“God bless us, everyone”
Being that my only previous knowledge of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol came from a rendition done by the muppets and a Bill Murray comedic vehicle, I was quite looking forward to checking out, what many call, the definitive version from 1951. I have never read the book, however, a friend of mine said he had just finished reading it again before our viewing, and that this movie was as close as can be without alienating the audience with archaic language. While the title at beginning and end is Scrooge, many know the film by the novel it’s based off of. We Americans needed to be handheld even in the 50’s changing the name from the original British release so as not to throw people off that the story was Dickens even if it didn’t share the name. Either way, this film is a great success at getting the story about the season of giving through to the audience. An evolution of epic proportions accomplished in one evening of catharsis and rebirth.
Again, being that Bill Murray and the muppets were my barometer for this yarn, I have to say Alastair Sim is the best Ebenezer Scrooge I have seen, (not to knock the great Michael Caine, but he played across from hand puppets and unfortunately the drops his performance down ever so slightly). Sim plays Scrooge with a bitterness befitting the character. His pent up rage against the world that has only rewarded his hard work with pain is boiling beneath the surface, coming up at every opportunity to spread his cheerful Bah, Humbug. The reactions during his ghostly visits are emotionally true, and his pleas that he is too old to change truthful excuses falling on deaf ears. Even after his metamorphosis, while at first appearing to take the glee of Christmas cheer a bit too far into absurdity, his giggles and smile are so genuine and infectious that you can’t help but grin and bask in the humanity on display. When Sim seems to go overboard, it always seems to have a purpose and realism. This can’t be said for many others, but this is an old film and the craft of acting was one to show emotion rather than dissolve the actor into a role completely as today. The overacting was the norm and the theatricality a staple in the field. Michael Hordern does a great job as Jacob Marley, (although, when a ghost, he does have a couple cringe-worthy facial contorts and overreaching moans), and Mervyn Johns is a standout as the put-upon Bob Cratchit who only sees the good in people no matter how horrible they are on the outside.
There must be notice of the special effects, since the film was made in 1951. The way the ghosts were created as transparent composites was very well done, considering. Even at the one point where Scrooge walks through a solid human, (there is a flicker where upon Scrooge becomes see through before turning solid again), is almost a seamless transition. It was also nice how, when during flashbacks and cut scenes of activities during his travel with the spirits, Scrooge is put to the background and the audience almost becomes his proxy, watching the proceedings. We don’t need to see him viewing everything and emoting reactions. We see and feel as he would and his reactions are only needed to progress us to the next vignette.
Scrooge (A Christmas Carol 1951) 8/10 | ★ ★ ★