A Chradvent Carolendar #9: Rich Little’s Christmas Carol (1979)

I have no idea who Rich Little is. You probably don’t either. What matters is that he was important enough in the late 70s to get his very own Christmas special. I went into this totally blind.

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Does… does that say merriest or messiest? I’ve legitimately no idea but either way we’re in for a treat.

Here’s our man of the hour, Rich Little, who looks exactly like Peter Serafinowicz’s impression of Alan Alda.

1979balanaldaIt quickly becomes clear that impressions are, by coincidence, exactly what Rich Little is known for as the title crawl then lists all the famous people he’ll be caricaturing (always a sign of confidence in the impersonator). Is he really planning on recreating A Christmas Carol with various forgotten celebrities?

No, that can’t be it.

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So Scrooge is W. C. Fields, a man known exclusively for his work in such toilet literature classics as “Grumpy Old Wit” and “1000 Brilliant Quotes”. I had to look up YouTube clips of W. C. Fields shortly after starting because there was no way that a human being could sound like Rich Little does here and not be terminally ill. 

Bob Cratchit is Paul Lynde (me neither) and, instead of being money lenders, the two own a “Boat and Bottle” business, whatever the fuck that is. Rich Little invented an entire industry just so the narrator could say “Bob built the boats and Scrooge emptied the bottles” because Rich Little was unable to do his impression of W. C. Fields without making constant references to the man’s crippling alcoholism.

The jokes are staggeringly weak. They’re not even jokes. Scrooge sings “I’m dreaming of a tight Christmas” cue laughter. Before asking Scrooge if he can put another log on the fire, Bob jumps up and down and says he’s doing a new dance called “freezing and shivering”. It brings me no great pleasure to say that I’ve seen funnier moments in Scooby Doo. 

There’s an odd moment where Bob has his hand on the stove pipe then realises and draws it away in pain. I am not clear if he is doing that because it is hot (which doesn’t make any sense) or because it is cold (which doesn’t make any sense).

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It would make more sense if it his hand froze to the pole but then why would he have this reaction?

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I’m not going to dwell on this. Fred enters and it’s Johnny Carson. There’s some terrible continuity editing.

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Pause.

Ever wondered what celebrities think about other peoples impressions of them? Here’s Johnny Carson on Rich Little, straight from Wikipedia:

“Little’s impersonation allegedly got under the skin of Carson and he was permanently banned without notice or reason [from The Tonight Show] after his August 1982 appearance according to Little’s biography, and this claim was supported by Henry Bushkin, Carson’s long-time lawyer, who stated that nobody got under Carson’s skin more than Little.”

You almost gotta try hard to be that bad. The article goes on to say that he hosted the 2007 White House Correspondents Dinner. 

“Although President George W. Bush was reported to have enjoyed Little’s performance, it was panned by some reviewers for “his ancient jokes and impressions of dead people””.

I went back and watched that Correspondents Dinner and… my god. In this clip below, which I implore you desperately to watch, Little tells an extremely prolonged joke about hunters who confuse deer tracks with train tracks, berates the audience for not “getting the joke”, then, for no reason, singles out and insults members of the New York Times, promising to send them copies of Bill O’Reilly’s book “Culture Warrior”.

I mean, he’s not quite Stephen Colbert, is he?

The chuggers are Laurel and Hardy.

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His Stan is fine but his Oliver is awful. The slapstick in this movie, and there is a lot of it, is unequivocally awful.

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It’s even worse with sound – you can hear his feet hitting the bottom of the door frame way before his face makes contact, telegraphing the joke and rendering it even more desperately unfunny. 

Someone made this! Money, time and effort went into this!

Very odd sequence.

Scrooge sees Cratchit working, sneaks up on him, causes him to break the boat he’s made and then reprimands him for not doing the work he was just doing. Very out of character for both Scrooge and W. C. Fields. Also I’m not sure that’s quite how you get a boat into a bottle.

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Scrooge enters his house and his nose glows. Took me a while to get this one before I realised it was meant to imply he was drunk. Undercut by 1) his nose not being red in any other scene before or after and 2) by it being a clearly visible comic relief-style prop red nose.

Jacob Marley is Richard Nixon.

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I will give this film its credit, there are four (4) good jokes in total and two of them are here. The first is that instead of Marley’s chains he has the reels of the Watergate tape. The second is his line

“Expect the first ghost when the bell tolls one. The second 18 and a half minutes later.”

Even then it’s a 3 out of 5. Then he goes ahead and ruins the joke anyway 10 seconds later by turning to the camera and saying “they’ll never let me forget those 18 and a half minutes”. Why does every joke in this sound like it was written by an alien?

The grave/ gravy joke is gone because it would make Rich Little’s material look pathetic by comparison. I double checked and, yes, Rich Little is the only credited writer.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is Humphrey Bogart.

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By now we see a pattern. The impression appears, with a heavy reliance on costume, and delivers a few lines from their original property with a Christmas twist. Except here Humphrey Bogart doesn’t even bother festivising it:

“In all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world I had to walk into his”

He takes us back to Fezziwig’s “boat and bottle warehouse” party where Jimmy Stewart plays Dick Wilkins (remember that unforgettable timeless character) who lectures Scrooge for being miserly. I thought the whole point was that Scrooge only became miserly when he turned his back on Fezziwig’s outlook later in life?

Also Fezziwig is Groucho Marx.

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We get a musical number here called “Typical Office Party” where Groucho goes around pinching womens’ bums. Oof.

Did you know HBO made this? I’ll never be able to watch The Sopranos again.

Ok, past is over now. Time for Present. Who could it be?

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Oh, it’s Columbo. Hello Columbo.

I won’t fault him when he succeeds, his Peter Falk is fairly good. But he brings us into the most batshit insane Christmas Present segment I’ve seen yet.

For a start, Mrs Cratchit is Edith Bunker. From All In The Family. WOW.

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But here’s the best bit. Stop the fucking presses everyone, Tiny Tim is TRUMAN CAPOTE played by an ACTUAL CHILD.

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Not only this, but we never get a scene or a single line of dialogue to suggest that Tiny Tim is ill nor do we ever see him again. He’s not even mentioned. We don’t see the grieving Cratchits or Tim’s gravestone. The entire centrepiece of A Christmas Carol is chucked out of the fucking window.

Disappointingly, we cut to a closeup of Rich Little for a couple of Tim/ Truman lines. The bad news is that I was expecting the child to do it. The good news is that Rich Little’s impression sounds like Droopy Dog.

Following exchange between Peter Cratchit and Bob:

“What do you think of the meal we’ve prepared for you father?”

“Offensive.”

If I was Tiny Tim with a father as mean spirited as that (probably as a result of a lifetime of homosexual repression) I’d welcome death.

Who’s the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?

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Oh COME THE FUCK ON. Inspector fucking Clouseau? It’s not even an impression. It’s just a French accent. That’s it! There is literally no more to it than an accent, the costume and the Pink Panther theme playing in the background. That is not an impression. That is nothing. It is a true void and it is the single worst characterisation for Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come possible. It is. I have thought about it and there is no worse candidate for the Ghost of Christmas Future than a bad impression of Inspector Clouseau. It is the endgame. “It’s a comedy” I hear you say. “Live a little” I hear you say. Well it’s also a story, and up to this point has at least attempted to hit some of the beats of the classic it is attempting to replicate.

The placement of impressions is arbitrary. It’s almost random. Paul Lynde is Bob Cratchit simply because Rich Little can do Paul Lynde and needed to put him in somewhere. No other thought went into it.

As a result of the Pink Panther theme forming a large part of his impression of Clouseau, this becomes the second film of Chradvent to feature the music of Henry Mancini. Rich Little seems to have a bit of a history with Blake Edwards; he occasionally provided the voice for the otherwise silent cartoon Pink Panther character (foreshadowing Clouseau’s loud Future ghost) and provided the dub for David Niven in some of the Panther sequels. Why? Who knows. I suppose this also makes this the second film of Chradvent to feature Peter Sellers, in one way or another. No wonder he died in 1980.

We then cut to the future as the gentlemen outside the bank discuss the death of a mystery man (hint: it’s Scrooge). We get James Mason

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George Burns

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and… 

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John Wayne? In full cowboy gear? Mr Little, is your impression of him really so bad that you have to dress him like a cowboy even though everyone else is dressed like a Victorian? 

Don’t answer that.

We get one of the four good jokes in the graveyard scene.

“You have never lifted a finger to help anyone!”

“That’s not true. I’ve given many people who needed my help the finger.”

It’s then immediately undercut by some fucking stupid awful unfunny slapstick. Not even going to clip it. Clouseau falls in the grave. When helping him up, Scrooge notices that his own name is on the gravestone and drops Clouseau back in again. He promises to reform and give up liquor and we return to the present.

Scrooge has now given up liquor, completely destroying his business model. If Bob built the boats and Scrooge emptied the bottles then what possible role in the business could Scrooge now occupy? He’s definitely shown no marketing or sales acumen heretofore. This also throws Bob’s situation directly into question and could jeopardise the life of Tiny Tim even further if only he hadn’t been introduced and then immediately forgotten.

The fourth good joke comes as Fred offers a reformed Scrooge a belt of scotch. It’s more like a half good joke.

“A drink? No, I cant stand the sight of the stuff”

“I know, that’s why you drink, to get it out of your sight.”

It’s uneven and the idea is there, but the execution is off. 

Oh, not to worry, they get Dean Martin to empty the bottles instead – except his voice is off screen because Rich Little can’t do a convincing enough physical impression/ doesn’t have access to a Rat Pack costume. It still means that Scrooge’s role in the business is completely redundant. Good. I hope he dies.

At the end of the film, all the characters we now know and love turn to the camera and personally thank Rich Little.

What a shitshow. This might be the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

0.5 out of 10


Almost gave this a 0 but, to be fair, his Columbo was good. That said, I have no reservations in describing this as the most Inferior adaptation of any property across all media and time.

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