Sunday, December 22, 2013

Scrooge (1951)

UK release poster.

Premiered October 31, 1951

This film was released in the U.S. as A Christmas Carol, here's the lobby card.
We now blog about the film that most critics call the best of all adaptations of A Christmas Carol.
But even this version is an not entirely faithful adaptation of Dickens' novel.  

Alastair Sim stars as Scrooge.  

Bob Cratchit is played by Mervyn Jones.

What are the major differences in this adaptation?

The film opens in the London Exchange instead of Scrooge's counting house.  He interacts with some businessmen, telling them that "Christmas has a habit of keeping men from doing business."  Outside the exchange, he encounters a man named Samuel Wilkins (Clifford Mollison), who owes Scrooge 20 pounds he cannot pay.  If Scrooge doesn't give him more time, Wilkins' and his wife will go to debtors' prison.  Scrooge dismisses Wilkins.  This makes Scrooge here arguably even meaner than he is in Dickens' story!

When Scrooge's nephew Fred (Brian Worth) visits the counting house, he doesn't give his usual speech about Christmas.  Scrooge also doesn't get to the utter his usual line about Christmas celebrants needed be boiled in their own pudding with a stake of holly through their hearts.  His interaction with Scrooge is short, followed by a separate visit to Cratchit. 

Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley
During Marley's ghostly visit to Scrooge, we are shown the tormented spirits wandering the earth trying in vain to help living folk.   This scene shows up occasionally in filmed adaptations, but rarely. 

The biggest change in this version is that it fleshes out Scrooge's backstory during the Christmas Past segment.   

Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past (Michael Dolan). 
During Scrooge's time working as apprentice to Fezziwig (Roddy Hughes), a businessman named Jorkin (Jack Warner), who does NOT appear in Dickens' story (or in any other adaptation) tries to buy Fezziwig's business.  Jorkin tries to get Scrooge to poach Scrooge away from Fezziwig by offering him a bigger salary. 

Fan (Carol Marsh) comes to bring Young Scrooge (George Cole) home from school
We also see Scrooge's sister, Fan's death.  Ebenezer is heartbroken, insisting she's going to get well as he walks out. Because of being with the Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge learns that Fan wanted him to take care of Fred when she is gone.   As we saw in the opening,  he hasn't done a very good job of this.

Fan's death inspires young Scrooge to accept Jorkin's offer to clerk for him.  He meets Marley, who is already a clerk in Jorkin's business.  Scrooge speaks to Marley about his feeling that the world is "becoming a very hard and cruel place" and that he does not want to be crushed like "the weak and the infirm."  Marley and Scrooge realize they have much in common.  They eventually engineer a hostile takeover of Fezziwig's business.  Scrooge appears to feel  a bit guilty about this, but he refuses to talk to Fezzwig.  Later still, Jorkin is accused of embezzling funds from the company which allows Scrooge and Marley seize control of it.    

In a parallel scene to Fan's death,  Scrooge visits Marley on his deathbed - another scene that does not appear in the book or other adaptations.  Marley tells him they were wrong, but there's still time for Scrooge to save himself.  Once again, young Scrooge doesn't really listen to what the dying person asks of him.  

Scrooge signing Marley's death register
Scrooge's fiancee is named Alice. (Most adaptations call her Belle. Curiously, Dickens doesn't give her a name at all!)  When they discuss money, Scrooge says he loves Alice "because she's poor,not proud and foolish."  Of course, he changes his tune later and loses Alice as a result.  

Young Ebenezer and Alice at Fezziwig's party

When the Ghost of Christmas Present (Francis De Wolff) arrives,  along with the usual visit to the Cratchit's and Fred's homes that we expect,  we actually get to glimpse a scene with coal miners singing  carols around a fire.

Singing carols around the fire in a mining camp
This is part of Dickens' description of Scrooge's journey with the Spirit that rarely makes it into filmed adaptations. 

The Ghost of Christmas Present also shows Scrooge Ignorance and Want.  This is something that's in the book, but not often depicted in film and tv adaptations.

Ignorance and Want.
And in another new addition to the story, Scrooge observes Alice providing services to the poor during "Christmas Present".  

We also get a bit more of Scrooge interacting with Mrs. Dilber (Kathleen Harrison) the housekeeper in this version than is typical.  

J.A. Morris says: 

I've always believed that adaptations of this story are only as good as their Scrooge.  Sim has long been considered the best Scrooge and I have to agree.  Some actors play Scrooge as a mustache-twirling cartoonish villain.  But in Sim's hands, Scrooge is always human, we can relate to him even when we detest what comes out of his mouth.  This makes his nastiness more believable.  

Scrooge in a set that is lit like film noir
I'm not bothered by the expanded backstory.  Every adaptation omits portions of the story or adds new ones.  It would have been fine without the new stuff, but it doesn't detract from Dickens' story.

The rest of the actors are fine in their roles as well.  It's worth noting that two actors are well known to anyone who watched tv and film over the last 40-odd years.  The young Marley is played by Patrick MacNee, best known for portraying John Steed on The Avengers.  And Hermione Baddeley (best remembered for roles in Mary Poppins and Maude) plays Mrs. Cratchit.  Fans of Maude might appreciate seeing what "Mrs. Naugatuck" looked like when she was young. 

Hermione Baddeley as Mrs. Cratchit.

More than 60 years later, Sim remains the best Scrooge and this is still the best adaptation.  

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 candy canes!

RigbyMel says: 

This is a great adaptation of Dickens' classic tale.  Although there are additions to the tale, they serve to enhance and expand upon Dickens' themes rather than distract from them.    

The pacing in this version is interesting since so much time is devoted to the expanded Christmas Past segment.   It almost makes the Christmas Yet To Come part seem like an afterthought! (But what an effective afterthought it is!) 

I also like some of the smaller moments like the scene with the tortured spirits that Marley shows to Scrooge. I think this is the best iteration of this rarely shown aspect of the story that I've ever seen. 

I also love the interplay between Scrooge and Mrs. Dilber   The poor, put-upon woman is completely freaked out by Scrooge's transformation at the end and the scene where he gives her a guinea "for a Christmas present" on the staircase is actually very sweet.  

I also think this film has the Bet. Tiny Tim. Ever.   He's sympathetic and adorable without being cloying.   Kudos to Glyn Dearman for excellent delivery of The Line!  

"God bless us every one!"
This adaptation is also notable for showing up in quite a few subsequent Christmas-y films & programs -  Lethal Weapon,  2 separate episodes of The Sopranos and the "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas" episode of The X-Files to name but a few.

This version of A Christmas Carol definitely captures the "spirit" (pun intended!) of Dickens' story with aplomb and is highly recommended.

RigbyMel's rating:

4 candy canes


Unknown said...

Sorry for commenting on an older review, but I had to chime in. This movie is a Christmas Eve staple. Just before bed, after the kids are asleep, we put this movie on.

You've hit it spot on in your review. This movie is the best adaptation of Dickens' story. There might be some added scenes, but they flesh out the story and the character of Scrooge for a movie audience (where it's notably tough to convey the mood and detail of a written story).

Sim is the movie. Without his sympathetic and brilliant treatment of Scrooge, this movie would be forgotten. The man was a genius.

Thank you for reviewing this wonderful movie.

J.A. Morris said...

Michael, thanks for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment! It's nice to know that people still read our older reviews.