Scrooge (1951)

Scrooge-1951

  • Year: 1951
  • Director: Brian Desmond Hurst
  • Starring: Alastair Sim, Mervyn Johns, Kathleen Harrison

When critics and fans alike talk about the best version of A Christmas Carol, there are three that come up the most consistently, 1951’s Scrooge, 1984’s A Christmas Carol, and in recent years, The Muppet Christmas Carol. Without a doubt, 1951’s Scrooge (released as A Christmas Carol in the United States) is the one that comes up the most.

Alastair Sim, a respected actor of stage and screen, portrays Scrooge for this go-round, a role he would later reprise in the 1971 Oscar-winning cartoon. I do have to admit that multiple times I have accidentally referred to him as Alastair Slim, which sounds much more like a British cowboy than a renowned theatrical actor.

Scrooge is clearly a man who is angry at the world, particularly of course at the Christmas season, and there are two ways to play this. Most actors opt towards turning the anger outwards, which results in basically yelling at the world. Sim is one of the rare actors who turns the anger inward, coming off as more aloof and even depressed. Contrast the scene of Scrooge granting Bob Cratchit Christmas Day off with the same scene from A Christmas Carol 1938.

whole day

Scrooge is looking away from Cratchit for almost the entire scene. Christmas hits a nerve with him, but he does not feel the need to yell every time someone brings it up. Alternatively, Reginald Owen’s Scrooge shouts so harshly at a clearly terrified Bob Cratchit that you don’t believe he would even consider giving him the day off.

So many Scrooges say they wish to be left alone, but they seem to get so much twisted joy out of telling people why they are wrong about Christmas. With Alastair Sim’s Scrooge, you truly believe he wants to just be by himself.

Both of my previous reviews have been full of criticisms and jokes at the films’ expense, but to be honest, pointing out problems with Scrooge 1951 would really be splitting hairs. So, let’s split some hairs with my new segment…

LFF
It was quite a hit at both the Republican and Democratic debates.

Round 1: Find a character who is drastically miscast.

Oh good, there’s always one of these. Well, let’s take a look at Bob Cratchit first.

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Cratchit is played by Mervyn Johns, and no I am not taking points off for his name being Mervyn. Be honest, if you saw this guy by himself and had to guess what character he played, you would say Bob Cratchit. This Cratchit is entirely aware his situation is not a great one, but he tries to make the most of it anyway, especially on Christmas. He is clearly proud of his children, gladly announcing Peter will soon be starting his first job. The scene in Christmas Future where the family mourns Tiny Tim’s death is even more heartbreaking than usual, with Bob trying to keep his spirits up, but finally breaking down.

So if not Cratchit, let’s try another often miscast character… The Ghost of Christmas Past.

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I was a bit surprised at this ghost’s look at first, as most adaptations portray Christmas Past as either a woman or a young child, but this one seems to be going for a Father Time sort of thing. Dickens did describe the ghost as being both like a child and an old man, and we at least get half of that. Michael Dolan’s Christmas Past is a little less judgmental and more stoic than most interpretations, letting Scrooge learn on his own.

Well what about Tiny Tim? Surely there must be an issue with Tiny Tim.

tim

A-ha, he looks way too healthy. Give me the points for the round.

Yes, I admit, no real attempt outside of a cane is made to have Tiny Tim appear sick. You really would not know he was sick unless they flat-out told you. However, Glyn Dearman’s performance is perfectly competent, albeit not spectacular.

Round 2: Find a change to the story that bogs down the film.

Alright, well it seems like most versions have these. Here we go…

Normally, Christmas Past shows Scrooge a scene of his childhood, a scene of Fezziwig’s, and his break-up with Belle (Alice in this version), and we are left to fill in the blanks. Here, Christmas Past shows Scrooge a lot of additional scenes in this movie, and I mean a lot.

1marley
And then a man named Mr. Jorkin bought you out of Fezziwig’s.

Spirit, show me no more.

fan
And then your sister died and you ignored her dying request.

Spirit, show me no more.

jorkin
When Jorkin was caught embezzling, you and Marley bought out the company.

Spirit, show me no more. I’m afraid the others will have no time left.

Yes, there are a lot of additional past scenes added, but this actually works in the film’s favor. We see Scrooge separate himself from Fezziwig, Alice, and Fan. We also get the anti-Fezziwig in Mr. Jorkin who, as shown above, embezzles money from his company.

Perhaps the most chilling addition is the scene of Jacob Marley’ death. Scrooge does not really seem to be shaken up about his only real friend being on his deathbed. He does go to visit him when work hours are over, and although Marley tries to plead with Scrooge to change, he does not heed his warning. We also learn that Scrooge took Marley’s house after his death, which finally answers the question of why a stingy man like Scrooge owns an expansive house.

This also brings a new level of meaning to Jacob Marley’s haunting, in that Jacob Marley is stuck in his old home, trying to repeat his dying message to Scrooge. These little changes add a lot of depth and subtext to an already wonderful story.

Another very subtle addition is made to the Scrooge-Fred dynamic. We learn that Scrooge’s mother died in childbirth, and Scrooge’s father always blamed him for his mother’s death. Later, we also learn that Scrooge’s sister Fan died in childbirth. Now, nothing more is said of this, but it is definitely implied that Scrooge blames Fred for his sister’s death.

Well, since there is no fault to be found with Christmas Past, how about Christmas Future?

too old

When Scrooge first meets the Ghost of Christmas Future, he acknowledges that he needs to change, but suggests that he is too old. I am amazed that not one other version (that I’m aware of at least) has included this possibility. Sure, Scrooge could easily use this an excuse, but with Alastair Sim, you genuinely believe he is concerned about his age being a factor. Of course, since he is telling this to the Ghost of Christmas Future, there is no response.

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The scene where Scrooge’s charwoman (essentially a housekeeper) Mrs. Dilber, the undertaker, and others go through Scrooge’s things is always dark, but it is so much more unsettling in this version. We have seen Mrs. Dilber (Kathleen Harrison) in earlier scenes as Jacob Marley’s charwoman, and we will see her later in the Christmas morning scenes as Scrooge’s. By that point, Scrooge knows what she would have been like in the future, and yet he still shares his joy with her.

Round 3: You’ve failed at round two, so your only chance at winning is to find the ridiculously over-the-top performance.

I’ve got it. The Ghost of Christmas Present is always over-the-top. Normally it works, but maybe this one goes too far.

present
Oh… he’s relatively subdued.

Christmas Present is played by Francis de Wolff, and he is the perfect mix of somber and cheerful. Christmas Present is almost universally the highlight of the four ghost performances, and de Wolff is no exception. I don’t think the part has ever been played this well.

Well, we’ve already established that Cratchit and Scrooge avoid histrionics, so maybe no performance is too hammy.

marley3
Scroooooge!

Oh please, can we just move on?

marley
Scrooooooooooooge!

Maybe he chews a little scenery…

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Yes, that is a real picture of this movie’s Jacob Marley. I can hear you now, “Oh you just paused the scene on a funny face.” No, in all seriousness, the whole performance is hilarious. Michael Horden is so over-the-top as Marley that he makes Tim Curry look like Keanu Reeves. If this film was made today, there would immediately be a meme circulating of Marley shrieking “Business?”.

The only major flaw in this film is the Marley scene. I understand that Michael Horden recorded his portion in a different studio than Alastair Sim, but the same thing happened with the Ghost of Christmas Past and it doesn’t show. This is just a misfire. We also see a scene mentioned in the book that doesn’t make it into many adaptations—the wandering spirits outside the window. It is very easy to see why this is usually left out, as the effects leave something to be desired.

haunt
Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion is scarier than this.

Alright, you’ve found the problem with the movie. Thanks for playing Let’s Find Fault.

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The wandering spirits scene aside, this is an incredibly dark and creepy telling of the tale. Just look at this shot of Scrooge walking home on Christmas Eve.

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Or this one of Scrooge’s house before Marley’s ghost enters.

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Brian Desmond Hurst’s directing is brilliant, and it is paired with the gorgeous cinematography of C.M Pennington-Richards. They definitely draw some inspiration from horror films, much more than your typical Christmas Carol adaptation. For example, when Scrooge visits Marley on his death bed, he walks into the house to see this.

undertaker
Plenty of horror films don’t have a scene this creepy.

Who is this sitting so eerily at the top of the stairs with Mrs. Dilber? I’m sure it will be less scary when we find out it’s just Marley’s brother or something. Nope, it’s the undertaker trying to beat the competition! This is another one of those little moments that makes Scrooge 1951 so good.

I also really like what is done with the Ghost of Christmas Future. For the most part, we only see parts of his cloak and a bony finger, but Scrooge is looking right into his face. He is obviously seeing something terrifying, but we can only guess as to what it is. Now, if you want to see a version that insists on unmasking Christmas Future, we will get to that one next week.

Sim’s performance as Scrooge, in addition to George Cole’s as Young Scrooge, creates an even more rounded character than usual. Like most Scrooges, Sim is a bit silly in the waking-up scene, but I tend to be more forgiving, because Scrooge is very much laughing at himself.

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Thankfully, Scrooge also has Mrs. Dilber to talk to in this scene, instead of just saying the lines to himself. She is obviously taken aback at his new demeanor, but she soon learns it is genuine, as do Fred and Bob Cratchit. The film ends with some narration right out of Dickens’ novel, read by Peter Bull, confirming of course that Scrooge did keep his promise to help the Cratchits and that Tiny Tim did live.

Every aspect of Scrooge’s change feels real. We believe he grew disenchanted with Christmas due to all the tragedy in his life, but we also believe that he is genuinely a new man at the end. Sure, the change technically happens in every version, but very few make it seem as complete as this one. Let’s check out the final score.

Story (30/30 Points)

Yeah, it’s getting the first perfect score. Noel Langley’s screenplay hits all the usual points, but the additional scenes of Christmas Past improve on the text, if that is possible. The scene with Jacob Marley’ death is especially chilling, and the added character of Mr. Jorkin works marvelously.

Scrooge (27/30 Points)

Alastair Sim is really, really good as Scrooge. He doesn’t play him as a shouting, argumentative miser, but rather a cold, reserved man who has given up hope. It is not a flawless performance—he is a touch too warm at the beginning and a touch too goofy at the end, but it is really close.

Ghosts (6/10 Points)

This is the third consecutive review where I have singled out Christmas Present, but Francis de Wolff tops both of the previous ones. Christmas Future is also rightfully creepy, and Christmas Past is serviceable. If it wasn’t for Marley, this would be a much higher score, but he misses the mark so much.

Bob Cratchit (9/10 Points)

Mervyn Johns is a wonderful Bob Cratchit, toeing the line between being full of Christmas spirit and being realistic. I love the scene in Christmas Past where we see that Cratchit has been asking for Christmas day off every year.

Supporting Characters (8/10 Points)

There are a lot of them. The rest of the Cratchits are fine, but none are as good as Bob. Jack Warner is delightfully smug as Mr. Jorkin, and I like the expanded role of Mrs. Dilber, which Kathleen Harrison portrays perfectly.

Experience (10/10 Points)

Just look back through the review at some of the screenshots, or better yet, go watch the movie. It is a stunning film to behold, especially the numerous dark scenes.

Final Score: 90%

Scrooge 1951 is often called the definitive version, and that is hard to argue with. Basically all of the chances taken with the story pay off, and some of them are very risky. Alastair Sim creates an Ebenezer Scrooge for the ages, and when you mix that with masterful writing and direction, Scrooge 1951 is a masterpiece.

Next week, get ready for some music, as we take a look at Scrooge, the musical adaptation from 1970.

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A Christmas Carol (1938)

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  • Year: 1938
  • Director: Edwin L. Martin
  • Starring: Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart

Just three years after Scrooge, MGM released A Christmas Carol starring Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge. Originally, this film was to star Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge, but he had to drop out for medical reasons. Today, Lionel Barrymore is best known for playing a similar role, Mr. Potter, in It’s a Wonderful Life. Unfortunately, though, we never got to see him bring Scrooge to the big screen.

This film focuses on Scrooge’s nephew Fred perhaps more than any other version. He’s played by Barry MacKay, who just hits all the right notes with the character. Fred keeps a smile on his face and is a child at heart, who slides on the ice for fun.

slide

Most adaptations of A Christmas Carol show Fred and Bob Cratchit being kind to each other, but this one outright shows them being friends, which I really like. They are both fairly poor men oppressed by Scrooge in their own way, so it makes sense that they would get along. They are even about to share a drink together when Scrooge walks in. Of course, Scrooge later steals the bottle of wine for himself.

The screenplay makes an interesting change in Fred’s character, in that he’s only engaged instead of married. Scrooge immediately assumes that Fred is only visiting to ask for money, and this shows even more of a contrast between the two of them than we usually see.

Reginald Owen was a well-respected actor with a full and varied filmography, but if your childhood was anything like mine, you know him best as this guy.

boom
So he was called Admiral Boom before he started doing this?

Owen plays Scrooge as cartoonishly grumpy in these early scenes—heck his opening line is “Humbug.” He continues to scowl and growl through his early interactions, but the worst moment of all is right after he leaves the counting house. Bob Cratchit is teaching children how to make a proper snowball, and the children convince him to throw a snowball at a passerby.

snowball

The snowball knocks Scrooge’s hat off, which then gets run over by a passing carriage. Scrooge fires Cratchit, and convinces him that he actually owes money for that hat instead of severance pay. This feels like a joke from a sitcom or even a kids show, perhaps something Mr. Krabs would do to Spongebob on a bad day. The slapstick butcher shop in Scrooge was pointless, but this scene feels wildly out of context.

As with Fred, this film focuses more on Bob Cratchit than usual. We actually follow Bob home first and see him pick out his Christmas dinner.

ohreally

You might notice something a little different about this version of Bob Cratchit. He’s not really overweight, but he doesn’t look like someone who is starving either. Now, is it ever a good idea to cast an actor who bears no physical resemblance to the character on paper? Let’s take a look at an example from one of the greatest films of all time.

When Francis Ford Coppola was casting for Apocalypse Now, he wanted the character of Colonel Kilgore to be a tall, imposing man like George Patton. However, Robert Duvall, who is skinny and of average height, lobbied heavily for the role, and Coppola eventually gave it to him. Duvall went on to give a spectacular performance and get nominated for an Oscar, so obviously Coppolar had no regrets. No film goer is bothered by the fact that an average-sized actor is playing such a commanding role, because the performance is so stellar that it makes up for it and then some. Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit gives a decent performance, but not a good enough one to make up for the noted physical difference.

The Cratchit family is as jolly as always as Bob brings home the Christmas goose. In one of the film’s funniest lines, he has them guess what meat it is. While most of the children muster reasonable guesses like veal and roast beef, one of the sons guesses tripe.

tripe
My salary hasn’t been lining our pockets, so I figured we’d get some lining of our own.

I wish in the future section they had shown us what happened to all the Cratchit children later in life. I have a feeling I know where this son would be.

Bizarre-Foods-Andrew-Zimmern-Pittsburgh (1)

Scrooge very briefly sees Marley on his doorknocker and then goes upstairs to take some sort of medicine, presumably the cough syrup Fred mentioned earlier in the film. Let’s see here, Scrooge stole the wine from earlier and is now taking cough syrup. I’m starting to think this is just a 68 minute-long PSA on not mixing medicine and alcohol.

syrup
Side effects may include hallucinations of old business partners, flashbacks, strange dreams, and heartburn.

The ghost of Jacob Marley visits Scrooge, who of course doubts his reality, telling him he could simply be undigested food… or you know, maybe that mix of cough syrup and wine. Scrooge then hears the town crier outside his window and asks him to come up and see if someone is really there.

This completely destroys the feel of the scene. Scrooge is alone in his dark house, just like he is alone in the world. When Marley’s ghost comes to visit, it is harrowing, and Scrooge should be scared and have no one to turn to. Having the town crier and his assistants come up to the room is a waste of time. Of course they don’t see anything, because Marley is a ghost, and ghosts tend to disappear when they feel so inclined.

As I mentioned in my last review, the description of the Ghost of Christmas Past given in the book is nearly impossible to bring to the screen. How do you show someone who looks both like a young child and an old man at the same time?

columbia
Columbia? I thought this was MGM.

Well, I suppose not trying at all works. To be fair, every version has tried their hand at a unique take on this character, but this one, played by Ann Rutherford, just reminds me of Glinda the Good Witch (and yes I know, The Wizard of Oz came out the year after this).

cap
Are you a good Scrooge or a bad Scrooge? We’ll find out for sure in the waking-up scene.

Rutherford’s Christmas Past is much more upfront with Scrooge, calling him out for being a horrible person. This feels incredibly unnecessary, as the memories should be enough to show Scrooge how he has changed.

Thankfully, the ghost actually takes Scrooge to his childhood in this movie. Reginald Owen is great in these scenes, as Scrooge looks back with joy and nostalgia. You believe these really were happy times for him. Scrooge watches as his younger self sadly tells a friend that he will not be going home for Christmas. This friend refers to Scrooge as “Young Scrooge.” Now, this character is presumably the same age as Scrooge, and they are both students, so why on earth does he call him “Young Scrooge?” Did every character have to be referred to by their official name as listed in the credits?

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No, I do not wish to donate to your cause, Charity Worker #2. Go bother Caroling Boy instead.

Scrooge is only shown two scenes from his past, but thankfully they are important ones. He sees his childhood days at school and then his time at Fezziwig’s. Belle is left entirely out of this story, probably due to time constraints. I suppose if something major has to be left out, this makes sense. Sure, we do not see Scrooge’s complete transformation from good kid to greedy man, but we at least believe it happened. Scrooge extinguishes Christmas Past before she can show him “the black years” of his life.

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I’m legally obligated to make this joke.

Scrooge is awoken at 2:00 to see The Ghost of Christmas Present (Lionel Braham) in his home.

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Braham is gloriously over-the-top here, literally drunk on the spirit of Christmas (perhaps the same spirit Scrooge mixed with his cough syrup). In a bizarre scene, Christmas Present magically turns angry conversations on the street into happy ones. Perhaps in 1938 this came off as funny, but today it just feels like one of those instructional videos you watch on the first day of a new job.

ins
Now, how would you address this situation in a more Christmas-like fashion?

Scrooge is then led to a church, where he sees Fred and his fiancée Bess, as well as Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. When asked if Tiny Tim will live, Christmas Present responds that if things do not change, Tim will be dead by next Christmas.

The scene at Fred’s party shows once again how great Barry MacKay’s performance is. Even in the middle of laughing at Scrooge’s opinion of Christmas, Fred is concerned for his uncle, saying he “punishes himself.” This Fred is more than just a happy-go-lucky fool, which the worst portrayals (albeit unintentionally) show him as.

Outside of Fred’s home, Scrooge and Christmas Present get into a bizarre argument over whether or not Scrooge likes Christmas that feels like something out of Green Eggs and Ham. These little comedic bits (and I use the word comedic very lightly) really should have been left out. I understand why certain scenes were cut, whether for time or family-friendly reasons, but why are these scenes added?

A lot of versions will have Christmas Future leave Scrooge alone until he is approached by the Ghost of Christmas Future. However, here Scrooge just drifts back to sleep and after a while just appears… somewhere.

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So I’ll get the part in that Universal Horror film? Best. Future. Ever.

Apparently, Christmas Future is one for big entrances, because there is absolutely nothing to see at this location. The ghost walks up, Scrooge acknowledges him, and they go to future London. Christmas Future is played by D’Arcy Corrigan, who is clearly making no attempt to act like a ghost. I am very aware the entire time that this is just a man in a robe, especially when he sticks out his hand to point, and it looks completely human.

Scrooge is shown the dreadful future that is to come, where his former co-worker’s fake sideburns will start coming off…

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We’re all out of money for the adhesive glue.

A future where people discuss the deceased without ever actually mentioning their names…

hello
You knew him? Who? You know, him. Oh yes him!

And worst of all, a future where undertakers have forgotten how to spell.

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Aha Spirit, it’s not my name after all. Go find this Abenezer.

It is all a very quick affair. The future sequence lasts a grand total of eight minutes. The scene with the hobos divvying up Scrooge’s loot is left out, but we still get the sense that he died alone. After pleading with the spirit, Scrooge wakes up.

You know what? I’m just going to stop the review here. I’m sure Reginald Owen does fine and doesn’t overact at all.

hooray
Must out-ham the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Oh boy. Take a good look at the expression on his face. Remember how I said in the last review that the worst versions of this scene make it look like Scrooge has gone completely mad? Yeah, this is worse than Seymour Hicks’ take on the scene. I don’t believe from watching this scene that Scrooge was ever cruel to begin with.

An odd twist is also presented where Scrooge makes Fred a partner at his business. This of course comes off as a loving gesture, but let’s think about it for a moment. The biggest issue is that this is a major shaft to Bob Cratchit, who Scrooge is hiring back as his co-worker.

inhouse
Sorry, no in-house promotions.

Second, Fred’s occupation has never been stated. What if he’s actually trained in the metallurgic arts  (1000 points to whoever spots the film reference) and has no knowledge of banking whatsoever? Suddenly he will be telling Cratchit what to do? I highly doubt they will stay friends after that. Real happy ending you’ve created there, Scrooge.

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So remember kids, do not mix alcohol and cough syrup.

Story (21/30 Points)

Even though some big parts are left out, the story as it is presented flows very smoothly. The additional focus on the Cratchits and especially Fred works in the family-friendly vein they were going for. There are small filler scenes here and there, and Christmas Future is cut incredibly short, but it’s a pretty even telling.

Scrooge (18/30 Points)

I really wish MGM could have gotten Lionel Barrymore. If you ever get the chance, check out his radio theater portrayal of Scrooge. Reginald Owen does really well in the past scenes, but he’s too comically grumpy in the early scenes and way too over-the-top in the Christmas morning scene.

Ghosts (4/10 Points)

Christmas Present is spectacular, and Marley does alright, but isn’t memorable. Christmas Past is way too judgmental, and Christmas Future is incredibly hokey.

Bob Cratchit (6/10 Points)

Gene Lockhart does a good job as Cratchit, especially in the fun-loving scenes. As I said above though, he really needed to double-down on his performance to get past the obvious physical difference.

Supporting Characters (9/10 Points)

Barry MacKay brings us probably the most memorable Fred ever, and is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. The rest of the supporting cast does fine as well, but no one is a stand-out.

Experience (6/10 Points)

The score and set pieces do their job, but nothing really jumps off the screen.

Final Score: 64%

Overall, it’s a pleasant film. It’s fairly lighthearted compared to other versions, but it never shies away from the story’s meaning. 1938’s A Christmas Carol is perhaps the safest version of the story ever told, and you can decide for yourself whether that is a good or bad thing.

Next week, we will take a look at the version many consider the best of all time, 1951’s Scrooge starring Alastair Sim.

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Scrooge (1935)

scrooge

  • Year: 1935
  • Director:  Henry Edwards
  • Starring: Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop, Robert Cochran

When I began to compile the ten most important and beloved versions of A Christmas Carol, I knew little if anything about this film. I have never heard anyone refer to it as their favorite version of the story, and if I had ever heard the name Seymour Hicks before, I would have figured it was some kind of Southern prank name

No, don’t go through Jackson, take the back roads. You’ll Seymour Hicks that way.

Scrooge is brought to us by Twickenham Film Distributors which is without a doubt, the most British name ever.

I can only assume no one working on this film had a full name.
I can only assume no one working on this film had a full name.

Many versions of A Christmas Carol start with joyous carolers or an upbeat band playing in the street outside Scrooge’s counting house, but in this version, we get the worst street musicians ever. Scrooge is supposed to be set up as a bitter man whom we dislike from the get-go, but can you really blame a guy for hating Christmas when this band is outside his window butchering “The First Noel?” Even Bob Cratchit seems pained by the music.

Seymour Hicks is a very different kind of Scrooge than we usually see. While most Scrooges are tall, imposing men who look even more intimidating with a large top hat and cane, Hicks is a small, wiry man with messy hair. Now, I’m not saying this “Get off my lawn” approach towards Scrooge is necessarily a bad idea, but the execution just falls flat. The lines in the opening scenes are rushed through, as if the actors thought the audience knew them already and wanted to get to the good stuff.

A lot of dialogue that isn’t in the book just sounds odd. When Scrooge asks Cratchit how many children he has, Cratchit responds with “Around half-a-dozen.”

Well, you know sir, the missus just keeps popping ‘em out, and with all the hours you make me work, I’m not even sure they’re all mine.
Well, you know sir, the missus just keeps popping ‘em out, and with all the hours you make me work, I’m not even sure they’re all mine.

Scrooge then asks Cratchit bizarre questions like “Can I afford a wife?” and “Have I got any children?” Obviously, this is meant to show that there is no way Cratchit can support a family on his pay, but Hicks plays Scrooge as so befuddled, that it seems like Scrooge has forgotten whether he has a family.

And now for the good stuff the actors were rushing towards earlier.

Just kidding. First we need to check with the local butcher and baker, and take a look at their slapstick hijinks. I could have accepted this scene, I really could have, if they had only completed the joke and thrown in a candlestick maker. As it is, all we get is a montage that would have been funnier in the recently-ended silent era. Maybe this Three Stooges-esque stuff worked in 1935, but it feels so out of place today, especially in A Christmas Carol.

Finally, it’s time for Jacob Marley.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise for the National Anthem.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise for the National Anthem.

Oh come on! For some strange reason, we suddenly cut to an aristocratic dinner where everyone stands up and sings “God Save the Queen.” Was this a stipulation of the utterly-British Twickenham Film Distributors? I’m assuming the conversation between Sir Lionel Twickenham (I may be completely making up the name) and director Henry Edwards went something like this…

  • Twickenham: Ah, Henry my boy, so you want to adapt the dickens out of A Christmas Carol?
  • Edwards: Yes, sir.
  • Twickenham: Good, good. Twickenham would love to back your project, but we only have one thing.
  • Edwards: Of course, anything.
  • Twickenham: We notice you did not put “God Save the Queen” anywhere in the film.
  • Edwards: I don’t see how that would be relevant. I am cutting it close on time as it is.
  • Twickenham: But it’s a British film. How would anyone know who made it if we don’t include our national anthem?
  • Edwards: Because all the actors are British?
  • Twickenham: No, I’m afraid it won’t be enough. Just cut out that needless Fezziwig scene and put this in instead.
  • Edwards: But why the Fezziwig scene?
  • Twickenham: We wouldn’t a more British name than Twickenham in this picture, now would we?

Finally, at the 19 minute mark (of a 75 minute movie), Scrooge finally sees Jacob Marley on his doorknocker. I will admit this scene is done very well, as Scrooge, rightfully scared and confused, quietly walks into his home. After a lackluster opening, the film finally looks like it’s getting on track, the bells begin to ring throughout the house… and then we see Jacob Marley.

What, behind the air?
What, behind the air?

Or rather we don’t. Maybe the move was running tight on money and couldn’t afford a ghost effect. Maybe the director was going for the classic horror trope that what you don’t see is scarier than what you see. (I’m pretty sure it was the first one, though.) The worst part, though, is Marley’s opening line, “Look well, Ebenezer Scrooge, for only you can see me.” There is clearly no one else in the room to see Marley—Scrooge is alone. This line exists only for the audience’s benefit, so the movie can explain away its lack of an effects budget, and it is perhaps the dumbest line in the whole film.

The most chilling part of every good Jacob Marley scene is the chains that Marley carries with him everywhere he goes. Sometimes it’s not even the image that is haunting as much as the sound of the clanging chains, but we do not even get that here. Also, it is pretty clear that the actor voicing Marley recorded his lines quickly in a studio without playing off Hicks, as Marley’s line reads are incredibly dry and robotic, while Scrooge’s reactions are comically over-the-top.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future are also shown minimally here, with Christmas Present being the only one we completely see. Christmas Past is a very bright outline of a figure, which works just fine, due to Dickens’ description of “like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man” being near impossible to bring to screen, especially in 1935.

Christmas Past shows Scrooge his early life, starting of course with his tragic childhood.

I know some kids look old for their age, but this is a stretch.
I know some kids look old for their age, but this is a stretch.

Actually, this is one of just two scenes Christmas Past shows him, and herein lies the biggest problem with this film. When we learn of Scrooge’s past in the book—his abusive father, his time at boarding school, his sister’s death—we begin to feel sorry for this old miser. Here, we just see more of Scrooge being Scrooge, turning away a couple on Christmas and showing no remorse. I’m sure this scene is supposed to take place many years prior, but since they didn’t get a different actor for young Scrooge, it seems to be about ten years before the movie is set. Belle, who appears a bit younger than Scrooge, breaks off their engagement. In most versions, this is the point where Scrooge has gone from smart but mostly jovial boy to bitter man. Here, though, we have no backstory to work with. For all we know, this Scrooge had the happiest childhood ever and just decided to be a colossal jerk because he felt like it.

The only other scene Christmas Past shows Scrooge is that of Belle’s family. This scene is supposed to show us the happiness that Scrooge has missed out on by giving us a picture of Belle’s life now. However—and I’m not kidding, because I’ve counted—Belle has at least thirteen children in this scene.

Yes Scrooge, this would be your face at the end of every day.
Yes Scrooge, this would be your face at the end of every day.

Now, if this scene happened in George C. Scott’s version, he would he would have said something like, “Well, I really dodged a bullet there, eh Spirit?” but unfortunately this Scrooge is quip-less.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is the most memorable of the ghosts in that we at least see the guy. Normally Christmas Present is shown with long hair and a beard a la Father Christmas, but here he’s bald and clean shaven. However, Oscar Asche plays him with a commanding demeanor nonetheless, so it’s not distracting.

Are you Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson from Plan 9 From Outer Space?
Are you Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson from Plan 9 From Outer Space?

Scrooge tells the ghost that he has learned his lesson from Christmas Past and is eager to learn more. So, simply by watching his break-up with Belle and a glimpse of Belle’s family life, Scrooge is suddenly a new man already. This scene is incredibly out-of-character at this point.

Of course Christmas Present shows Scrooge the Cratchit house and how happy their Christmas celebration is. There’s just something about Donald Calthrop’s performance as Bob Cratchit that takes you out of the movie. It’s like he is trying to mug to the camera every second he’s on screen. His goofy faces and mannerisms really take away from what should be a heartwarming scene… plus they just aren’t all that funny. I’m not sure if someone told him he was in a comedy or if he was just trying to make the most out of a few scenes, but it’s awkward to say the least.

It’s okay honey. One day you’ll perfect that Marty Feldman impression.
It’s okay honey. One day you’ll perfect that Marty Feldman impression.

Tiny Tim looks bored and sounds downright angry with the world as he delivers his famous line, “God bless us, everyone.”

Father, you make me say this every year. It is getting old.
Father, you make me say this every year. It is getting old.

I don’t blame Tiny Tim’s actor. I blame the director for not doing a second take of the most famous line in the book. How hard would it have been to say, “Once more, with emotion”? The Cratchits then proceed to ask Tiny Tim to sing, which perhaps he likes to do, but since we don’t know that, it kind of feels like they’re just picking on the youngest one.

We see very little of The Ghost of Christmas Future, which is more acceptable since this is usually the case in most adaptations. Granted, we usually see a hooded figure, but regardless the image relies on “less is more.” Here, we just get a shadow. You heard that right. All we see of the ghost is his shadow. In what ghost story ever did a ghost cast a shadow?

Vampire! Doesn't Count.
Vampire! Doesn’t Count.

You could argue that maybe The Ghost of Christmas Future is simply a shadowy figure, but nope, Scrooge is looking directly at a ghost that is just out of our view.

Also, Scrooge has no problem just going with this ghost. I’m surprised Christmas Present and Future didn’t just call it a day and go back to the office, because it seems Marley and Christmas Past did enough for everyone. Anyway, Christmas Future shows Scrooge how apathetic people are over a not-so-mystery-man’s death, and also shows him the Cratchit household after Tiny Tim’s death. He even shows him Tiny Tim’s lifeless body. That’s right—the version of A Christmas Carol that doesn’t even show us all the ghosts shows us a child’s dead body. It would be a deeply saddening scene if it wasn’t for Tiny Tim’s very obvious breathing.

There are two scenes that make or break a Scrooge performance. The first is when he realizes the grave is his own, the second is when he wakes up the next morning. Most Scrooges do passably with the grave scene, but very few do it well. Almost every Scrooge ever put to stage or screen, though, overdoes the waking up scene, with the worst playing it like Scrooge has gone completely mad. This is one of those performances. Suddenly, Scrooge’s voice shakes with every word, he dances and hops around his room, and he taps his servant on the chin for some reason.

Surely you remember the passage in the novel about Scrooge’s androgynous, mute servant.
Surely you remember the passage in the novel about Scrooge’s androgynous, mute servant.

Scrooge proceeds to cut himself shaving, because… now he’s more like us?

  • Twickenham: I’m sorry, Henry my boy, but we do have one more stipulation.
  • Edwards: You want a football match in the middle of the movie?
  • Twickenham: No, no, nothing of the sort. What if after Scrooge reforms, he cuts himself shaving?
  • Edwards: But why?
  • Twickenham: He’s in such a bloody tizzy from being happy that he’s lost a bit of carefulness.
  • Edwards: Would he not then skip shaving all together?
  • Twickenham: No, only his servant does that.
  • Edwards: While we’re on that topic…
  • Twickenham: We’re keeping the servant.

The story wraps up as it should, with Scrooge attending Fred’s party and raising Cratchit’s salary, but there are a lot of distractions along the way. When Scrooge goes to get the prize turkey, he throws a random snowball at the grocer, and is then covered in snow himself when the grocer shuts the window. This feels like filler, which is off-putting in a film less than 90 minutes long.

Let’s take a look at the final scoreboard for Scrooge.

Story (15/30 Points)

A lot of the crucial scenes from the novel are here, but the pacing is all over the place. The hobo scene in Christmas Future is incredibly drawn out, while the scenes at the beginning with the charity workers and Fred are rushed. The worst part, though, is leaving out Scrooge’s childhood which makes us sympathize with him so much less.

Scrooge (13/30 Points)

Seymour Hicks is watchable as Scrooge, but not great. His voice sometimes switches to semi-Scottish for unknown reasons and he mumbles occasionally. There aren’t any scenes where he is spectacular, but there aren’t really any where he is exceptionally bad, except perhaps the Christmas morning scene.

Ghosts (3/10 Points)

Well, we don’t see Marley, which really takes away a lot. It doesn’t hurt too much that we barely see Christmas Past or Future, besides the aforementioned shadow thing. Christmas Present is fine, but not particularly memorable.

Bob Cratchit (4/10 Points)

When he tries to be funny, he’s obnoxious. When he’s being serious, he does just fine.

Supporting Characters (5/10 Points)

Tiny Tim is not good, but Mrs. Cratchit and one of the charity workers are actually memorable. It’s a wash.

Experience (9/10 Points)

Easily the film’s greatest strength. The streets of London are just dripping with Christmas. Even the goofy scenes of “God Save the Queen” and the slapstick butcher shop just have that Christmas feeling to them. I also love the harrowing town crier saying, “Twelve o’ clock and all is well.” It’s just a nice little addition. You really feel like you’re in Victorian England. I dock one lone point for the out-of-tune band at the beginning.

Final Score: 49%

It’s not a bad film, but it’s mostly forgettable. It has some moments that are fun to mock, but there isn’t anything that feels like it’s slapping Dickens in the face. If a much more famous version hadn’t come out three years later, this one may be a bit more iconic. As it is, 1935’s Scrooge just kind of exists. It was the first sound version of A Christmas Carol, but, besides the atmosphere, that’s about its only point of interest.

Join me next week when we’ll take a look at 1938’s A Christmas Carol starring Reginald Owen.

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Introduction: A Christmas Carol

charles-dickens-a-christmas-carol

Is there a tale that has been re-told as many times as A Christmas Carol? The first short film adaptation came out in 1901, just 58 years after the novel was published, and it seems like there’s a new one every year. Everyone has their favorite version, but which one is truly the best? Here at Movie Match-Up, I am going to break down every version of A Christmas Carol ever brought to film and television.

Even the animated ones?

Of course, that one’s a classic.

scrooge
Even the one where Scrooge sings?

 Sure.

Even the one with George Costanza where Scrooge sings?

Oh, I had quite forgotten about that one.

Even the one where they all look like Hobbits?

You know, I’m not even sure that one is real.

What about this one?

Stop! My numbers guy (who is also me) has discovered that there are well over 50 adaptations of A Christmas Carol, so even if I did one-a-day until Christmas, I would not cover them all. Instead, let’s cut it down to the ten most important, most loved, most famous versions of Charles Dickens’ classic tale.

matchup

I’ll be scoring each movie on a scale of 0-100 points.

Story: 30 Points

Scrooge: 30 Points

Ghosts: 10 Points

Bob Cratchit: 10 Points

Supporting Characters: 10 Points

Experience (Technical Stuff, Soundtrack, basically everything else): 10 Points

I’ll be reviewing one-a-week for the first four weeks, and two-a-week for the remaining three. Join me on Wednesdays, and starting on December 7, Mondays as well, as we search for the definitive version of A Christmas Carol. We will begin with 1935’s Scrooge starring Seymour Hicks.

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