Review – What the Dickens? (“The Man Who Invented Christmas”)

A movie about Jesus Christ? After all, HE invented Christmas, right? Well, no, this movie is about famed British author & novelist Charles Dickens who penned the most famous story about the Yuletide season ever: A Christmas Carol. So much about truth in advertising.

*

Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is like most writers or filmmakers; you’re only considered as good as your last project and Charlie is facing a dilemma. After 18 grueling months, three book flops, and mounting bills, he’s got nothing to show except except a visiting deadbeat dad (Jonathan Pryce) who sells his son’s autographs and another baby on the way. Not a good time to be ringing in the Holidays, huh? Luckily, one night he overhears his cute Irish nanny, Tara (Anna Murphy), telling ghost stories to his kids and – BING! – a light bulb… er, candle gets lit.

A chance meeting with a stern miser after a lecture, a late night walk through the bad streets of London, and a ghastly visit in a cemetery, generates an idea for a story. As he sequesters himself in his special writers room, he ‘conjures’ Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) to life as he speaks his characters name and starts to converse with him, writing down the beginning of the story. Pretty soon Jacob Marley/Dickens lawyer (Donald Sumpter) enters the room and things start to get flow, but Charles keeps getting interrupted and his imagination stops.

After his publisher rejects his Christmas book idea, Charles vows to raise the capital himself, even though he’s nearly bankrupt. His only friend in this venture is his manager, John Forster (Justin Edwards) and his long-suffering wife, Kate (Morfyyd Clark). Scrooge pops-up here and there to either inspire or just plain annoy Charles, while the book must be completed by Christmas time for any sales. Meanwhile, dear ol’ dad is scamming money from Charles, nightmares about his childhood are troubling him, and more and more characters from his book are appearing and sticking around to give him advice… whether he likes it or not!

Facing a deadline and severe case of writers block, Charles can’t figure out the ending of his book; can the wicked Mr. Scrooge ever be reformed? And will a visit to an abandoned boot-blacking warehouse where he was forced to work as a child solve anything? All these answers are solved in ready fashion thanks to a clever, albeit sappy little screen- play by Susan Coyne (many BBC-TV series). If you’re a huge fan of A Christmas Carol like I am, then this is both a treat and pleasure to watch. Forget the fact that this whole story about Dickens and what happened is made up and just have fun with it.

Directed by British Indian filmmaker, Bharat Nalluri (The Crow: Salvation), the style is all there for a fanciful re-telling/re-imagining of how Dickens wrote his book and Nalluri shows off his camera work nicely. None of this is true, to be sure, but just like Shakespeare in Love, it’s a kick to see how the author connected the dots to make his creation. Give credit to both Stevens and Plummer for really giving stand-out performances. Although the movie has some problems with pacing, side-tracks every now and then, and has a rather silly ending, it tugs generously at the heart and that’s okay in my book. And in the words of Tiny Tim, “Who stole my damn crutch?”                                                

A World Of His Own (1960)      (Twilight Zone Episode, S1, Ep 36)

*

The final 1960 Twilight Zone episode of Season One was a comedic doozie. What makes this particular episode so special is the ending where legendary author, narrator, and creator Rod Serling makes an appearance and actually interacts with the main character… something he never did in any Zone episode!

Famous playwright Gregory West (Keenan Wynn) is enjoying another night of happiness at home when his jealous wife, Victoria (Phyllis Kirk), comes barging in, absolutely sure that she saw him having drinks with a beautiful blond (Mary LaRoche). When Victoria bursts in, the mysterious women has vanished into thin air! After a heated argument, Gregory confesses: he has a very unique secret… any character he describes into his dictation machine magically appears, according to his description. To make that character disappear, he just cuts out that portion of the tape and throws it into the fireplace.

Gregory discovered this talent when he ‘willed’ a male character into a real flesh-and-blood person as he was dictating into the machine. Victoria thinks he’s nuts, so Gregory demonstrates by dictating-to-life Mary (the aforementioned beautiful blonde) and then a huge elephant. Believing none of this, Victoria tells Gregory that he’s insane and that she’s going to have him committed. In response, Gregory pulls an envelope with her name on it, which contains a section of tape with her description on it. Victoria snatches the envelope away from him and throws it on the fire to prove he’s crazy.

Suddenly she gasps, “You were right!” and disappears. Frantic, Gregory rushes to his dictation machine and begins to re-describe Victoria, but stops and reconsiders. He instead describes Mrs. Mary West as his wife. Beautiful blonde Mary reappears and mixes him a drink. Rod Serling appears for a closing narration, only to be chided by Gregory who has an envelope with Rod’s name on it!

Written by the prolific Richard Matheson, who wrote 16 Zone episodes and many famous novels (I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man), this is one of the few Zone episodes with a humorous plot and ending. This also marked the only time Serling had a little fun with himself, as he was notoriously shy on camera and hated doing the narrations to begin with.

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