A Christmas Carol Revisted. And Revisited. And Revisited.
Reviewed on 2013 December 29
There are multiple versions of this classic Dickens tale floating around, some much better than others (Ebbie? Really??). I have my favorites listed here, with their ratings. I may veer into spoiler territory as I point out what I think made each version unique, but the message and plots of these versions are fundamentally the same. No nonsense about female Scrooges or played for laughs with Bill Murray (a safe choice for about anything else) hamming it up as a jaded TV exec; these are all more respectful to Dickens’s story. In my opinion picking any of these is like picking a chocolate from a box of Fannie May or Godiva or Sees. Everyone has their favorites, but you can’t really go wrong with any of them.
1938, with Gene Lockhart as Scrooge
This was interesting because of Lockhart’s almost insectoid quality. He looked like a grumpy praying mantis here, and for a moment I almost expected him to crunch poor Bob Cratchit’s head off. He did seem to spray the long-suffering Bob a bit as he started foaming at the mouth about Christmas “Humbug!” this and “Pickpocket!” that. It was also odd to see such a cheery Cratchit family, with (as others noted) an appearance more of genteel poverty and general tough times than the realistic, grinding, hand-to-mouth Victorian poor existence I’ve seen in other versions. The unusual thing was the speed of Scrooge’s transformation: watch Lockhart bouncing around like a happy kid almost immediately after the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him his childhood. You could almost see a Busby Berkley influence in her costume too. It’s still a slice of vintage Christmas.
Three morsels. Dated, but good.
1951, with Alistair Sim as Ebenezer
This is my favorite old version. My big brother loves it too, and I in fact think he’s the one that got me to sit still, shut up and watch it one long-ago Christmas Eve when I was really wound up waiting for Santa. (He also introduced me to the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. I have a very cool brother).
What I like about this one, besides Sim just owning it, are the little things. You hear the bells ringing as Marley comes to visit Scrooge but they don’t move; you just hear them pealing frantically, and I think that’s a nice eerie touch. Also, Scrooge is less a mean stick insect here, and more a believable, hard-bitten man, worn down by a rough life where the only good (to him) things came from his business efforts. The strains of Christmas carols worked faintly into the soundtrack are good too. The scene where he tries to comfort the dying Marley, and fails miserably, is an amazing bit of film. It also has the jolliest Ghost of Christmas Present, and the most natural-acting Tiny Tim. Not to mention the simplest (and most effective) Ghost of Christmas Future. Sim’s sequence after he’s reformed is also the funniest.
Three chocolate morsels and a bowl of Smoking Bishop.
The 1999 version, with Patrick Stewart making it so as everyone’s favorite Christmas grouch
This one did something unique: it started with the funeral of Marley, and left me with the feeling that this was what stunted Ebenezer once and for all. It also has a uniquely sarcastic Ghost of Christmas Present; unlike the 1951 version where the ghost gently restrains Scrooge so he hears what he needs to hear, this one enjoys digging at Ebenezer. I also liked Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit as well as Saskia Reeves as his tough, practical wife. I think Stewart wore the mantle of reformed Scrooge very nicely too, if a bit more subtly. After his transformation, Scrooge seems more like the uncle that would surprise you with that expensive toy your parents nixed, or slip a $20 bill or two in the lame socks someone else got you.
Three chocolate morsels.