I think we’ve established that I’m a sucker for made-for-TV specials. Holiday or not, it doesn’t matter. There was a certain charm about those TV events that were meant to gather people nationwide in their living rooms for a shared special experience. Now and then these were great. More often, they fell short of greatness by varying degrees. SKINFLINT: A COUNTRY CHRISTMAS CAROL (1979) walked the line between entertaining and painful.
We all know the basic story of A CHRISTMAS CAROL: a rich and lonely miser learns the true meaning of Christmas as various ghosts give him a window into his past, present, and future. It’s been filmed and refilmed, updated, and even sent into space. What sets SKINFLINT apart from all the others? It stars country music stars…and Martha Raye.
Scrooge has been replaced with banker Cyrus Flint (played by Hoyt Axton). He’s a banker who’s main flaw is that he encourages people not to spend money but instead keep it in his bank. Mel Tillis is his employee Pritchet and Lynn Anderson is his wife. They have a Tiny Tim-type son who should have never been given musical numbers alongside numerous musical greats. Barbara Mandrell is the love he lost somewhere along the way. Martha Raye, while not who would immediately come to mind as a country star, holds her own as the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Statler Brothers appear as characters completely unnecessary to the story.
Let’s be honest–the story itself is of minimal importance. It’s meant as a thin thread to connect the songs which, thankfully, appear more than the dialogue does. It’s not that they’re bad actors. They’re perfectly fine. But no one–the actors, director, or even writers had any illusion that the non-musical portion of the special was important. It’s the music we gathered around our televisions for so it didn’t matter if there was any logical reason for those songs to exist in the story.
SKINFLINT: A COUNTRY CHRISTMAS CAROL aired once on December 18, 1979 and has never been released since. Thankfully someone recorded it and uploaded it to YouTube with a few of the original commercials:
Question of the night: what’s your favorite movie starring non-actors?