I posted the last of my Scrooge month reviews a few hours ago with the review of The Muppets Christmas Carol. And I just wanted to share with all of you what a wonderful experience it has been. Have I seen a few clunkers? Yes, but not many and even less successful adaptations still had parts I liked (only 2 I really hated).
I think it says something to the power of what Charles Dickens created that I could watch the same story 30 times and still get choked up today on watch 30. There’s a reason it was a massive hit in Victorian England and has never gone out of print. There is a reason it turned Christmas into the holiday it now is . There is a reason it has been tackled by everyone from Mickey to Alistair Sim. I believe the reason is it is a story about hope. We all want to believe in the goodness of our fellow humans but sometimes it can seem hard to see. Christmas Carol tells us that even the worst have hope and the ability to change.
Being a Christian I love the idea of conversion, which comes with recognizing hope, but even if you do not believe in Christ the desire to change within ourselves is sometimes hard to find. It can feel overwhelming when hate and bitterness overtake our souls, and we cannot forgive others for hurts that feel Goliath in size. There is something about Scrooge’s story that gives us hope that we can change even if others seemingly cannot.
In a world that grows increasingly cynical by the moment it has been heartening to spend this Christmas season focused on hope and I thank you all for allowing me to prattle on and read my silly thoughts. It means a lot to me and has been a wonderful holiday I will always treasure.
It has also been a ton of fun. In some ways it’s like a whole classroom was given the same writing exercise and in the end produced wildly different responses. I’ve had the chance to review franchises I was not as familiar with like Flintstones, Barbie, Smurfs, Looney Tunes and even the BlackAdder. I had the wonderful adventure of exploring silent films, something I do not do nearly enough. I watched cheesy made for TV movies and giggled at the hokiness and camp value. And I rediscovered versions like Patrick Stewart and the Disney version were even better than I remembered. After spending November writing a novel it has been a wonderful experience to see so many takes on someone else’s creation.
So people will probably want to know what are my favorites? (I’ve grown weary of late of making lists). Honestly I don’t have a favorite. Alistair Sim 1951 is probably the most well made and acted, but they all have their own unique appeal. So I would just challenge you to look at the reviews themselves and see what strikes your fancy. Aside from Ghost of Girlfriends Past and All Dogs Go to Heaven Christmas Carol, you’ll have a good time at the movies and be reminded of the hope of Christmas.
And like Tiny Tim says God Bless Us Everyone! Merry Christmas Friends!
For the most part for Scrooge Month if I saw a version I did not care for I let it go and moved on to the next one (animated versions have been rough!). But the Albert Finney version is so iconic that I feel like I need to talk about it. Alas, it is not a favorite of mine. If you like it that is awesome. Sincerely but it took turns that I was not a fan of.
Scrooge is clearly a result of the huge success of Oliver! in 1968. Coming out in 1971 it is a musical version of the Christmas Carol story (like Oliver! was a musical version of Oliver Twist). Just a reminder Oliver! won Best Picture when 2001 Space Odyssey wasn’t even nominated….Oscars is such a joke.
Anyway, the styling and feel of Scrooge feel similar to Oliver but it is not as true to its source material. So, let’s talk about it.
I couldn’t find a trailer but you’ll get an idea from the screen caps and photos I show.
Albert Finney as Ebenezer Scrooge
Alec Guinness as Marley’s ghost
Edith Evans as Ghost of Christmas Past
Kenneth More as Ghost of Christmas Present
Paddy Stone as Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
David Collings as Bob Cratchit
Frances Cuka as Mrs. Cratchit
Richard Beaumont as Tiny Tim
Michael Medwin as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew
Mary Peach as Fred’s wife
Gordon Jackson as Tom, Fred’s friend
Anton Rodgers as Tom Jenkins
Laurence Naismith as Fezziwig
Kay Walsh as Mrs. Fezziwig
Suzanne Neve as Isabel
The cast is honestly fine in the film. It’s not my favorite but it’s not the reason it didn’t work.
Scrooge- At first I kind of liked Albert Finney as Scrooge. I like when his anger is filtered by his work and not just anger at everything and everyone . He is mad at Fred for interrupting his work. Same with the Benefactors. However, when Scrooge meets Present he drinks from the milk of human kindness and for the rest of the movie Finney appears to be half drunk. That kind of inebriation works for the Crazy Scrooge moments but not throughout the whole film.
Also there are times when Finney seems to be playing Quasimodo more than Scrooge. He is a sharp, capable businessman not someone with special needs that is hunched over and garbling words.
Strengths- Like I said the cast is pretty good. Alec Guinness is fine as Marley (in the early section at least).
A few of the songs are engaging. I really liked the opening number and the credits sequence a lot. Also David Collings was fine as Bob Cratchit although the Cratchit scenes didn’t quite work for me. Cratchit actually defends Scrooge too much in the toast. It doesn’t feel genuine and the Cratchit’s must feel genuine.
The scenes with Isabelle and the songs there are fine, and Finney actually plays the young Scrooge which I doesn’t happen very often.
The sets are also pleasant to look at until it takes a turn…
I combined these because they are basically one in the same. There are a lot of problems.
1. It takes too long to get to Past- 40 minutes. Why? Because of the songs. I still hold the best musical version of Christmas Carol is Muppets Christmas Carol and the reason why is because most of it’s songs tell the story. For example, we hear all about Scrooge in the opening number.
In this film the songs, competently written as they might be, stop the narrative. We don’t need a song about how Scrooge hates people. We already know that . Nearly every song tells us things we already know so it slows everything down.
And really Scrooge taking the time to sing a song about how he hates people doesn’t really fit with his character. He is totally absorbed in his work and would want to get back it as soon as possible. Again, in the Muppet version the songs are sung about Scrooge, not from him until the end when Scrooge singing is appropriate .
They also make some strange casting choices like Edith Evans as Ghost of Christmas Past. Everything from her costume to her demeanor did not fit that ghost at all.
Kenneth More is ok as Present but again I don’t like that he gets Scrooge drunk.
Then we get to Future and things start going downhill. We get a song called ‘Thank you Very Much’. This is sung by a mob gathered to cheer on the death of Scrooge and the removal of their debts. First of all they will be transferred to someone else. In the book the couple is grateful for a few days respite from the loan, not tearing up loan books.
But even if the loans are forgiven aren’t the people supposed to be an example of the goodness of Christmas? It is only in the slums of the Pawn Shop that we see the glee over Scrooge’s things. Not a mob of people singing with a coffin coming out. That felt so against the tone of the story to me.
Plus, it is awkward because Scrooge thinks they are cheering him on . He says ‘I have labored all my life to be worthy of this demonstration”. I felt bad for Scrooge. Again, he’s a smart businessman and understanding the events of the Future humble him and make him want to change. This just feels uncomfortable and not in keeping with Christmas…
But then it takes another turn. We get the scene with the grave and I thought ‘that’s strange. There are still 20 minutes left in this movie. What else are they going to do?’
Well my friends Scrooge goes to Hell. That’s right H E L L. And who does he see in Hell. Why Jacob Marley of course. (Wasn’t Jacob’s hell to wander the earth and see the joy he could not enjoy?). The special effects are laughable. The sets look like a a cheap haunted house.
Can you believe it? In the world of this story where Scrooge is going to be the head clerk for Lucifer in Hell why would Marley be given the opportunity to come and rescue his friend? And why would he seem happy to see said friend in Hell? Wouldn’t he be a little disappointed that his friend didn’t listen to the Spirits?
The chains are over the top, the oily chain laborers are ridiculous, the whole thing was like something out of an old Ed Wood movie. I sat there stunned at what I was seeing.
Scrooge is terrified at the idea he is the dead man left alone with no mourners. That is enough. If it takes Hell to turn him around is that not a pretty shallow repentance? It’s kind of like if I told you I was going to beat you to death if you didn’t say you were sorry than of course you will say you are sorry.
If I told you how your injury to me had hurt me and how it left you alone and you pondered it and said sorry that is true repentance worthy of change. Anyone would repent if shown Hell.
Maybe other people can overlook this turn the story takes but I could not. So this is definitely one of my personal least favorite versions. I am open to different interpretations. I think I’ve shown that (I even had a laugh at Tori Spelling) but at least those versions kept the basic framework of miser, visitors, recognizing loneliness and despair, and change.
This is like a Wagnerian opera where we are told how awful sin is and how the wicked will be punished without any of the subtlety or heart of a true conversion experience.
So this is a definite skip. On to better versions.
We’ve done 4 more serious Scrooge versions in a row so let’s take a quick minute to talk about a silly one- Flintstones Christmas Carol.
It’s not good per say but I didn’t think it was awful either. I think if someone said ‘you are in charge of making a Flintstones Christmas Carol’ I don’t think I could have come up with something this good and there is something to be said for that.
Scrooge- The gimmick behind this version is that Bedrock Community Players is putting on a play and the whole town is involved including Fred who is has let his lead role go to his head .
You kind of have to go with the world of Flintstones and assume that Christmas would exist (and there is a line about Jesus) even though Jesus clearly would not have lived in caveman times. Just go with it.
So Fred is obsessed with the play and forgets Wilma and Pebbles . At the same time we see the actual play and it is a pretty faithful narration and the animation isn’t terrible.
Mr Slate plays Marley and then when others get sick Wilma ends up playing Past and Belle making Fred realize what a Scrooge he is being.
Differences- Like I said we are in Flintstone world and there is a play of Christmas Carol within the movie.
Strengths- It does contain a fair amount of content from the story. The voicework is pretty good. The animation is bright and colorful. This isn’t that bad. Is it good? No but I’ve seen worse. (Better than Smurfs and All Dogs but worse than Disney or Mickey).
Weakneses- The world is just too goofy for Christmas Carol. It probably shouldn’t have even been attempted and it is strange that they still tried to the sets Victorian for the play. This is caveman. how would they know what that all looked like? I know overthinking it but it is sort of strange.
My advice is put on Mickey or Muppets instead but this isn’t terrible if your kids end up watching it. I haven’t seen much Flintsones. Is it worth watching?
Time to talk about 2 more obscure versions of Christmas Carol that are honestly not great but they have their appeal.
It’s interesting I would review both of these films tonight because they were both made for TV musicals with the Stingiest Man in Town filmed live and tonight is a continuation of that tradition with Peter Pan Live. Some things have improved in 50+ years. Other things are basically the same.
They were only made 2 years apart so let’s take a look.
1954 A Christmas Carol
Scrooge- Fredric March is our Scrooge and they took the description seriously down to the pointed nose, which doesn’t look great but he is fine as Scrooge.
This version is only an hour and the songs take up a lot of the time so we don’t get some iconic scenes like door knocker with Marley (in fact Scrooge seems to live in some kind of apartment).
We also miss on Scrooge as a boy and go right to Fezziwig. This seems to be the popular choice for most abbreviated.
The other big difference is Past is played by the same woman who is Belle and it is acknowledged by Scrooge they are the same.
And then Present is played by nephew Fred.
Strengths- The score is one of the best by Bernard Hermann of Psycho fame. It is not overpowering but subtle using chanting and some of the best carolers in any version I’ve seen. The original songs aren’t anything to write home about but the score is great.
Another interesting touch is that Scrooge can hear the music and that is often scarier to him than any image. He see’s Basil Rathbone as Marley and is mildly scared but then after he leaves the music remains and Scrooge can barely get off the floor. I thought that was interesting.
Marley also shows Scrooge the ledger from their counting house and it terrifies him. When he leaves the ledger remains so he cannot deny what happened.
Weaknesses- The original songs are very generic like one between Belle and Scrooge ‘What Shall I Give My Love at Christmas’. The singing is good and like I said the choral music by the Roger Wagner Chorale is fabulous, so it’s a mixed bag.
March is good but it is a little distracting that he is missing a tooth in his top teeth. It looked strange and it is a ‘stay away and let me do my business version of Scrooge’. The religious conversion elements are minimal.
Stingiest Man in Town
This version is very similar to the 1954 version and has Basil Rathbone this time as Scrooge himself instead of Marley.
Scrooge- He is fine as Scrooge . It is again the ‘keep to my own business’ workaholic version of Scrooge and little is made of the religious loneliness.
It is a little longer than the 54 version but the music is similar although the score is not as strong. It’s kind of neat because they included the old title cards from the TV production and the Alcoa Aluminum ads, which are fun to see.
This version was also filmed live which is interesting and we get a wave from the cast when they are finished.
Considering they are a play the production qualities aren’t too bad. The 4 Lads provide narration in kind of a barbershop style.
Strengths- The cast is all good with good singing voices throughout. The dance sequences feel a bit out of place but they are well staged. In the final cemetery scene Scrooge even argues with a figure dressed like the devil, which was a new take on it.
The sets are also pretty good for a live TV filming in the 50s.
Weaknesses- Oddly Santa Claus is a big element of this version. Tiny Tim is worried Santa isn’t real and Martha sings him a song called “I Believe in Santa Claus” It felt out of place for the story.
At the end Scrooge kind of becomes Santa Claus bringing gifts that are perfect for each of the Cratchit’s.
Tiny Tim has a beautiful boy soprano voice and his song One Little Boy is a nice song.
They aren’t ‘good’ movies but they aren’t rip your hair out awful either. I’m glad I saw them.
My laptop wouldn’t play either DVDs so I don’t have a ton of photos but hopefully that gives you a feel for them.
When I started Scrooge Month I knew I would have to do the Alistair Sim, Muppets, Mickey’s and Scotts and I looked forward to them, but I also wanted to dig deeper and find more obscure versions of Christmas Carol. Today’s entry probably takes the cake in that department. I was able to dig up 2 silent movie versions of Christmas Carol and they were both fascinating. I make no claim to being a silent movie aficionado so I can’t really judge the movies for quality as I’ve seen probably 5 in my life. If you live in Utah we do have an awesome movie-going experience in Salt Lake with an original Giant Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ at Edison Street Events. I have been there twice, once to see The Kid, and then Phantom of the Opera and the silent movie with the organ the surrounds the entire room is amazing. And it costs $6!
I wish sometime they would do these Christmas Carol versions there because the new recorded music on the DVD I had were weak at best. In the second film I muted the sound and just watched (something that is a unique feature of silent movies I suppose!).
The first version is from 1923 and it is only 23 minutes long. The quality is not great but I suppose it is all part of the charm. It only lists 4 people in the cast although more than that appear.
Scrooge is played by Russell Thorndike and Forbes Dawson plays Marley.
To show how mean Scrooge is they do something you’d never see in a million years in movies today (rightfully so) Scrooge wallops the kid singing Christmas carols outside his office with a heavy book.
Fred is the emphasis here and Cratchit is briefly seen. We even get a random proposal to Mrs Fred’s Sister (that’s her name on the title cards)
The Marley looks pretty good considering the quality of the rest of the movie.
Instead of taking Scrooge to see his past, present, future it is projected onto the wall (both films).
We do not look in on Cratchit family but only briefly at Fred, Mrs Fred and Mrs Fred’s Sister.
What’s interesting is that Scrooge is already pleading with Present for redemption, just when Present announces he will visit Cratchit and Fred tomorrow.
Evidently the thought of Present visiting is enough to scare Scrooge! We do get a brief visit from Future.
It’s just so different it’s hard to really judge it as bad or good, and I don’t know enough about silent films to judge it for its day. It was fascinating to watch; however, and I enjoyed it. Hopefully you enjoyed getting a little taste of it.
Silent Film #2
Old Scrooge 1913 (released in 1926 to US)
This version is a longer 46 minutes but it makes some choices that are so different from what we are used to in modern versions.
It stars Seymour Hicks who I will review again in the 1935 talkie version. He is good but it is clear this era saw Scrooge as a Frankenstein character. He is even called an ogre in the title cards.
He dresses like a bum which I have never seen in a version. It’s so strange because he’s still rich and a businessman but he dresses like a tramp? Maybe some of you know more about this era and can elaborate as to why this might be? 1913 was well before a depression era America so that’s not it.
Scrooge also refuses an actual poor person and the benefactors which I have never seen before.
It is also the only version I have seen where the office and house are in the same room and where Jacob Marley plays the part of all 3 ghosts.
We get the projections on the wall like we did in the previous picture but this time we see a few more scenes (and no strange proposal).
He comes to a pretty speedy penitence in this one as well and then it is the strangest thing. Instead of going to Cratchit’s or Fred’s he imagines it. It’s like he is still the monster and can’t really celebrate with the people.
Isn’t that so odd?
And that’s the end of the movie with his imaginary feasting.
I would say these films are more of a fascination than anything else. The choices they make, the way films worked, the silent movie acting are all very interesting.
If you aren’t a film buff than probably not for you. They aren’t like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin which will entertain in any era. Definitely more challenging but I’m glad I saw them and if you can hunt them down give them a watch!
I am excited to announce to all of you my next project. Consider it my Christmas gift to all of you wonderful readers. I have always loved Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol. I see it at our local theater, Hale Center Theater Orem, every year and watch as many film versions as I can. This year I figured let’s hunt down some more unusual one’s, as well as the favorites and blog about it. This should cover everything from silent movies to animation to Muppets. I’m really excited!!
I won’t go through the basic plot for each review because they are all basically the same, but I will note different choices in each version, talk about the leads and each strength and weakness.
If you live under a rock and don’t know the story of A Christmas Carol it is about a Victorian banker named Ebeneezer Scrooge who has allowed his heart to grow hard over a fear of poverty. Dickens father was sent to debtor’s prison and it was a great fear of his and all of the Victorian era. You can get a real sense of this gloom in his novel Little Dorrit (if you like Christmas Carol I highly recommend reading it). Scrooge has allowed himself to turn fear into coldness towards his fellow humans. This is demonstrated through his hatred and disgust of Christmas. He has a beleaguered clerk Bob Cratchit who remains positive despite everything. Bob has a son named Tiny Tim who is on crutches and in failing health.
Scrooge also has a nephew of a sister who died in childbirth. Seeing his cheerful nephew is painful for Scrooge because of his sister’s memory. It is another event that has made him bitter and cold. One Christmas Eve Scrooge gets a visit from his departed partner Jacob Marley. Jacob was selfish and cold like Scrooge but he feels sorry for his friend and arranges a way for him to be rescued from purgatory. Scrooge will have to be visited by 3 spirits- the ghost of Christmas past, present and future.
Through seeing his past and what made him bitter, the present and what he should be grateful for, and the future that is to be dreaded, Scrooge is humbled and decides to change and embrace Christmas and joy in life.
Honestly I’ve yet to see a version of this story that I haven’t liked on some level. It just moves me (yes even Smurfs and Tori Spelling…). I love the story because it is about seemingly lost causes and the fact there aren’t any. Everyone has potential for redemption and hope.
I personally see that redemption through Jesus and His great gift at Christmas but even if you are not Christian the message of hope in Christmas Carol is something to share and never forget.
So consider this my gift to all of you and my attempt to spread some hope during the holidays!
Bah Humbug!! 🙂
I am not sure what order I am going to do the posts or how I will group them but here are the films I plan on taking a look at over the next month. It will probably depend on how soon I am able to get a hold of different versions.