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Scrooge U : Part XXV -- "Ebbie" puts modern spin on classic holiday tale

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Scrooge U : Part XXV -- "Ebbie" puts modern spin on classic holiday tale

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This really shouldn't have worked.

I mean, "An American Christmas Carol" already proved that Charles Dickens' holiday tale was strong enough / flexible enough to survive having its location & time period changed. But to do all that AND then give Ebenezer Scrooge a sex change? That really seems like one change too many.

But here's the surprise: "Ebbie" is a very entertaining & effective adaptation of "A Christmas Carol." More to the point, by being shifting this holiday story to modern day America & by making the main character female ... Well, this TV movie comes up with a rather unique justification as to why Elizabeth "Ebbie" Scrooge (Susan Lucci) is so cold & closed-off as our story is getting underway.

Copyright 1995 Crescent Entertainment Ltd.

You see, Ebbie is a woman who's trying to succeed in the business world of the mid-1990s. As owner of Dobson's department store, Ms. Scrooge feels that she must drive herself harder and her employees even harder. At the very least be tougher than all the men who rule in the retail world.

So as this TV movie opens, it's December 24th. And Ebbie is striding purposefully through Dobson's on the very last day of the holiday shopping season. With her assistant, Roberta Crachit (Wendy Crewson) hurrying along behind her, Ms. Scrooge is handing out holiday bonus checks to various employees (Who immediately begin complaining about how small these checks are). And -- all the while -- Ebbie's already making plans for the after-Christmas sales.

Toward this end, Ms. Scrooge asks Ms. Crachit to come in tomorrow and help her prep for the next day's sales. When Roberta tries to remind Ebbie that tomorrow's Christmas and that she really needs to spend some time with her family ... Scrooge accuses Crachit of not being a team player.

When Ebbie's niece, Frannie (Molly Parker) shows up at the store and asks her aunt to come join Frannie & her husband at Christmas dinner, Ms. Scrooge uses the after-Christmas sales as an excuse to dodge dinner with her late sister's daughter.

Once she gets back to her office, Ebbie finds two local businessmen who are seeking charitable contributions for the poor. To prove that she can be as tough as any man who'd do this same job, Ms. Scrooge now launches into Dicken's famous "Are there no prisons?" speech. Though -- newly updated for the 1990s -- this heartless tirade now substitutes the term "homeless shelters" for "union workhouses."

Copyright 1995 Crescent Entertainment Ltd.

As you can see, this is a very different take on Scrooge. In this version of "A Christmas Carol," the Ebenezer character is tough & hard-hearted because she feels that she has to be in order to succeed in this world. Which makes you feel sympathetic for Ebbie almost from the very beginning of this story.

Mind you, Ms. Scrooge tries to put up a good front. But when Jacob Marley (Her old mentor & business partner who passed away one year ago tonight) starts appearing her apartment complex -- first as a reflection of her doorman in the enterway, then as a weatherman on television ... Ebbie really starts to freak out.

By the way, Jeffrey DeMunn's performance as Ms. Scrooge's old partner is one of the real highlights of "Ebbie." Constantly answering cell phone calls from (literally) the Boss from Hell, Marley moans about "Remember how we said we'd sleep when we're dead? They never let us rest over here."

Of course, another thing that's fun about this TV movie is the modern spin that Paul Redford & Ed Redlich puts on Dickens' classic prose. So instead of "You shall be visited by three ghosts," Jacob tells Ebbie that "We've set up three appointments for you. A 1:11, a 2:15 and a 3 o'clock."

Copyright 1995 Crescent Entertainment Ltd.

Another fun concept from this 1995 TV movie is that the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Jennifer Clement & Nicole Parker) are portrayed as party girls. So -- as this duo accompanies Ebbie as she revisits various moments from their youth -- we get to see these two ladies in beehive hairdos & mini-skirts, disco outfits as well as Madonna-esque club outfits.

Anyway, our journey to the past begins with a look at Young Elizabeth Scrooge's emotionally abusive home life. When her Dad threatens to kill her new kitten on a cold December night, Ebbie runs away. And where does she eventually wind up? Right in front of the Christmas windows at Dobson's department store. (Can you say "foreshadowing"? Sure you can ...)

Copyright 1995 Crescent Entertainment Ltd.

Well, thank goodness that Young Ms. Scrooge had a kinder, older sister like Frannie (Also played by Molly Parker). Who agreed to take that cute little kitten back to her apartment where that it would then be safe from Ebbie's father.

Yeah, Frannie was always watching out for Ebbie. Which is one of the main reasons that Ms. Scrooge is so tough on herself nowadays. You see, back when her sister was pregnant, Ebbie offered to stay home and take care of her. But Frannie insisted that Ebbie go out that night and attend Dobson's annual Christmas party. Where Ms. Scrooge was just hired as that department store's youngest-ever assistant buyer.

So following her sister's orders, Frannie goes off to that holiday party. Only to come home and find that Frannie has been taken to the hospital. Where she would eventually die due to complications following the birth of her daughter.

Copyright 1995 Crescent Entertainment Ltd.

Ever since then, Ms. Scrooge has hated the holidays. More importantly, Ebbie's hardened her heart so that she can never be hurt like that again. Deliberately keeping people at a distance so that Ms. Scrooge would never again feel as bad as she did following the death of her sister.

Of course, the downside of behaving like that is that it's robbed Ebbie of the chance to really connect with those around her. As the Ghost of Christmas Present (Lorena Gale) points out, this has prevented Ms. Scrooge from realizing that her assistant, Roberta, has a son, Tim (Taran Noah Smith of "Home Improvement" fame) who seriously need medical attention. Or notice that her niece, Frannie is about to have a baby.

Copyright 1995 Crescent Entertainment Ltd.

Alright. I know. A lot of this makes it sound as if "Ebbie" deviants significantly from the classic "Christmas Carol" storyline. But that's not really the case. In its special own way, this TV movie is surprisingly faithful to Dickens' original text. We still get the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be showing Ebbie that she'll die alone and friendless unless she change her ways. Plus we also get an appearance by those haggard kids, Ignorance & Want. Which is typically a sign that you're dealing with one of the better adaptations of "A Christmas Carol."

Copyright 1995 Crescent Entertainment Ltd.

Anywho ... Once Ebbie awakes on Christmas morn, we now move through a modern version of all of those classic "Christmas Carol" moments. Only -- instead of opening up a window and shouting down to that boy in the street to ask what day it is -- Ms. Scrooge just gets on her intercom and buzzes the building's doorman instead.

And -- instead of doing that scene where Scrooge runs through the street handing out money to the poor -- Ebbie first stops at Dobson's. She then carries an armload of presents out of that department store. And the first gift that Ms. Scrooge gives is a warm winter coat to that homeless person who's been lingering outside of Dobson's entrance all throughout this film.

Ebbie's next stop is Roberta's house. Where she makes her longtime assistant Dobson's new executive vice president in charge of human resources. And Ms. Crachit's first assignment is to make sure that this department store's employees all have adequate health insurance.

Mrs. Scrooge's final stop is Frannie's house. Where Ebbie surprises her niece by giving her a box full of baby clothes. "How did you know?," Frannie asks, "We haven't told anyone yet."

Not breathing a word about the night she just spent with all those holiday spirits, Ms. Scrooge just smiles and says "We women know these things."

Copyright 1995 Crescent Entertainment Ltd.

With that, "Ebbie" 's credits begin to roll. Bringing to a close a surprisingly entertaining modern adaptation of "A Christmas Carol." If I had to find a flaw with this TV movie, I would say that it was a big mistake to have Tiny Tim sing as part of this 1995 TV movie. Based on the way he warbles in this George Kaczender film, Taran Noah Smith couldn't carry a tune if you handed that kid a bucket.

But -- beyond that -- I think that "Ebbie" is well worth checking out the next time it runs on Lifetime ... Would that I could say the same about the TV movie that I'll be reviewing tomorrow as part of this new JHM series. A perfect awful version of "A Christmas Carol" called "Ebenezer" that stars Mr. One-Armed-Push-Ups himself, the late Jack Palance.

Your thoughts?

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  • I'm glad you like this version because I think its one of the more interesting interpretations.I'd probably put it alongside Ms Scrooge in terms of being a successful realisation of the story. As I've written before, Americans seem to view the concept of Christmas Carol as a fairy tale rather than untouchable classic literature and that frees them up to try out versions like this which, whilst remaining true to the basic tenets of the story, allow them to experiment with everything else.Marley is particularly successful as the businessman haunted by his failure to carry out the real business of life. He's possibly one of the scariest I've seen.I also like the way the film places inner-city poverty so prominently - not just in the arrival of the charity collectors at the start but the notion that the employees of Ebbie are also working two jobs and are basically only one step up from the destitute themselves. This comes over quite well.As you mention, the two children are included and they were at the very heart of Dickens message.

    Funny that you note the substitution of 'union workhouses' because it reminded me of Michael Caine's threat to the Muppets of Victorian London, "How would you like to spend Christmas on the unemployment lines" Perhaps not quite in keeping with the language of the period ! Had a giggle over your picking on Tiny Tim also for his lack of singing ability. Is this the same reviewer who castigated the Muppet CC for releasing a version of the film without THAT warbling song !

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