THE THREE SCROOGES: A TRIPLE FESTIVE FILM REVIEW OF CHARLES DICKENS’ 1843 NOVELLA: A CHRISTMAS CAROL. REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
A CHRISTMAS CAROL- 1951. DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY BRIAN DESMOND HURST.
STARRING ALASTAIR SIM, GEORGE COLE, PATRICK MACNEE, MERVYN JOHNS, KATHLEEN HARRISON, HERMIONE BADDELEY, MICHAEL HORDERN, MILES MALLESON, HATTIE JACQUES, ERNEST THESIGER AND GLYN DEARMAN.
DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL- 2009. DIRECTED BY/CO-PRODUCED BY/ SCREENPLAY BY ROBERT ZEMECKIS.
STARRING JIM CARREY, GARY OLDMAN, COLIN FIRTH, BOB HOSKINS, CARY ELWES, FIONNUALA FLANAGAN AND ROBIN WRIGHT PENN.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL- A MUSICAL VERSION- 2004. DIRECTED BY ARTHUR ALLAN SEIDELMAN.
STARRING KELSEY GRAMMER, JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT, JANE KRAKOWSKI, JESSE L. MARTIN, GERALDINE CHAPLIN AND JASON ALEXANDER.
I guess I’d better get something straight right from the start. My favourite film version of Charles Dickens’ super-popular Christmas book will always be the one with The Muppets and Michael Caine in it, the 1992 version.
Michael Caine is the best he’s ever been, playing the famous miser who gets taught a stern lesson by three spirits on Christmas Eve a long time ago, and Jim Henson’s iconic puppets really help to drive home the message of Christmas to the viewers, who will all be in floods of tears by the end. Whaddya mean, speak for myself? I am speaking for myself, haha.
But just because I have a favourite movie version of the perennial Christmas phenomenon (trust me, it’s a freakin’ phenomenon!) doesn’t mean that there aren’t a load of other brilliant film adaptations out there too. I’ve picked out three great ones for us to look at today, all telling the same basic story but in different ways.
Does everyone know the story? It’s been filmed umpteen times and parodied about as often, so there’s probably not a soul alive today who hasn’t seen some version or another of Dickens’ probably most commercially successful work.
It’s true that if Dickens were alive today, he’d surely be able to retire on the immense royalties and the film rights that derive from this book alone. A CHRISTMAS CAROL would be his pension plan, in the same way that the song MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY would be for the band SLADE or I WISH IT COULD BE CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY for WIZZARD. Sure wish I could get me some of that yearly Crimbo action…!
Anyway, Ebenezer Scrooge is an old moneylender living alone in gloomy chambers in pre-Victorian London. He is notoriously mean and heartless to the clerks who work for him and to the poor families who are obliged to borrow money from him.
To the rich fat-cat businessmen with whom he consorts, he’s a joke and a figure to be despised and pitied. His stinginess and penny-pinching are legendary throughout London. Not something you want to be known for, really, is it?
Things change forever, however, when Scrooge is visited by three spirits one lonely Christmas Eve. Well, it’s four spirits, really, as he receives a visit from his long-dead business partner Jacob Marley initially, Marley serving to kind of pave the way for the Big Three who’ll come along later as foretold.
The three spirits, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, show Scrooge terrifying visions from his, well, you know, past, present and future that serve to scare the miserliness out of him forever. He does a complete about-face and, from that night forward, it was always said of him that ‘he was a man who knew how to keep Christmas well.’ Oh, the wonderful quotable quotes!
Alastair Sim is superb as the crotchety Scrooge in the 1951 film. He plays literature’s most famous miser in a wonderfully understated but utterly realistic way. This is quite a grim version, and the bit where the charlady Mrs. Dilber (a fine performance from actress Kathleen Harrison) boasts about taking down the dead Scrooge’s bed-curtains and stripping the corpse of its nightshirt would really put the willies up you.
‘Bed curtains? Do you mean to say that you took ’em down, rings and all, while ‘e’s a-lyin’ there…?’
The bit at the end, though, where Scrooge puts things right with the poverty-hardened old biddy would gladden your heart. Alastair Sim is almost maniacally happy as he gallivants about, delighting in his second chance, and the shock on Mrs. Dilber’s face is a sight to behold.
Especially when he does an impulsive handstand while wearing only his nightshirt and she gets to witness wiv ‘er own two eyes the wondrous image of his meat and two veg in all their unclothed glory. Not exactly a vision for a respectable woman to be seeing, now is it?
Funny though, lol, to see Mrs. Dilber’s utterly horrified face. She finks ‘e’s gone stark staring mad, she does. She wouldn’t be at all surprised if the men in the white coats came for ‘im and carted ‘im off ter Bedlam.
Miles Malleson (a much-loved Hammer Horror actor) is a superb choice for the role of Old Joe, the mercenary scallywag who buys the bed-curtains from Mrs. Dilber for a good price because he’s always had a ‘soft spot for the ladies.’ Harrumph.
George Cole, star of MINDER in his later career, has a heartbreaking scene in this film as the younger Scrooge with a lovely full head of dark curly hair. Attending his beloved sister Fan’s deathbed, he leaves before she can extract a very important promise from him. His premature leave-taking leads Scrooge to make the same kind of mistake his own father made with him, Scrooge, and it will take a long, long time to put right.
Ernest Thesiger (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE OLD DARK HOUSE) has a cameo role here as the undertaker who is waiting to see to Jacob Marley’s corpse even before the old fellow’s breathed his last.
‘Ours is a very competitive business, you know.’
Hattie Jacques (the CARRY ON films, SYKES the comedy series) also has the briefest of cameos (now you see her, now you don’t) as Mrs. Fezziwig, the buxom wife of Scrooge’s first employer. She looks lovely and young in her dusky-pink dress, dancing with her husband and laughing her head off in the spirit of the season.
I myself have a colorised version of the film that came free with the now defunct NEWS OF THE WORLD and was introduced by the actor Patrick MacNee, who actually has a small part in the film. While the colour is lovely and muted and not at all garish, I imagine the black-and-white version to be even more atmospheric.
All those marvellous scenes where the snow is falling silently on the quiet Victorian streets! Just imagine seeing ’em in black-and-white. It’d be really something. This Alastair Sim version of the film is the one I feel most captures the Victorian feeling of Charles Dickens’ wonderful old book. The shops, the lights, the snow, the housewives scurrying along with their baskets and bonnets, rushing to grab a Christmas goose before they’re all sold out; it’s like stepping into another world.
The DISNEY version from 2009 is surprisingly good, surprisingly grim and surprisingly scary. I know one or two adults who freaked out when Jacob Marley’s long-dead jaw broke free from its cloth confines and flapped about like a pair of ladies’ bloomers on a clothes-line in a gale-force wind. If anything, it seems that death and dying were even grimmer in Victorian London than they are today. Shudder.
Scrooge’s house and bedchamber are terrifyingly dark and shadowed and Jim Carrey, an actor I don’t otherwise care for over-much, does an outstanding job as the voice of the miser. Imagine his fear when he’s interrupted by the ghost of his former friend and business partner while he’s huddled over his meagre supper on that fateful Christmas Eve:
Scrooge: ‘Speak comfort to me, Jacob!’
Jacob Marley: ‘I have none to give.’
Heh-heh-heh. Tough titties, in other words.
The animation in this version is fantastic. I myself love the way that the characters closely resemble the actors who are voicing them. For example, Scrooge’s nephew Fred is played by Colin Firth and he not only sounds like Colin Firth, he’s the spitting image of him too, which is kind of funny.
The rotund and cheerful Bob Hoskins is the rotund and cheerful Mr. Fezziwig, who gives the best Christmas parties in London, and Gary Oldman plays the quiet Bob Cratchit in whose breast hides a terrible suffering. Maybe the words ‘Tiny Tim’ might ring a bell with you guys?
All the good quotes are in there too, everything from: ‘There’s more of gravy than of grave about you!’ and ‘If they are going to die then they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population!’ to ‘These are the shadows of the things that have been; that they are what they are, do not blame me.’
Oh, and don’t forget ‘It’s a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every 25th of December’ and ‘The spirits have done it all in one night; of course they have, they can do anything they like!’ Such brilliant lines, and all infinitely quotable.
I’ve even heard some people say that this DISNEY version of the film is the most accurate re-telling of the story they’ve seen. Whether it is or it isn’t, it really is surprisingly good, and everyone in my family always bursts out laughing when Scrooge actually steals the pennies off of the deceased Jacob Marley’s eyes with the words that just about sum up his utter stinginess:
‘Tuppence is tuppence!’
The musical version starring Kelsey Grammer is surprisingly good fun too. The songs are great craic altogether and the man we’re probably more used to seeing as Frasier Crane from both CHEERS and FRASIER and as the voice of criminal mastermind Sideshow Bob from THE SIMPSONS does a splendid job as the legendary meanie.
Scrooge makes the huge mistake in this version of throwing away the love of a well-tasty Jennifer Love Hewitt as Emily, a top bird the likes of which you probably didn’t get too many chances with in Victorian London.
He also refuses to help his former employer, the aforementioned Mr. Fezziwig, he of the simply splendiferous Christmas bash, when old Fezziwig’s business is in trouble. Given the kindness shown to Scrooge by old Fezziwig and his plump wife, this refusal to help old friends does not reflect Ebenezer in the best of lights, sadly.
I like this version too because it gives us an insight into what very obviously caused Scrooge’s terrible miserliness with money and his deathly fear of poverty. It’s probably no wonder that he turned out as he did but still, there’s such a thing as taking things too far, you know. He might do well to remember that, the little dickens…!
This version has a sexy blonde scantily-clad Ghost Of Christmas Past in it, by the way, who was leg-bombing away to beat the band a good decade before Brad Pitt’s gorgeous missus Angelina Jolie cottoned onto the trend.
The various Ghosts Of Christmas Future have been scaring the manners into kids since the cinema was invented, and I myself have always loved the Ghost Of Christmas Present, who never drops in without bringing enough festive food with him to feed an army. Now that’s the kind of guest you want round your gaff of a dark and dreary Christmas Eve.
‘Come in and know me better, man!’
Well, that’s it. Only six days left till Christmas Day, 2018. Better go and get some provisions in. Do you happen to know if the poulterer’s in the next street still have the big prize turkey in their window? They do? How marvellous! I’ll just nip round and get it for Christmas dinner. It looks like it might be pretty heavy, though. Fuck it anyway. I’ll just shop online like I always do…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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