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Film / An American Christmas Carol

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An American Christmas Carol is a 1979 made-for-TV movie that transplants Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to Depression-era America. Benedict Slade, played by Henry Winkler, is a ruthless, miserly businessman who fires his clerk on Christmas Eve, repossesses his clients' goods as payment for overdue loans, and absolutely hates Christmas.

Slade is visited by the ghost of his long-dead business partner, Jack Latham, who warns him he will be haunted by three more ghosts. The three Spirits of Christmas resemble three of the people whose possessions Slade had seized to collect on unpaid loans, and they attempt to make him change his ways.

Not to be confused with An American Carol, a wacky comedy released in 2008 which is a satiric, conservative take on the story.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: All of the characters were given new names. Ebenezer Scrooge becomes Benedict Slade, and Jacob Marley becomes Jack Latham. Of course, taking the Recursive Fiction involved, it would have been odd with the book store owner owning a first edition of the original story and the characters keeping their original names.
  • And You Were There: The three ghosts first appear as people Slade seizes goods from.
  • Angel Unaware: The "Ghost of Christmas Past" tells Slade, "I played a trumpet in a war, a long time ago. You should've seen those walls come down." The implication being that the Ghost was one of the priests at the Battle of Jericho.
  • Berserk Button: Thatcher trying to give Slade a well-thought-out idea on opening the quarry to get more jobs results in Slade firing him for trying to teach him business.
  • Darker and Edgier: Not only does Slade fire Thatcher and send him to the soup line, he rips up books, steals his clients' goods, threatens his partner's ghost with a shotgun, and it's shown how his business practices drove the Fezziwig analogue, Mr. Brewster, to an early death.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Slade assumes Latham's ghost is someone in makeup pretending to be him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Ghost of Christmas Future has this reaction when Slade sees auctioneers burning a person's possessions and wonders about it.
    Slade: Who do you think this person is?
    Ghost: You can't guess?
  • Establishing Character Moment: Slade forecloses on the first customers by confiscating, among other things, the family's pot-bellied stove still smoking, on Christmas eve.
  • Evil Mentor: Jack Latham taught Slade all he knows, even giving him last-minute advice on his deathbed.
  • In-Series Nickname: Thatcher's son Jonathan is nicknamed "Mr. T."
  • Ironic Hell: An exchange between Ben Slade and Jack Latham's ghost mentions this.
    Latham: Hell's not what you think it is, Ben. Fire, sulfur, devils with pitchforks, none of that.
    Slade: Thank God.
    Latham: It's worse. It's living in all your past, all the time, forever. There's a politician who sits in a room with all his speeches blaring at the same timeā€”no earplugs, either. And a king who has to keep staring at the faces of men he sent to war.
  • Jacob Marley Warning: With Latham as the American counterpart.
  • Kick the Dog: To really drive home how much of a jerk Slade is, he rips up books because the leather binding them is worth more than the paper. Repossessing a wood-burning stove from a family in the dead of a New Hampshire winter also qualifies.
  • Never My Fault: Slade denies responsibility for Brewster's death and claims choosing not to invest was Latham's idea, when it was his own.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Slade was essentially adopted by Brewster as a child, but fell in love with and romanced his daughter anyway.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Several reviews of the film had to clarify that they weren't making up things like Thatcher's son being called "Mr. T" or the radio playing disco music as a precursor to the future scenes.
  • Recursive Fiction: The bookstore owner has a first edition copy of A Christmas Carol, which Slade repossesses, reads, and later destroys. Slade also brings up the book during Latham's visit.
  • Setting Update: To Depression-era America instead of 1843 London.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Latham convinces Slade he's the real deal by telling him information only he'd know.