It’s Christmas Eve and as has been my tradition since 1989, I always watch the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim, better known as Scrooge. It is my favorite of all of the different ones out there to choose from. Now, I really enjoy the George C. Scott version from 1984 as well Patrick Stewart’s from 1999. However, there is another version that, while not my favorite, I revisit about every five years or so. Let’s take a look at Scrooge, the British 1935 adaptation and first sound version of Charles Dickens’ immortal classic starring Sir Seymour Hicks.
Sir Seymour Hicks had already played Ebenezer Scrooge once before, some 22 years earlier in Old Scrooge, a 1913 40-minute short that I watched in 2012 for the first time. That version was fun but really just a curiosity as it left out a lot of details due to its truncated running time. By 1935, Hicks was 64 years old and, I think, more suited for the part. He is perhaps one of the most crotchety looking Scrooges ever to grace the screen. He starred in other British films of the 1930s but this was by far his most prominent and memorable role.
While Hicks doesn’t surpass other actors who have played Scrooge, he is better than Reginald Owen, star of MGMs 1938 adaptation. Owen may have been a better actor but he always seemed too polished for me. Hicks had an edge to his performance that elevated his version of bad Scrooge. However, it also played against him when Scrooge is changed. I don’t quite get the same sense of redemption and renewal that others have displayed. Donald Calthrop is Bob Cratchit and, again, I think better than what we saw in 1938 but not as good as others. He is most remembered for a few other genre films, such as The Phantom Light (1935) and an uncredited role as a derelict alongside Claude Rains in The Clairvoyant (1935). Also look out for Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius of Planet of the Apes) in a small role as a poor man.
The plot of the film is as to be expected but there are some odd choices made by director Henry Edwards. For starters, we never actually see the Ghost of Christmas Past outside of a brief appearance on the door knocker. Budgetary concerns may have a played a part but it is disappointing. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is also barely seen, but no different than has been presented in other adaptations. Some aspects are cut out, such as Scrooge’s sister Fan and Fezziwig. Bad decisions in my opinion. There was also the odd choice to have Hicks play the younger Scrooge. He was far too old to do so convincingly by 1935.
Despite some of these deterring points, I find that I do enjoy this version. Now, this movie has fallen into the public domain, so it is perhaps the easiest of versions to watch. There are countless DVD releases in addition to its availability on the Internet Archive and YouTube. One thing to be careful of is the running time. It runs 78 minutes but there is an edited 63 minute version still circulating out there. The easiest way to tell the difference is by the credits. The full version starts off with a bookshelf and a hand turning the pages to reveal the credits. All of the versions are a bit rough as a fully restored edition has yet to be released, nor is it likely to be. Sit down and enjoy it for a change of pace. It’s definitely worth the time to discover and judge for yourself.
This is my last regular post of 2013 outside of my yearly recap. So, may I wish all of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (for those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas) and a Happy New Year! Now, I have to get my eggnog and cookies ready for tonight!