- Year: 1970
- Director: Ronald Neame
- Starring: Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, Edith Evans
With as many versions of A Christmas Carol as there are, it was only a matter of time until someone turned it into a musical. Piggybacking on the success of Oliver! in 1968, Ronald Neame made that musical with Scrooge, or its little-known full title Scrooge Goes to Hell: The Final Carol.
Albert Finney was just 34 in 1970, making him the youngest man to play Scrooge in any adaptation to date. Take a good look at Scrooge. The make-up work is astounding here, making Finney look entirely convincing as an old man.
He also looks eerily like Donald Trump in some scenes, and those jokes write themselves. Unfortunately, Finney is only convincing as an old man when he’s not talking or singing. I guess since he was playing a character at least twice his age, he felt the need to change his voice, but it just sounds goofy. It’s hard to describe exactly what he’s going for, but it kind of sounds like half-Scottish, half-Cockney, which I promise I will refer to as Scotney and not the other option. The serious scenes really fall flat when you can’t get past the voice.
Oh, but it’s not just his voice that’s goofy. Finney goes all-out in his over-the-top performance as Scrooge. Finney’s is probably the most cliched Scrooge ever brought to the screen—he even sings a song called “I Hate People.” I get that it’s a musical and we often learn the characters’ motivations and thoughts through song, but how are we ever supposed to sympathize with a character who breaks out into song about his hatred of everyone? Even the Grinch would be telling Scrooge his hatred might be a bit too strong.
Once the story gets going, it is told very conventionally, but it takes forever to get there. Scrooge doesn’t see Marley on the doorknocker until the 24 minute-mark. There have been three full songs at this point (not including the one played over the credits), which even musical fanatics would probably admit is a bit excessive.
Alec Guinness plays Jacob Marley, and I guess after this he got typecast as a ghost who sits down…
Well, you did other movies too… like, you know, the one…
Alright, alright. I will try and reference as many Alec Guinness films as I can in this review without mentioning that one.
Anyway, Marley warns Scrooge to change his feelings towards Christmas or this might be his last holiday. Guinness’ Marley is not memorable, which is rarely said of a Guinness performance. Marley flies with Scrooge, to briefly growl through a song about seeing ghosts… with no real reason other than scaring the audience.
Usually, musical adaptations take on a lighter tone than the source material, and through most of the movie, Scrooge does, except for some random “scare” scenes. Don’t get me wrong, A Christmas Carol has its creepy moments, and most film versions have excellent, atmospheric buildup to them. Scrooge 1970 has no real buildup to its horror scenes and when they’re done, we are immediately back to the jovial tone.
Before Marley enters, we get a random shot of a “ghost coach” driving by and wishing Scrooge a Merry Christmas. Is this supposed to be funny? It’s not. Is it supposed to be scary? I guess, but it really isn’t.
But… but, it’s a musical. The tone is allowed to be all over the place. Right?
Sure, let’s judge it as a musical. Scrooge 1970 is really talky, and not just for a musical. Every conversation is talked to death. Take for example the “poor enough/rich enough” exchange between Scrooge and Fred (who looks around 50 for some reason). Normally, there is a moment of silence after the retort of “You’re rich enough,” but Finney’s Scrooge immediately fires back with, “There is no such thing as rich enough, only poor enough.” Why? We already know the way Scrooge feels about Fred and poverty. This Scrooge doesn’t even think about the implications of what Fred has just told him, and that weakens his character.
The worst dialogue comes in the scene where Christmas Past (portrayed here as a Victorian woman) shows Scrooge his break-up with his no-longer-lovesick fiancee Isobel. She drops her ring on a scale and weights it against some of Scrooge’s gold, and of course it comes up short. Instead of walking away and letting Scrooge and the audience dwell on the harrowing image, she explains it. Was the target audience of this movie seven years old? Well it couldn’t have been, because later we get this scene.
Perhaps you’re tired of me constantly complimenting the actors who play the Ghost of Christmas Present. Well, it’s your lucky day.
Nothing says 70’s adaptation like a bare-chested, medallion-wearing Christmas Present, who lets Scrooge drink from the milk of human kindness… I’m sorry there’s no good way to say that. All the milk actually does is make Scrooge talk like Monty Python’s Terry Jones.
Deep breaths… judge it like a musical, judge it like a musical. You can do this.
Well, I guess I have to talk about the songs. If any character should break out into a jolly, boisterous song it should be Christmas Present, right? Nope, instead we get a song that starts out with his brilliant rhyme:
Ebenezer Scrooge/The sins of man are huge
Okay, there are way too many people interrupting this review.
Ebenezer Scrooge/The sins of man are huge/A never-ending symphony
of villainy and infamy/Duplicity, deceit, and subterfuge
This sounds less like a song and more like a Nipsey Russell poem (and congrats to the 1.7% of you who get that). The song is cleverly titled “I Like Life” and features these wonderful lyrics:
I like life/Life likes me/Life and I fairly fully agree/Life is fine/Life is good
To be fair, this Sesame Street reject is really only one of two songs (the other being “I Hate People”) that is bad per say. Most are really just fine, often having pleasant tunes and forgettable lyrics. I just would expect more out of the Ghost of Christmas Present.
The scene in the Cratchit home is always a touching one, and this is one of the best. David Collings’ Bob Cratchit is one of the best parts of the movie, with my only complaint being that he’s underused. In a movie where Scrooge is a cartoon and the ghosts are dull, a believable Cratchit family is a welcome addition. I’m sure I’m not the first one to realize how much Tiny Tim looks like Danny from The Shining.
The Ghost of Christmas Present is just not fun in this version. He sings that he likes life, but he just sort of shouts in monotone the whole time. His scenes of dialogue also follow the theme of talking everything to death. Take a look at this exchange about Tiny Tim:
- Scrooge: Is the child very sick, not that it’s of any great importance to me whether he is or not, but is he?
- Present: Well of course he’s sick!
- Scrooge: You mean he’s seriously ill?
That’s the same thing! Even worse is the final scene with Christmas Present.
- Scrooge: You’re not going?
- Present: My time upon this little planet is very brief. I must leave you now.
- Scrooge: But we still have so much to talk about, haven’t we?
- Present: There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have.
- Scrooge: Yes, but…
- Present: Remember, Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly you’re not there anymore.
Interestingly enough, the undoubtedly best and worst scenes of the movie both come from the Christmas Future segment.
In James Beradinelli’s review of Scrooge 1970, he writes, “Unlike the great musicals, where you might find yourself humming a tune a few days later, with Scrooge, you’ll be lucky if you remember the name of one of the songs a few hours later.” For the most part, I am inclined to agree that these songs are really forgettable… with one huge exception.
Instead of a scene where bankers talk about no one going to Scrooge’s funeral, Scrooge 1970 displays a raucous party in the streets of London where people literally dance on Scrooge’s coffin while singing “Thank You Very Much,” a triumphant tune of glory thanking Scrooge for dying. Of course, they don’t mention specifically what they’re thanking him for, so of course the sarcastically impaired Scrooge assumes they are being genuine. He also tries to give a speech, because for some reason, he still doesn’t get that they cannot hear him.
Oh my gosh I love this song. I don’t care that it feels like something out of an entirely different movie (which I want to see, by the way). I don’t care that it’s way too mean for us to sympathize with those singing. “Thank You Very Much” is hilarious and ridiculously catchy. And yes, James Beradinelli, I am still humming it a few days later.
Now let’s talk about the point where this movie goes to hell… literally. Scrooge thinks the future looks bright thanks to the jaunty musical number, but then he sees his own grave and says he will repent. Huh? Just two seconds ago, you thought the future would be good for you. Whatever. Anyway, the Ghost of Christmas Future unmasks himself and throws Scrooge into his grave.
Oh come on! Why? The implication is always that this ghost is the embodiment of death. How does a Halloween mask make that scarier?
Scrooge wakes up, not in his own bedroom, but in Hell… and what a cliched Hell it is. You’ve got demons, fire, brimstone, sulfur smell, caves, random screeches, all the stuff you’d expect a church play’s interpretation of Hell to have. Here Scrooge meets Marley again, who tells him his fate straight from the horse’s mouth.
There are so many things wrong with this scene, but let’s take care of the big ones. First of all, Marley can’t be in Hell. Why? Because he says he’s destined to walk the earth. If he’s forced to do a good work, that’s not Hell, that’s Purgatory. If he was in Hell, what would be working towards?
Don’t believe me? In Dickens’s original text, he likens Marley to Hamlet’s Father, who also appeared as a ghost. Hamlet Sr. makes it clear to his son that he is in Purgatory and is destined to work off his sins. That’s what Marley is doing too.
Second, if Scrooge wasn’t convinced to change his ways by the fact that he will be dead soon, is showing Hell really going to change him? You either believe the entirety of the supernatural experience or none of it.
Third, Scrooge’s Hell is a karmic one, making him the clerk for Satan himself and giving him the only cold office in hell. Now, I’ll admit, I see what they’re going for here, as Scrooge always skimped out on coal in life. BUT NOT IN THIS VERSION. Go back and watch the intro if you want. There is no scene where a shivering Cratchit tries to put more coal on the fire and Scrooge tries to stop him. Did the screenwriter not read his own script?
I’ve tried to reason out why this scene exists, and I don’t think it’s just to scare the audience, because it fails miserably there. I think Alec Guinness was such a big star that they felt giving him just one scene wasn’t really enough. That still does not justify this scene being downright terrible, but maybe it explains it.
Thanks for bearing with me on that religious rant there, but I promise I’ll keep the rest of the review short. In fact, I can sum up the Christmas morning scenes with one picture.
Scrooge puts on a Santa suit and parades singing and dancing through the streets of London. Once again, it’s a musical, I get that we need these crowd numbers, but even at his nicest, do you really see any other Scrooge putting on a Santa suit? Of course Scrooge reprises songs from earlier like “I Like Life” and… oh no they didn’t… they made “Thank You Very Much” sincere. It’s just so much less of a song when it’s non-ironic. Just imagine Barry Manilow covering “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”… well maybe not that bad.
Scrooge hangs the Santa beard on his door to always remind him of Marley, who we can only assume is still a prisoner in Hell. No, no more ranting about that scene. I’ve said my piece. Let’s take a look at the final score.
Story (15/30 Points)
Most of the important scenes from the book take place, but the more the characters talk, the worse it gets. I was a bit surprised that we didn’t get the children Ignorance and Want, as this film definitely wasn’t afraid of showing dark scenes. The scene in hell costs this film some major points, obviously.
Scrooge (4/30 Points)
Albert Finney’s performance is a huge swing-and-a-miss. He’s pouring himself into a caricature, and it’s all wrong. From the talking out of one side of his mouth to the ridiculous old-man singing, it’s unpleasant to watch.
Ghosts (2/10 Points)
Alec Guinness as Marley should have been great, but it isn’t. I barely mentioned Christmas Past, because she’s just kind of there. Christmas Present is the only weak incarnation so far, and I suppose Future is okay until he unmasks himself.
Bob Cratchit (9/10 Points)
David Collings is wonderful as Cratchit. In fact, his performance is very similar in tone to David Warner’s, who plays Cratchit in the 1984 version. Collings’ is easily the best performance in the film.
Supporting Characters (7/10 Points)
All of the Cratchits are good, and we get the additional character of soup vendor Tom Jenkins, who owes Scrooge money and later leads “Thank You Very Much.”
Experience (5/10 Points)
The sets are very clearly sets, so you really don’t feel like you’re in Victorian London. “Thank You Very Much” almost makes up for the lack of good songs, but it’s just not enough.
Final Score: 42%
For me, this is overall not an enjoyable film to watch. That said, I know it has its fans. I’m not even sure if cult classic is the right term to use, because Scrooge got fairly positive reviews when it first came out. You’ll probably be able to tell about five minutes into this movie if you’re going to love it or hate it. It just doesn’t do it for me. Thank you for bearing through a pretty harsh review…
Thank you very much, thank you very much/That’s the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me…
Okay, I’m finished. That song is going to be stuck in my head for a long time, which is quite alright. Join me next Monday as I review the first version of this story I ever saw, Mickey’s Christmas Carol.