There are over a dozen renditions of the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, or Scrooge, and I have reviewed several of them here at Ruthless. There is one omission, A Christmas Carol (1951)and this particular edition may very well be the best of the best, when all things are considered. At Ruthless, we love these musty old classics, not because of the message of the redemption, but because Scrooge is our personal hero, that is, until, he is ruined by hordes of do-gooders, religious fanatics and relatives that want to separate him from his wealth. Like all the other Scrooge movies, the redemption comes at a price, Believe -or-else!, a time honored tradition.
For those who are not familiar with the story, here is a synopsis: Ebenezer Scrooge was a money lender and a loner who did not believe in or celebrate Christmas. Because of this lack of belief, Scrooge was visited on Christmas Eve by four spirits. First by his deceased partner, Marley, and then by three other spirits those of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. The purpose of the visits was to convince Scrooge to reflect on his life and behavior, experience redemption, and to emerge from the experience a believer in Christmas and a generous and changed man.
This movie is is over 60 years old, but has aged beautifully as the acting, the lighting, the editing, the musical score, the thorough backstory and the timing, deliver to the viewer a depth not reached in other versions. Especially effective was the stark black and white contrast, because instead of making the film look dated, it did just the opposite, enhancing the cold misery and the horror in grand noir style. No one suffered more from the cruel self-reflection than this Scrooge, Alastair Sim, perhaps the most awesome actor to ever fulfill this role. This hard-hitting version revealed more vividly the events that shaped Scrooge’s actions and attitudes as portrayed by the Ghost of Christmas Past.
The supporting acting cast was magnificent, but Alastair Sim carried this movie with his unbelievable acting skills. I’ve watched George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart and other minor players, but nothing came close to the dazzling performance that Alastair Sim gave us here. Throughout the film Alastair portrayed a vast range of emotions and was equally effective as a heartless miser or as a twitching, jerking, non-repentant emotional wreck. He sneered, he snarked, he shamed and he groveled, all with the same incomparable excellence. Alastair was Scrooge, and that’s a bold statement considering the great George C. Scott also starred in the 1984 role of the Dicken’s classic. Standouts in the supporting cast included Kathleen Harrison as Scrooge’s long suffering Housekeeper, but no one in the history of cinema played the I’m not dead yet card better than Michael Hordern, as Marley, who eclipsed performances by Abe Vigoda and even the man on the cart in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
In addition to the splendid acting and cinematography, what really put this version over the top was the effective storytelling done within the 85 minute time frame. Brian Desmond-Hurst and Noel Langley combined to tie in the Industrial Revolution with Dickens story to give the best explanation ever as to why Scrooge was the way he was. All of this is folded nicely into the chapter when Scrooge was visited by the Ghost of Christmas past. This quality work of this excellent version of A Christmas Carol made it the best of the lot, a remarkable achievement for a film this long of tooth. This film was everything that It’s a Wonderful Life was not, and should be the standard bearer for all Christmas classics.
There were plenty packed into this great film, and we all have our favorites, but I particularly liked the one where Scrooge and Marley bailed out the business, which had been run into the ground and bankrupted by Mr. Jorkin. Of course, like our modern-day bailouts, there were strings attached, were there not? Unlike the other Scrooge classics, the Ghost of Christmas Past really elaborated on the transition of a young, eager Ebenezer Scrooge, to an increasingly ruthless and morose one after the death of his sister and the departure of his fiance. The death of his beloved sister was a grim reflection of his own life, having been blamed for the death of his mother by his estranged father. A harsh and cruel scene, punctuated by the cry of the new life as his sister died, was yet another added on explanation for the soured attitude of Ebenezer Scrooge. Ebenezer Scrooge helped squeeze out his former mentor and benevolent boss, Old Fezziwig and had no trouble at all in cutting a poor man’s wages by 20%, merely for the privilege of keeping his job. Greed and parsimony fed upon themselves and Ebeneezer Scrooge tightened the business down after Marley’s death, with barely any overhead at all. This is not because Scrooge could not afford it, he just became increasingly bitter and miserly.
Another favorite was the encounter with his housekeeper Mrs. Dilbert where she thought he had lost what was left of his mind. He trolled her just long enough to have some fun and then sent her on her way with a Christmas bonus. Their Christmas morning dance of disbelief was just a delight. It was really a marvel as to how much was packed into the short minutes of this film and it was done brilliantly. Again, this scene was a departure from the other Christmas Carol classics and was on of my favorite scenes in all of the movies that I have watched.
- “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” -Spirit of Christmas Present (mocking Scrooge)
- “An ant is an ant and a grasshopper is a grasshopper and Christmas is a humbug.” -Scrooge
- “Biz-Uh-NESS! Mankind was my business!” -Marley’s Ghost
- “You don’t believe in letting the grass grow under your feet, do you?” -Scrooge (to the undertaker)
- “He’s breathing very queer…when he does breathe at all. -Mrs. Dilbert
- “Bobs yer uncle, Mister Scrooge!” -Mrs. Dilbert
- “Waiter! More bread” -Scrooge “It will be half-penny extra, sir” -Waiter “No more bread” -Scrooge
- “You wish to be anonymous?” -Charity Collector “I wish to be left alone”-Scrooge
- “He didn’t die of anything catching, did he?” -Old Joe
Special Ruthless Ratings:
- “Well, which is your favorite Scrooge movie now? ” Absolutely, this one.
- “How many times have you watched Scrooge movies? ” Hundreds
- “What about the musical score, did it suck? ” Not in any way, form or fashion
- “Do I have to pay to watch it? ” No, public domain on YouTube in HD
- “Any religious bullshit in this version? ” Just the usual, but not distracting at all