Well, it’s holiday time again and I figured I’d weigh in on this most serious of debates: Which of the 14,398 film and television versions of Charles Dickens’ classic story of greed and redemption is the best? It’s difficult to say for certain, because I haven’t seen all 19,573 versions of A Christmas Carol. But that’s not going to stop me from naming the one of the 22,741 versions I think is best.
The story is very familiar to most anyone. (With 27,821 versions it’s hard to believe many people wouldn’t know the story.) Ebenezer Scrooge is a cold, money obsessed man of business. He’s penny-pinching and cruel to all around him, with no charity toward those who are less fortunate. He thinks Christmas is a bother and a humbug.
However, his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who had died on Christmas Eve seven years earlier, visits Scrooge as a ghost who exists in a hellish kind of limbo. The late Marley has taken pity on Scrooge and wants to give him a chance to change his ways and avoid a similar fate. Three spirits will visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve to help convince him of the error of his cruel greediness.
Looking through Christmases of his past, present, and future, Scrooge learns he’s had a wonderful life and that he really shouldn’t kill himself for a bit of insurance…money… Wait. That’s a different movie.
Anyway, the spirits do their job and Scrooge awakens enlightened and inspired to change his ways. He becomes quite the generous soul who henceforth always kept Christmas well.
Yeah, I know! Spoilers! But come on.
As I said, there have been many, many, many versions of this story told since Dickens wrote it. Hell, WKRP in Cincinnati even did a version of the classic tale. But, hands down, my favorite version is the UK’s 1951 Renown Pictures film Scrooge (or A Christmas Carol as it was titled in its American release) starring Alastair Sim as the mean old miser himself.
It’s vital that the actor playing Scrooge gets it right. And not just the cold-hearted, money-grubbing, humbug-shouting Scrooge, but the joyous, giddy, warm-hearted redeemed man that he became. And Sim is brilliant! His dark and cruel Scrooge is terrific and his humbled, kind-hearted Scrooge is just as convincing. His supporting cast is filled with wonderful English character actors most of whom rise up to match the caliber of Sim’s performance.
I have two quibbles: One is the woman who plays the younger Scrooge’s love interest. She acts a bit wooden and is always looking off into the distance. And her crying is about as phony as I’ve ever seen in film. I’m not sure if that was an acting choice or if that was how she was directed to play it. It just felt acted, if you know what I mean.
The second quibble is the whole Cratchit family Christmas celebration. They are so pitifully poor, because Scrooge pays the head of the family so little, and yet theirs will be the finest Christmas goose and the finest Christmas in all of London. They’ll even have enough gin punch for two toasts! And the pudding! Oh, the pudding! Come hear the pudding singing in the copper!
Yeesh! The whole sequence is so sweet I think I develop a cavity every time I watch it. Now, I know the scene is supposed to show how happiness is not tied to money. The Cratchits are joyful despite their poverty, while Scrooge is miserable with all his wealth. But still, I’d advise brushing your teeth immediately after watching that scene.
And Tiny Tim is too tall! OK, that’s three quibbles.
Otherwise, I think the film is wonderful. It has a dark and brooding feel prior to Scrooge’s conversion. And one of the effects of that darkness is to give the feeling of authenticity to the story. It feels real and makes one think the movie goes back much farther than 1951. But, the picture brightens and the world becomes a hopeful place after the spirits have succeeded in their task.
Oh! And as a bonus. There is an excellent continuity error in the film. Christmas morning has arrived and Scrooge’s charwoman (terrifically played by Kathleen Harrison) has come with his breakfast. Scrooge is not acting himself. He’s giddy and happy and she’s terrified.
So, there’s Scrooge dancing around his bedroom, when he stops to look in a mirror to tell himself he doesn’t deserve to be so happy. It’s at that point you need to look in the mirror. Look closely! You will see a man off camera lean in to watch the scene.
It’s not a ghost! It’s not pareidolia! It’s a member of the crew. And it’s a pretty cool continuity error.
If you have never seen Scrooge or if it’s been a long while, it’s well done and worth your time. The entire film is available on YouTube, but if you watch the colorized version I will be sorely disappointed in you. Colorization is a humbug! HUMBUG!
Merry Holiday, everyone!
Correction (12-27-15): When originally posted I had listed the wrong character and actor for the scene in which we see the off camera crew member in the mirror. I had said it was the laundress played by Louise Hampton. The character was the charwoman and was played by Kathleen Harrison. I have made the correction.