It was Christmas Eve 1989 and my wife and I were living in Paris…Texas that is. I had seen A Christmas Carol (1951) before but that year it was hosted by Patrick MacNee and had been colorized. I also had a VCR that could record it for future viewings. Prior to this, I had seen the movie a handful of times and it had already become my personal favorite version of the classic Dickens tale. It was Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge that won me over. For years, that VHS tape was played every Christmas Eve before I eventually bought a better version. Then it was a new DVD and finally the Blu-Ray I now own. And without fail, after everyone was asleep and the children were nestled into their beds fast asleep, I would eat Santa’s cookies and drink his eggnog while I was transported back to England and wondering whether or not Scrooge would learn the errors of his ways.
Released in England under the title Scrooge, it is in my opinion the most faithful and most enduring version to date. Now, I know each version has its’ fans as well as detractors. But I challenge anyone to at least come up with a better Ebenezer Scrooge. Alastair Sims’ change from a hateful miser to a man full of love and good will is never more believable. Now, the film is not overly cheery and, unlike MGM’s 1938 version, the grittiness of the time period is felt with each frame. Director Brian Desmond Hurst is known for some of his other films, most notably Dangerous Moonlight (1941) but Scrooge was his crowning achievement if you base that on longevity. It’s sad to note that the movie was a flop upon its’ initial release in the US. In fact, it was thought so grim it debuted on Halloween instead of Christmas. While popular in England, it wasn’t until 1954 that the movie began to find an audience. WOR-TV in New York played it first that year and it became an annual holiday classic with each passing year. The popularity rose in the 1970s, surpassing the 1938 MGM version for most popular version.
Besides the stellar performance of Sims, there are several highs and a few lows in the cast. Mervyn Johns does an excellent job as Bob Cratchit, if not looking a little too well fed for a man supposedly struggling to keep his family alive. Hermione Baddeley gives an excellent portrayal of Mrs. Cratchit and the children in this version always seem to work the best for me. In particular is Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman) who is given a happy and crutchless ending scene with “Uncle” Ebenezer. Kathleen Harrison is fantastic as Mrs. Dilber. Horror fans may recognize her from The Ghoul (1933) or The Ghost Train (1941). I also love the screaming done by Michael Hodern as Jacob Marley’s ghost. Of course, there is also Dr. Pretorious himself, Ernest Thesiger, as the undertaker and a young Patrick MacNee, years before he became the dapper Mr. Steed on The Avengers. I do think there is a bit is a miscast in the Ghost of Christmas Past when viewed in context with the novel but Michael Dolan works for the film.
The film takes a few liberties with the materials. We do get more of a background into the life of young Scrooge. However, I think it enhances his character and is what makes this version stand out amongst the countless attempts over the years to tell this tale. I also like that we get to see Scrooge’s fiancée in the present helping the less fortunate as well as the expansion of Scrooge’s sister, Fan. She is older here than in the book but again it works to further explain why Scrooge is who he is later in the life, a true victim of several key events that would shape and twist him for many years.
Alastair Sim became so connected to the role that he reprised it in the 1971 Chuck Jones produced animated television special. Michael Hordern also reprised the role of Marley. The short was released to the theaters in 1972, eventually winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Sadly, this version remains unreleased on DVD but easily found on YouTube and definitely worth a viewing.
A Christmas Carol is most definitely recommended and would surely be in my personal top ten movies of all time. It’s readily available on DVD and Blu-Ray as well as YouTube. This year, I may very well be watching this twice. I viewed the movie a few days earlier than normal so I could introduce this classic to my good friends Joe and Phil. It should be no surprise that they loved it. However, Christmas Eve just won’t seem right without it so I do believe it will be revisited again before Christmas morning.