A CHRISTMAS CAROL… WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?
It’s that time of year. You can’t away from it. Ebenezer Scrooge is on every channel. I watched two version of the Dickens tale just last night. Which is your favorite?
I don’t imagine you’ve seen this one. It’s one of many silent versions, this one starring Sir Seymour Hicks. Looks pretty scary.
The first sound version I know of also stars Sir Seymour Hicks. A British production entitled SCROOGE. It’s one of the ones I watched last night. Have you seen it? A pretty straight-forward version of the story. It’s the public domain, so a ton of different pints of it are out there. Cut in various ways, colorized, you name it. The print I saw didn’t have any of Scrooge’s childhood memories. Hicks was pretty grumpy, but not all that colorful. I give it B. What do you think?
The first Hollywood version of Dickens’ book is the 1938 MGM production A CHRISTMAS CAROL. A missed opportunity, in my opinion. Lionel Barrymore was supposed to play Scrooge. He did a radio version of it that was a holiday tradition for many years. He later played the very Scrooge-like Mr. Potter in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. But his health wasn’t good enough in 1938, so role Ebenezer was given to Reginald Owen, in a bad bald cap, doing the “crotchety old man” bit to the hilt.
That, along with Gene Lockhart playing a surprisingly plump and well-fed Bob Crachit, highlight the flaws in this film. It’s just too MGM. Everything looks too pretty and glossy for Dickens’ dark fable to really shine through. I give it C. Does anyone feel different?
Now we come to brilliant 1951 version, called SCROOGE in England where it was made, and called A CHRISTMAS CAROL in the States. Alastair Sim is the perfect embodiment of Ebenezer, encompassing both his miserliness and his wry sense of humor. The scene with Michael Horden as Marley is both chilling and hilarious. (The two later reprised this performance in rather good animated short made by Richard Williams in 1971.) They beautifully capture the spirit of the Dickens novel. The script is not really all that faithful to the book, inventing whole sequences from
Then, in 1962, the first animated version of the tale for television appeared. MISTER MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL. An hour-length adaptation, it runs through the story rapidly, with delightful music by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. I have a fond place in my heart for this one, since it was the first version of the book I ever saw. Your tolerance for razzleberry dressing may vary. I give it a B+.
Albert Finney stars in this British musical production with songs by Leslie Bricusse, directed by Ronald Neame. This lavish production benefits from the casting of Albert Finney, who’s young enough to play Scrooge all through the story, though he does suffer from a certain amount of “old man” acting through the bulk of it. A good try. I give it a B.
George C. Scott, in this television production directed by Clive Donner, comes a close second to Alastair Sim in perfectly embodying Ebenezer Scrooge. Indeed, he brings a powerful sadness and sense of regret to the role that is even more moving than Sim’s wickedly humorous portrayal. That, and Frank Finlay’s chilling Marley along with Edward Woodword’s powerful Ghost of Christmas Past and my friend Roger Rees’s delightful Fred make this the best version of the tale in color. I give it an A+. What do you think?
My wife and kid’s favorite version of the tale is THE MUPPET’S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992). With Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Michael Caine as Scrooge. A delightful production with delightful music. (It even features the lobsters referred to in a cryptic passage of the novel.) Caine doesn’t play an “old man” – he just lets his real age do the job. Some of the music is slowly but surely making its way into the standard Christmas repertoire. A must see. I give it an A.
In 1990s Sir Patrick Stewart toured with a stage production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, a one-man show in which he simply performed the book. A bare stage; one actor; a magical evening. I was lucky enough to see this. A truly magnificent performance. If Stewart ever takes a break from performing with Ian McKellan in everything and does this again, you must see it. As substitute, you can watch this television production, as I did last night. It’s good but not great. Stewart’s Scrooge is marvelous — I just miss him all the other characters and the narration too. I give it a B+.
I confess to never having seen my friend Kelsey Grammer’s version (2004) or the Robert Zemeckis-Jim Carrey production (2009), but life is long and I’m sure I’ll get to them. Does anyone out there who has seen them want to chime in?
To quote Tiny Tim (and what the hell was his actual medical condition anyway?) “God bless, every one!” Now sit back and enjoy Jim Backus…