It’s Christmas Eve and we’ve finally reached the end of A Christmas Carol‘s Movie Match-Up. There have been ten very unique and different takes on a story that has been done countless times, and it’s finally time to see which versions had the best and worst interpretations of the story.
Let’s start with something small—supporting characters. With a lot of these smaller categories, there won’t really be a worst, as is there isn’t really room to do something dreadfully bad.
This is tough as she usually doesn’t have too many scenes in the movie. Sometimes we get an additional scene of her with her family, but often we do not. Lucy Gutteridge is very good in the 1984 version, calling Scrooge out on his uncertainties, and Meredith Braun is memorable in The Muppet Christmas Carol, mainly for singing “When Love is Gone.” The best, though would have be Rona Anderson as Alice in Scrooge 1951, mostly for the scene in the Present where she is shown helping the poor.
While there has never really been a bad portrayal, very few are memorable. Fred is often relegated to a plot device over a three-dimensional character. Colin Firth is alright in the 2009 version, and Roger Rees is brilliant in his scenes with George C. Scott in the 1984 film. My favorite though has to be Barry McKay in the 1938 film. He gets a lot of screen time in this film, and a lot of Scrooge’s transformation is centered around helping Fred.
We’ll talk about the rest of the Cratchits in the Best Bob Cratchit category. Let’s move on with some music.
Honestly, besides the musical versions, there aren’t too many that stand out. The score of the 1984 film is pretty good, but it’s played way too loudly throughout the movie, while the 1999 film has perhaps the most generic TV movie score ever composed. Not surprisingly, Alan Silvestri’s sweeping, magnificent score from A Christmas Carol 2009 is by far the best.
Best and Worst Original Song
Many versions don’t have new songs, so the field is a bit narrower here. The only bad songs come from Scrooge 1970, and the worst by far is “I Like Life,” sung by the Ghost of Christmas Present and later Scrooge himself. It feels like they just needed one more song in the film, so the composer just grabbed a rhyming dictionary and went crazy.
There are a lot of songs in contention for the best. I love “Scrooge,” the opening number from The Muppet Christmas Carol, and I love the gorgeous “When Love is Gone” even more. “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” from Mickey’s Christmas Carol and “God Bless Us Everyone” from A Christmas Carol 1984 both set the moods of their film wonderfully, but the winner is without a doubt “Thank You Very Much” from Scrooge 1970. It feels like a song that Eric Idle would lead in the Monty Python version of A Christmas Carol that unfortunately doesn’t exist… I mean come on, Michael Palin as Bob Cratchit, John Cleese as Scrooge, Terry Gilliam as Tiny Tim. I’m getting off track. It is very rare for a song to be this hilarious and catchy. You can say it clashes with the tone of the film, but I say the rest of the film clashes with the tone of “Thank You Very Much.”
Alright, let’s get haunted and talk about some ghosts.
Best and Worst Marley.
There have been so many bad Marleys, and only a handful of ones that are even decent. On the bad side, there’s Alec Guinness in Scrooge 1970, John Forsythe as Lew Hayward in Scrooged, Goofy in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and the ridiculously over-the-top Michael Horden in Scrooge 1951. The worst though is the completely invisible Marley in 1935’s Scrooge. I still just can’t get past his cringe-worthy line “Look well, Ebenzer Scrooge for only you can see me.”
On the good side, there’s Statler and Waldorf in A Muppet Christmas Carol and Bernard Lloyd in A Christmas Carol 1999. I give the point to Lloyd because he’s the only one who talks to Scrooge like a friend. Sure, Marley is there to warn Scrooge, but he still cares about him. He knows the ghosts will scare him of of his wits well enough.
Best and Worst Christmas Past
The two most recent versions have the most accurate visual depictions of the ghost, but performances that aren’t so great. I’d really like to pick the 2009 version as the worst, but since it’s so close to the book, I’ll give it a pass and go to the 1938 version and Glinda the Good Witch instead.
For the best, I’m actually taking a choice out of left field and going with the cigar-chomping cab driver from Scrooged played by David Johansen. He’s easily the funniest character in the movie, and he has a lot of heart too. The scene where Frank is pretending plots of TV shows happened in real life is perhaps the funniest scene in any adaptation.
Best and Worst Christmas Present
There are really only two that aren’t great. I don’t care for the rather stoic version in Scrooge 1970, but the worst is the bored ghost in A Christmas Carol 1999 played by Desmond Barrit.
Christmas Present is a character I’ve singled out in nearly every review, because the actors playing the ghost always seem to have so much fun. There’s Lionel Braham as the constantly laughing ghost in A Christmas Carol 1938, Willie the Giant in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and even Carol Kane in Scrooged. Edward Woodward is a close runner-up for his performance in A Christmas Carol 1984, but the best is Francis de Wolff in Scrooge 1951. He plays both the joyful and the somber scenes to perfection.
Best and Worst Christmas Future
Oh boy have there been some lazy ones. I still take issue with only seeing the ghost’s shadow in Scrooge 1935, but the ghost simply being a shadow in A Christmas Carol 2009 isn’t too bad. Scrooge 1970’s ghost reveals himself to be a skeleton, and the ghost in A Christmas Carol 1938 is making no attempts to be anything but a man in a cape. The worst though is this abomination from A Christmas Carol 2009.
I’m sorry, this still makes me laugh. Plus, his finger is clearly the finger of a healthy human being. Did this movie just give up at this point?
As for the best, there are a few that are genuinely creepy. I love all the fog surrounding the ghost in A Christmas Carol 1984, and that cemetery gate noise is interesting. The Muppet version has a very unique design, as does the antenna-headed ghost in Scrooged. The ghost in Scrooge 1951 is the scariest, though, because of how little we see of him. We know Scrooge is looking right at him, and he’s terrified, and we can only imagine what his true form is. That’s grade-A horror movie stuff.
Alright, let’s get to the big categories.
Best and Worst Bob Cratchit
As with the Ghost of Christmas Present, this character is almost always portrayed well, but there are a few exceptions. Donald Calthrop’s performance in Scrooge 1935 is distracting with his constant attempts at comedy. I’m not sure if everyone considers Eliot Loudermilk from Scrooged a Cratchit, but I do, and he easily takes this one. Bobcat Godlwhait is just unbearable.
I’ve actually already mentioned my favorite Cratchit times in previous reviews, but there are some wonderful runners-up. Mervyn Johns in Scrooge 1951 and David Collings in Scrooge 1970 both play men who know they’re down on their luck, but are still immensely proud of their families. Alfre Woodard as Grace Cooley presents a great modern-day twist on the character in Scrooged, making us genuinely care for her family in just a few small scenes. The best, though, is easily David Warner who just embodies the character every second he’s on screen.
I also consider this version to have the best Mrs. Cratchit and Cratchit family as a whole (perhaps not Tiny Tim, but it’s such a young character that it’s never really the actor’s fault.). They seem completely believable and their scenes together are astoundingly good.
Best and Worst Story-Telling
No version does a horrible job with the story, as it’s a pretty easy formula to follow. I would pick Scrooge 1935 for its weird pacing, especially how long it takes to get going.
Once again, no surprise, but the best story-telling comes from Scrooge 1951. Expanding on Scrooge’s backstory was risky, but these scenes just had so much depth to his character, as well as Marley’s.
Best and Worst Scene
There are so many dumb scenes that I won’t come close to naming them all. There’s Scrooge falling onto his own corpse in A Christmas Carol 1999, Scrooge getting shrunk to the size of a mouse in A Christmas Carol 2009, and that weird mood-killer in A Christmas Carol 1938 where Scrooge asks the town crier to come up and see Marley’s ghost. The worst scene is one that stops a movie dead in its tracks, a scene… you know I did a whole rant in the original review, so I won’t do it again. It’s the one where Scrooge goes to hell in Scrooge 1970.
Thankfully, for the best, there are also a lot to choose from. There’s the haunting additional scene of Marley’s death in Scrooge 1951, Bob Cratchit’s speech to his family after Tiny Tim’s death in A Christmas Carol 1984, the opening eight minutes to The Muppet Christmas Carol that set the mood perfectly, and the scene in Scrooged where Frank yells at a homeless man (and himself) that he should have stayed with Claire. These are all close, but the best from any version would have to be Scrooge visiting Fred in A Christmas Carol 1984. When he apologizes to him for neglecting him and also finally admits how much he reminds Scrooge of Fan, it’s just brilliant. I also love Fred’s pure joy in seeing his uncle finally show up, saying he knew it would happen one day.
Best and Worst Scrooge
Every actor who has played Scrooge is a great actor in their own right, but this is a tough part to play. Michael Caine’s performance comes off as lazy, Seymour Hicks’ is muddled, and Reginald Owen’s goes from way too angry to way too happy at the drop of a hat. Still, I just can’t take Albert Finney’s performance. It’s way too hammy and doesn’t give Scrooge any sympathy at all.
Scrooge McDuck is easily the best comedic Scrooge, beating out Bill Murray’s performance in Scrooged and Jim Carrey’s in A Christmas Carol 2009. As for the dramatic performances, it really comes down to Alastair Sim, George C. Scott, and Patrick Stewart. All three bring something special, but I think George C. Scott is by far the best. His icy demeanor as well as his wit make Scrooge a believable miser, and his change of heart feels real. This leads to…
Best Overall Film
For me, it’s the 1984 film. A Christmas Carol is about the characters first, and they have so much room to breathe here. The 1951 version is for all technical and cinematic reasons the most professional and best-looking film, but the performances of David Warner and George C. Scott in the 1984 film elevate it just a little bit higher.
Thanks for joining me for A Christmas Carol‘s Movie Match-Up, and join me back in January when I’ll be starting a new one. For now, thanks for reading and Merry Christmas.