Originally televised on ABC on December 28, 1964 and was the first in a planned series of television specials developed to promote the United Nations and educate viewers about its mission — Who Has Seen the Wind?, Once Upon a Tractor and The Poppy Is Also a Flower are the others.
It sure has a great pedigree, as it was written by Rod Serling and is the only TV work by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It also marked the return to acting after Peter Sellers’ heart attack and has his wife at the time, Britt Eklund, in the cast.
On Christmas Eve, rich industrialist Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden) is alone in a dark room listening to “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else but Me)” by The Andrews Sisters. His nephew Fred (Ben Gazzara) comes to ask for help with a United Nations program at his college, but Daniel remarks that he’s tired of the U.S. being the world’s policeman. After all, his son Marley died twenty years ago to the day and he’s never gotten past it.
As you can imagine, three ghosts — Past (Steve Lawrence), Present (Pat Hingle) and Future (Robert Shaw) — take him through the world of isolationism and also introduces the despotic Imperial Me (Sellers) who demands that everyone left on the planet after a nuclear war kill one another until no one is left.
Serling biographer Gordon F. Sander wrote that this movie is unlike a lot of the author’s social change stories, as it ends on a down note. That may be because of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the war in Vietnam taking more American lives. This film is very heavy handed — it also led to a right wing boycott, which yes was already happening in 1964 — and didn’t play again until nealry fifty years after it first aired.