John Grin’s Christmas is perhaps the Christmas special I’ve sought for the longest time and with the least success… until now. See if it was worth the wait!
Director: Robert Guillaume
Starring: Robert Guillaume, Ted Lange, Roscoe Lee Browne, Geoffrey Holder, Alfonso Ribeiro
Writers: Charles Eric Johnson, Charles Dickens
John Grin’s Christmas was a Christmas special I remember looking for forever. I’ve had a Google Alert for ‘John Grin’s Christmas’ since I first heard about Google alerts. I don’t think I watched it when it first came out in 1986, at least I have no memory of it. It was a Saturday, chances are I wasn’t home watching TV, and as far as I know, it only aired the once, never showing up on the home video market or any future methods of seeing. Anyway, you’ve probably deduced that I collect obscure Christmas specials so knowing this one was out there but that I couldn’t get it was a challenge for me. I tried all kinds of ways, thrift store, downloading, ebay, anything that might get me a copy, but no luck. Well time passed, and I mentioned it occasionally, searched again occasionally, but no luck. Sadly it took the death of Robert Guillaume to reinvigorate my search.
And that it did.
In this day and age it’s kind of amazing that some things remain hidden from the Internet, but they do, but luckily, slowly, things are coming up and finding their way in, backfilling some interesting bit. They’re not always easy to find though. I hit the web with new enthusiasm thinking if not now, then when? So I tried all the things I could think of and happened across someone on the web mistakenly calling it ‘Mr Grin’s Christmas’. What was this? Was there another name for it? Well, turns out not, but it did prompt me to widen my search to other terms and fragments of the name and after some effort, I finally found a site that claimed to have a copy!
I should add that I’ve always tried to buy a legitimate copy, a real DVD or even Blu Ray, but that just hasn’t been an option. I hope it will be at some point, and I’ll happily buy to upgrade the quality.
Anyway, so I found a copy mentioned online for sale. Was it any good, was the site legit? Only one way to find out, looked them up and found their Facebook page and asked if the DVD was still available. I was pleased to hear back very quickly that it was, and was given a price of $15 USD. Phew, okay, I can live with that. What about shipping to Canada? Nope, $20 USD. Okay, reasonable, unless he means 20+15? Nope, phew again. Crazy how you get nervous about all the little things when you get so close after so long… Well I wired him the money within minutes hoping this would all work out, then I waited. Now it was up to the mail system…
This may be too long a story, but I figured if it took a decade to find, a few sentences just won’t do! So a week passes and the disc arrives – Wonderful! Into the computer, try to convert it to a video file to play on AppleTVs. Uh oh. Doesn’t work. Try method two. No luck. Three, four, five. Sinking feeling. So close, I can see the moving images, but I can’t get them off the disc. On the plus side, the image quality was way better than I expected for a thirty year old TV special. On the down side, it wasn’t working! Turns out there was an issue with the disc. And after a day of fighting I had to admit that I’d used up all my methods of trying to fight it, it just wasn’t going to work.
Well, I still had the original seller. Broken, I emailed him back explaining the problem, and asking if I could offer to pay shipping again for another copy, or even share something over the Internet to get a copy. I had come so close, I didn’t want to lose the only source I’d ever found for this special. To my delight, the person was very so much more than helpful and uploaded a copy straight away so I could have it playing on my computer before the night was through. It was long day of stops and starts, but I finally had my copy. Amazing.
I had to wait a night to watch it, but I was so relieved to have enjoyed it. All this time and all this effort, and if it had been terrible, I would have been pretty sad. But I was very pleased to have enjoyed it thoroughly. Sure, it’s dated, what from 1986 isn’t. Ted Lange in a pink cardigan looks almost intentionally dated, it’s hard to imagine getting something looking more 80s. And Geoffrey Holder was so big at the time, but he is wonderful here.
The plot is obviously a 48 minute take on A Christmas Carol. Because of that, a lot of editing has to happen, losing one ghost, and perhaps a little time that could have been used to flush out some characters some more, but what you get is a pretty fast-paced telling of an already familiar story, with an all-African American cast of really talented actors. I’m a little surprised it never did make it to DVD. It was directed by Robert Guillaume, and from his production company. I have to imagine if he’d wanted it out in the world again, he could have made it happen. So it begs the question, why didn’t he? And I don’t know. Maybe it was dated, or maybe it wasn’t everything he wanted, but I really enjoyed it. I thought, though brief, it was a very entertaining and heartfelt performance. I think if it was on TV again people would enjoy it for itself and for the nostalgia. I was really pleased to have not been disappointed after so long a hunt.
What I Liked
I’ve always enjoyed Robert Guillaume, Soap, Sports Night, Benson… All wonderful performances. And this is no different. I would have loved to see this as a two hour special to allow more subtleties to play out, but you can see from the screenshots below, there is real theatricality to this performance, and in the little things. This special races to where we know it will go, and it does it well, but it definitely leaves me wanting to seem more.
The world doesn’t need another take on A Christmas Carol (but we will get several each year regardless). Was this one worth making? Absolutely. I enjoyed it thoroughly, as much to see it as a different take, as well as some fine actors. Could they have had more meat to chew on? Sure, but it’s a TV special. And an enjoyable one at that.
I guess it’s kind of cruel to recommend something that really isn’t that easy to access. But I do include the Facebook page of the people I got a copy from and do recommend it, so if you’re a big Robert Guillaume fan, or a Christmas fan or a Dickens Fan, for $15-20 you can have a great nostalgic viewing. I’m planning on playing it for friends who also might enjoy this little slice of history. I think it’s a really enjoyable special and I look forward to watching it again and sharing it!
I finally found my copy at J&J Video, you can contact them here: Facebook.com/Video.by.J.and.J.