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Scrooge U : Part XXVI -- "Ebenezer" is just " ... blah-blah-blah"

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Scrooge U : Part XXVI -- "Ebenezer" is just " ... blah-blah-blah"

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On paper, this sounds like such a clever idea. Shifting the location of "A Christmas Carol" out to the Old West. I mean, what better place is there to tell a ghost story than around a campfire?

And then the truly genius notion of hiring Academy Award-winner Jack Palance to play a westernized version of Ebenezer Scrooge. With Palance's weathered face (Which Billy Crystal once described as being so leathery that Jack was almost "a saddlebag with eyes") and his tougher-than-tough guy demeanor ... Who wouldn't want to see that version of Charles Dickens' miserable old miser be redeemed & reform?

All of the proper elements for an incredibly successful adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" seem to be in place. So why then is "Ebenezer" so terrible?

Copyright 1998 Plaza Entertainment

Me? I blame the writers of this TV movie. Who -- for the record -- were Douglas Berquist, Michael Frislev, Donald Martin and Chad Oakes. All of whom have gone on to have fairly lucrative careers in Hollywood producing dreck like "Behind the Scenes: The Unauthorized Story of 'Mork & Mindy' " and "Call Me: The Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss."

Anyway ... It's clear that Douglas, Michael, Donald & Chad had little or no faith in their time-tested source material. Which is why they evidently felt free to make whatever changes they wanted to Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale.

"What sort of changes?," you ask. Well, let's start with what they did with Ebenezer Scrooge. Who (in the original Dickens' version of this tale, anyway) may have been a hard-hearted, tight-fisted old skinflint. But -- that said -- Scrooge never seemed so bad that he was utterly unredeemable.

Whereas the miser that we meet in "Ebenezer" ... Literally in the first five minutes of this TV movie, we see Scrooge cheating at cards. Sneaking hole cards out of special slots that are hidden under in his poker table. Which then allows Ebenezer to systematically steal Sameul Benson (Rick Schroder)'s money, land and horse.

Copyright 1998 Plaza Entertainment

Now Schroder's cowboy character knows that Scrooge has somehow cheated him. But he just can't prove it. Not yet anyway.

So there's a confrontation out in the street in front of Ebenezer's saloon. With Scrooge being held back by his bartender / book-keeper, Bob Crachit (Albert Schulz) while Benson is restrained by Ebenezer's own nephew, Fred (Daryl Shuttleworth). The miserable miser wants the cowboy to vacate his property immediately. But Fred -- interceding on Sameul's behalf (Because it is Christmas Eve, after all) -- persuades his uncle to give the now-down-on-his-luck cowpoke one last night on his ranch so that he can then pack up a few personal belongings.

After Sameul is sent on his way, Scrooge celebrates his latest ill-gotten gains by dropping by the local whorehouse for a free turkey dinner. Where -- not-so-co-incidentally -- Benson's fiancee, Erica Marlowe (Amy Locane) works. Not as one of the working girls in this madame's stable. But as this house-of-ill-repute's maid / cook.

Mind you, the only reason that Erica actually works at this whorehouse is because Ebenezer cheated the girl out of her rightful inheritance. Which was the saloon where Scrooge just got cheated Benson out of everything that he owns. But that was only because Ebenezer never honored the dying wish of his old partner, Jacob Marlowe (Richard Halliday).

So imagine Scrooge's surprise when his long-dead partner suddenly turns up in his office to call this card cheat on his bad behavior. Ebenezer is so startled that he actually fires a shot at Jacob. Who -- in turn -- then pulls a gun on the miser.

Copyright 1998 Plaza Entertainment

Do you get yet what's wrong with this particular version of "A Christmas Carol"? Scrooge isn't the "... squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" that Dickens' described who's a " ... tight-fisted hand at the grindstone." In this TV movie, Ebenezer starts out as a really-for-real bad guy. Someone who actually cheats a good-hearted, young cowboy out of everything that he owns.

Once your story starts out this-a-way ... It's almost impossible to gain the audience's sympathies. To ever have the viewers root for this version of Scrooge to be redeemed.

Oh, sure. The writers -- as part of the Ghost of Christmas Past section of the story -- try to make us feel bad for Young Ebenezer. Again departing from the Dickens, they invent a reason for this promising young student to be kicked out of school. You see, Scrooge's father has made some bad investments. So he can no longer afford to send his son to some hoity-toity academy.

Which (I'll admit) is an interesting motivation for Ebenezer's ultimate attitude toward money. To make as much as he can by whatever means possible. So that Scrooge doesn't then wind up repeating his father's mistakes and squandering the family fortine.

But -- that said -- it's still hard to hang onto any sympathy that you may be be developing for this miser when the writers have their title character doing things like dismissively calling his Native American spirit guide (Michelle Thrush) Pocahontas.

Copyright 1998 Plaza Entertainment

Of course, what makes this situation even worse is that -- over this TV movie's Ghost of Christmas Past sequence -- we keep seeing Ebenezer committing all of these irredeemable acts. Like stealing all of the money out of the register at Fezziwig's General Mercantile, so that Scrooge then has the funds he needs to trek out west. Followed by cheating his father-in-law (Yes, Ebenezer actually gets married -- albiet briefly -- in this version of "A Christmas Carol") out of his ranch. Then neglecting his new wife, Rebecca (Jocelyne Loewen) as Ebenezer builds his fortune.

And let's not forget how Scrooge sells off this plague-ridden herd of cattle to some unsuspecting rube ... You see what I'm saying yet? This version of Ebenezer is really a bad, bad man.

Copyright 1998 Plaza Entertainment

So -- by the time that we finally get around to the Ghost of Christmas portion of the program -- the damage is already done. No amount of having Scrooge stare longingly through the window at the Crachit family's holiday meal or having this miser shed a tear when he hears his nephew's toast is ever going to make the audience forget that Ebenezer has committed all of these terrible crimes earlier in the program.

Copyright 1998 Plaza Entertainment

And don't even get me started on how the whole Scrooge-cheats-Benson sub-plot plays out. With Sameul & Erica eventually breaking into Ebenezer's saloon after hours and discovering the secret card slots that this miser had hidden in his poker table. After he learns Ebenezer's secret, this cowpoke is so infuriated that he rushes right down to Scrooge's house and immediately challenges the cheat to a showdown.

Which -- of course -- has to be held the very next day. Christmas Day. At high noon.

Copyright 1998 Plaza Entertainment

It's at this point that "Ebenezer" spins totally out of control. With Scrooge first begging the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be to stop this ridiculous showdown (Not because this miserable miser is worried about losing. But -- rather -- because Ebenezer knows that he's a far better shot than Sameul. Which means that -- should these two ever actually wind up in a gun battle together -- the young cowpoke is going to die). Then this TV movie suddenly jumps ahead a year, and we're all attending Tiny Tim's funeral.

There are all of these emotional manipulative things going in the final half hour of "Ebenezer" ... But -- in the end -- you just don't care. Because even an actor of Jack Palance's stature can take this unworkable teleplay work.

You see, for every idea that sort of kind of works (I.E. Having the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be pull back his hood and reveal the face of Simon Scrooge [Linden Banks], Ebenezer's father), there are two other concepts that are just plain wrong. Like having Scrooge & the Ghost of Christmas Present remain on their horses as they eavesdrop on nephew Fred's holiday toast. Or having Ebenezer play the role of Santa Claus in the town's Christmas pageant. Where Scrooge then has to get Tiny Tim's help before the townspeople will agree to join this now-reformed miser in the singing of a hymn.

Copyright 1998 Plaza Entertainment

You want to know "Ebenezer" 's worst offense? In its original short story form, "A Christmas Carol" has all of this great dialogue, stuff that's tailor-made to be dropped straight into a teleplay with little or no change. But because Berquist, Frislev, Martin & Oakes obviously had no faith in their source material, they discarded virtually all of Dickens' dialogue and inserted their own clever lines. Which -- in some scenes in this TV movie -- literally amount to having Scrooge (when he's replying to criticism) say "Blah blah blah."

Which is why -- I think, anyway -- "Ebenezer" wound up being such a blah-blah-blah adaptation of Dickens' classic holiday tale.

Tomorrow ... It's time for yet another animated version of "A Christmas Carol." With Tim Curry of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" fame voicing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge ... Well, it sounds like we're all in for a pretty time-warped version of this holiday tale.

Your thoughts?

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  • A bit of a disagreement here.

    This is one where you actually were forced into the role of the town's people.   Instead of seeing somebody that could be redeemed, you saw it how many people saw Scrooge:  Irredeemable.   And being such a villain, the audience comes to hate the main character -- maybe not what most people want in their story, but it worked for Ebeneezer.  Jack Palance playes a truly evil Scrooge very well.

    Who cares if they change things?   I mean -- you're a Disney fan.   How often have they stuck true to the source material (Walt was especially guilty of this).   Going away from the source material every now and then and not quoting it does *not* make an indication that the writers have no faith in the source materials.   It just means that they chose to give other interpretations.

    However, there are two points I do agree with:   the breaking-into-the-saloon sub plot seemed to break away from the movie way too much.   If it was part of Scrooge's journey through the present, it *may* have worked better.   However, it wasn't.   We completely leave Scrooge for a needless diversion.    That scene needed cut.

    In addition, "Blah blah blah."  Hate the phase.    "Humbug" worked in any period that the stories appeared in.

    I found, though, this contains one of my favorite portrayals of the Ghost of Christmas Past.

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