Before beginning this project I asked around social media and my friends what their favorite version of Christmas Carol is. Some mentioned Muppets, Scrooged or other alternative versions but as far as traditional tellings Alistair Sim’s 1951 version came up the most. It is without a doubt the most critically lauded and with good cause. I would certainly rank it in my top 5.
|Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge|
|Kathleen Harrison as Mrs. Dilber|
|Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit|
|Hermione Baddeley as Mrs. Cratchit|
|Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley/Marley’s Ghost|
|George Cole as Young Ebenezer Scrooge|
|John Charlesworth as Peter Cratchit|
|Michael Dolan as The Ghost of Christmas Past|
|Francis de Wolff as The Ghost of Christmas Present|
|C. Konarski as Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come|
|Rona Anderson as Alice (Belle)|
|Carol Marsh as Fan|
|Brian Worth as Fred|
|Miles Malleson as Old Joe|
|Ernest Thesiger as the Undertaker|
|Glyn Dearman as Tiny Tim|
|Roddy Hughes as Fezziwig|
|Hattie Jacques as Mrs. Fezziwig|
|Louise Hampton as Laundress|
|Peter Bull as First Businessman, Narrator|
|Eliot Makeham as Mr. Snedrig|
|Hugh Dempster as Mr. Groper|
|Richard Pearson as Mr. Tupper|
|Jack Warner as Mr. Jorkin|
Before beginning the review I wanted to speak out against the colorized version I saw at my local library. Those colorized versions of classic black and white films are an absolute atrocity. It looks terrible, like a pastel crayon was put to the film and ruin the gorgeous lighting and shadows we only get with black and white. I’d rather you not watch the movie at all than watch a colorized version.
Scrooge- As I said Alistair Sim is Scrooge in this version. He was a comedic British actor and evidently at the time Dickens films were all the rage. Leonard Maltin does a fascinating introduction to the version I watched where he said David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Old Curiosity Shop and more had all been done and are considered masterpieces. I will definitely be looking up those films because the shots looked gorgeous.
A comedic, yet still serious, actor like Sim is perfect for Scrooge because it creates a subtle performance that is hard to get when it is just anger, no wit behind the barbs and attacks. He is excellent at resisting yet being moved by the visits all the way till Future. He feels he is too old to change and should just be done away with rather than try. That felt like a very human response.
Now we have to remember that the original text is a novella and so when taken to the big screen it is going to need some fleshing out in certain sections. Each version adds to it in different ways and so far I haven’t seen a version that felt outrageous or so off keeping with the story that it angered me.
In this version we spend a lot of time with Past played by Michael Dolan. We see Fan who is older than Scrooge in this version. Scrooge’s Mother died in childbirth, which is why his father hates the sight of him. There is a moment when Scrooge realizes he has done this same thing to Fan’s son and it is devastating. We see Fan rescue Scrooge and then on her deathbed Scrooge storms out before he can hear her pleading with him to watch over her boy. Again, another devastating moment very well portrayed by Sim.
We also get the Fezziwig’s and the girlfriend this time named Alice. Some do not care for a man named Mr Jorkin played by Jack Warner. He woes Scrooge away from Fezziwig and then embezzles money from the company, only to have Scrooge and Marley rescue the business and claim 51% of ownership as a result making ‘Scrooge and Marley.
The reason I do not have a problem with this is because the book does not tell you how Scrooge went from Fezziwig to losing Belle and being consumed with money. We just know a new love has captured his heart and that he ‘fears the world too much’. Something had to happen to have made him fearful.
He was a businessman so it is natural to assume he did business with all kinds of unsavory characters, especially the further down the line he got. In fact, he compromises his judgement working with Jorkin once and as is often the case once leads to another, to another. He alone is still responsible for becoming the man he becomes. There are after all other men including Fezziwig who chose to not take the Jorkin bait.
So no that doesn’t bother me. In fact, I found it an interesting take on the story. Like I said something has to have happened to have made him grow cold to the world.
The rest of the tale is pretty standard. They do make a bigger deal of Mrs Dilber who is his charmwoman (servant). She is one of the women who sells his things in the pawn shop scene and was played by a well known actress Kathleen Harrison who is very funny in the crazy scrooge segments (and so is Sim).
Strengths- All the acting is wonderful . Sim is great. I love Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit, and Michael Hordem is my favorite Marley. The scene of Marley’s ghost is so well done. The music by Richard Addinsell is perfectly paced to build momentum towards our reveal. The special effects of the era still look good and I love the way Marley looks tired and worn down. It’s like every word is an effort.
This version also remembers the Christian element to the novella. To Dickens, Scrooge just hasn’t ignored a pleasant holiday but he has ignored Jesus Christ and His gift. At least to me, the book is so clear that Tiny Tim remembers who died on the cross and his foil Scrooge does not.
Present tells Scrooge “‘the child born in bethlehem. He does not live in men’s heart one day a year but in all the days . You have chosen not to seek him in your heart; therefore, you shall come with me and seek him in the hearts of men of goodwill”. That’s a message so often forgotten in most versions.
Because of the religious themes there is a real sense of repentance not just remorse at the end. As a Christian I find the ending very moving and definitely puts this version at the top of my watch list every season.
The cinematography is uniformly strong with gorgeous shadows ,lighting and atmosphere. They never go for the easy angle or uninteresting shot. It reminds me of watching a Hitchcock film, that rich in cinematography and direction. The acting is great all around and like I said the music is one of the best with carols coming at just the right moments (to emphasize the religious themes of repentance and atonement of Christ using carols).
Weaknesses- There aren’t that many. But if I had to nitpick the past section maybe goes on a bit too long but it’s only an 86 minute movie so not really. The Cratchit’s are great. Tiny Tim is great. The scene with Alice as an adult at the poorhouse is very moving.
I guess it is not the most kid friendly version with a lot of dialogue and definite scares but I don’t see that as a weakness because there are so many that are kid friendly (as my recent entries have shown!)
All in all a definite holiday classic that is a favorite of most film lovers and casual holiday moviewatchers alike and for good reason.