The Man Who Saved Christmas from CBS TV

The Orlando Sentinel - Television Movie Review
"The Man Who Saved Christmas - CBS TV"



REVIEW 'The Man Who Saved Christmas' by Hal Boedeker
Sentinel Staff Writer, Posted December 15, 2002


Consider this the anti-Scrooge story. A toy maker treats his employees with respect,showers them with Christmas bonuses and provides generous medical benefits and child care. So much for conflict, right?

But wait. In gearing up for World War I, the U.S. government asks the top executive, A.C. Gilbert (Jason Alexander), to convert his factory from building toys to making munitions. He agrees and reluctantly endorses government propaganda that Santa Claus wants the public to give up Christmas.

Gilbert feels miserable for it. His wife and workers brood about the changes. Bullies beat up his son and blame the toy maker for ruining the holiday.

The title gives away the true story: The Man Who Saved Christmas. Yet this CBS movie, premiering Sunday, manages to be nostalgic and timely, rousing and tender.

In a welcome change from his Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials, Alexander charms as an optimist who extols play, hope and Erector Sets. The toy maker, a real-life Santa, even impresses a youthful Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And A.C.'s management looks refreshing today in the age of Dilbert and Wall Street scandals.

The Man Who Saved Christmas starts slowly in establishing the toy maker's business and family lives. Stick with it. The war galvanizes the movie, giving it a dark undercurrent that sets is apart from mushy holiday fare. The conflict between self-sacrifice and celebration yields believable tension.

A.C. struggles to meet patriotic duties while worrying about his soldier brother, Frank (Ari Cohen), and the needs of children. In a wondrous scene, A.C. hits upon his breakthrough after personal turmoil.

Alexander beautifully handles his big scene, a stirring tribute to toys, imagination and better times -- themes that should find wide appreciation this TV season.

The film has been cast with special care. TV fans will appreciate that Ed Asner, in gruff, ingratiating form, plays Alexander's father. (Lou Grant begat George Costanza?)

Jake Brockman portrays Alexander's smart but awkward son, Al Jr., in a winning style that escapes most child actors. Kelly Rowan is lovely and forceful as the toy maker's wife, Mary.

The Man Who Saved Christmas is old-fashioned in the best sense, and its sentiment plays as heartwarming, not sappy. The movie revels in period detail from costumes to cars to women's hairstyles.

In a year when bad corporate management grabbed headlines, A.C. Gilbert stands as an inspiring figure. He made toys for 40 more years before his death in 1961. He is not only the anti-Scrooge but the anti-Enron.

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