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Ebenezer (1998)

If a film producer wanted to create a wild west slant on Charles Dicken’s classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge, there really is only one actor’s agent that I’d want that producer to be calling and thankfully the most obvious choice was indeed cast in the title role of this Canadian made television feature.

Jack Palance takes center stage as the miserly Ebenezer who runs a frontier town saloon in Canada and isn’t above cheating a young homesteader played by Rick Schroder out of his money, his land end even his horse in a crooked poker game as the film starts. For his whipping boy he has Albert Schultz working for him whom he verbally abuses as he forces the family man to do his bidding on Christmas Eve following Schroder being thrown out into the street.

“Christmas. Hogwash. A waste of time and money.”

When Schultz discovers the truth concerning Palance cheating Schroder, he’s fired with a menacing threat to never speak the truth. Seconds later the man’s small child comes to fetch his Dad and wishes Jack a heartfelt Merry Christmas bestowing upon him a carved horse he’s made from a chunk of wood. Jack brushes the child off and wonders if the carving was made from a woodpile he claims ownership of. Yes our favorite Jack of the western genre is a cold hearted S.O.B.

“Be selfish. Be greedy and trust no-one.” Advice from Palance to a wino looking for a Christmas Eve handout.

Following a big meal at the local whorehouse, Palance, begins drinking heavy and stashing his cash into his mattress. It’s at this point that major plot points will be revealed. Actress Amy Locane is portraying the young girl slated to marry Schroder. She’s also the daughter of Palance’s late business partner. A man that Palance cheated out of the saloon and by extension Miss Locane’s inheritance. Our western Ebenezer’s life is about to go through a major change when his ex-partner makes a ghostly appearance warning of three more ghosts that will visit him on this Christmas Eve.

First up is Christmas past enacted by Michelle Thrush appearing as an Indian Maiden. We’re off to learn the story of Jack’s early life when his Father let’s him down through to his years as a young man taking a wife, selling off her ranch and going to Canada in search of gold where she’ll walk out on him. This rip through time leads to a great line from Jack when he thinks he’s gone one up on the lovely looking ghost, “Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it!”

Christmas Present turns up in a red Mountie uniform atop a horse with one in tow for Jack to climb upon. First up is the Schultz family where Palance is to begin seeing the true spirit of Christmas. Might there be a crack in that rocky exterior when he sees the three little children, one gravely ill and witnesses a toast to him from the man he’s just fired hours before? The visiting ghosts are to be interrupted when Schroder turns up after dark wanting his pound of flesh. He lays a challenge down for a gun draw the following day at high noon on main street and in case you’re wondering, no …. Gary Cooper won’t be attending.

“Don’t tell me. You’re the ghost of Christmas Future.”

Still to come is a trip into the future and Jack doesn’t like what he sees so perhaps it’s time to mend his ways and unlock that frozen heart and those purse strings he’s been holding on to.

Ebenezer is a Canadian television production filmed in the province of Alberta and directed by Ken Jubenvill. Those old enough to recall TV programming here in Canada during the 70’s and 80’s are sure to recall the TV show, The Beachcombers, that Jubenvill worked on. He’s also a credited director on western shows including Dead Man’s Gun and some of the Lonesome Dove spin-offs.

While Ebenezer is obviously a budget conscious production with some wonky F/X the whole point of catching up with this one is my love of Jack Palance. Having been a fan since childhood it was a real pleasure to see him resurface in the 1990’s thanks to his Oscar winning role in City Slickers and his captivating speech on the Oscar broadcast that famously included the one armed push-ups at the age of 72. His performance as Ebenezer mixes the low key Palance performer with the broad Jack that loved to slice the ham on the thick side. If you’re a fan than it’s a joy to see him chomping on that cigar and chewing on every syllable he spits out terrorizing Schroder and company. And while he might be hamming it up there’s still some of that old magic with a twinkle in his eye that recalls just why the camera loves him. Not to mention that he’s a bona fide legend of Hollywood tough guys.

Jack also played another famous literary character in the same calendar year as Dicken’s Ebenezer. He starred as Long John Silver in a low budget adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island that never really found an audience outside of the family section down at the local video store chains of the day. For more on Jack and a gallery of his many film posters, click here for some cool artwork featuring that chiseled face he was blessed with.

Finally let’s not forget Rick Schroder who long ago captured the hearts of movie goers at the age of 8 in the 1979 remake, The Champ, playing opposite Jon Voight in a real weeper. I remember seeing it at the theater with my family. Odd title to take us to I suppose but it’s a film I’ve never forgotten having seen it at an impressionable age. Though Schroder never became a leading man of motion pictures in adulthood he’s kept up a steady pace of acting credits including stints on shows including Silver Spoons, NYPD Blue and 24.

So if you’re looking to see every version of Charles Dicken’s literary classic from Reginald Owen and Alastair Sim to Henry Winkler and George C. Scott, then set aside that Bill Murray version you’ve seen a dozen times and check out this western version starring the only man for the job, Jack Palance.

6 Comments »

    • Not sure why it took me so long to finally catch up to it aside from it’s a Christmas week title and each year it’s hard to find the time…. I set it on my desk ahead of schedule so I wouldn’t forget this year. Have fun if you locate it.

  1. Ha, the story of Scrooge set in the West…pretty cool. There was also a Christmas story made in the ’70s, about three wise men in a coastal island town, and how they go to sea bearing gifts of chum, yellow barrels, and an oxygen tank. I can’t remember the name of it, though…

    • Again, not sure why it took me so long to finally tune in. Have had that copy for too many winters. Low budget but heart in the right place and of course there’s Jack in a perfect setting for the oft told tale.

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