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Made possible by the John H. Mitchell Television Programming and Preservation Endowments

Rod Serling’s Nuclear Nightmare: Carol for Another Christmas

Actor Peter Sellers with a grim expression, wearing a hat decorated with the word "ME."
December 16, 2023 - 7:30 pm
Conversation with Anne Serling, author of "As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling." Book signing before screening.

Admission is free. No advance reservations. Your seat will be assigned to you when you pick up your ticket at the box office. Seats are assigned on a first come, first served basis. The box office opens one hour before the event.

Carol for Another Christmas

U.S., 1964

Preserved by UCLA — new 35mm preservation print!

Broadcast on ABC-TV the same year Dr. Strangelove was released to theaters, Carol for Another Christmas (1964) reunites stars Sterling Hayden and Peter Sellers in Rod Serling’s impassioned plea to prevent nuclear war through international cooperation. Sponsored by the Xerox Corporation, the original teleplay was produced as one in a series of TV movies intended to build public support for the critical work of the United Nations. The only television film directed (and produced) by Academy Award winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve), Serling’s mid-century reworking of the Dickens classic features an all-star ensemble that includes Ben Gazzara, Pat Hingle, Steve Lawrence, Percy Rodriguez, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Shaw and James Shigeta, all of whom reportedly worked for union scale due to their belief in the controversial project.

Artistically resembling a feature-length Twilight Zone episode with key sequences draped in noir shadows, Serling pulls no punches as his teleplay illuminates the scale of suffering at Hiroshima, the plight of innocents displaced by war, and the tragedy of hunger in a country of abundance. These harrowing scenes culminate with a wearily knowing Ghost of Christmas Future (Robert Shaw) offering a hellish vision of a post-atomic armageddon U.S.A. There, in the burned-out landscape of a former civic hall, a demented, egomaniacal cult leader self-named “Imperial Me” (played with chilling comedic verve by Peter Sellers) wantonly drives a ragtag group of nuclear holocaust survivors to abandon all vestiges of civilization. 

Serling’s cautionary, horror-tinged tale condemning isolationism was met with protests before airing, with the right-wing John Birch Society launching a letter campaign decrying the drama’s pointed arguments for global unity on behalf of the U.N. as “pro-communist.” Upon broadcast, press reviews were tepid, with the dark realism and forceful urgency of Serling’s message perhaps too much to bear in such close proximity to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Screened today, Serling’s unflinching morality drama serves as a timely reminder of the human costs of war and an eerily prescient warning of the existential dangers wrought by humankind’s own hands that remain all too real.

Author Anne Serling will introduce the screening and join Television Curator Mark Quigley for a post-screening conversation. Prior to the screening, Serling will sign copies of her book As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.

Program notes by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Curator.

35mm, b&w, 90 min. ABC. Production: Telsun Foundation, Inc. Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Writer: Rod Serling. With: Sterling Hayden, Peter Sellers, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Shaw, Ben Gazzara, James Shigeta, Pat Hingle, Percy Rodriguez, Steve Lawrence.

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Laboratory services provided by The PHI Stoa Lab. Audio engineering services by Nicholas Bergh, Endpoint Audio Labs. Preservation funding provided by John H. Mitchell Television Preservation Endowment. Special thanks to Marco Joachim, Televentures Co.

Special thanks to our community partner: UCLA Department of Communication.