the period detail and snowy locations (Ontario, Canada, stands in for New England) with an eye towards the picturesque. But the film's success rests squarely on Winkler's shoulders, and the actor provides believable performances as both the youthful and aged Slade that did much to remind viewers that he was a far more talented performer than his most popular screen character, Fonzie of Happy Days
, suggested. Shout Factory's full-frame presentation of An American Christmas Carol
looks good, especially in comparison to other DVD releases of TV movies from the period, and offers a new eight-minute-plus interview with Winkler, who discusses his concerns about tackling the iconic story, as well as the challenges presented by the considerable makeup design. --Paul Gaita