Prior to this 1951 edition of Scrooge or A Christmas Carol, as it more commonly known, there were 8 previous film releases of the same story. After 1951 the movie going public saw at least another 12 versions including the newly released Robert Zemeckis animation. Add to this countless versions of television performances and it's pretty fair to say that this warming Christmas tale by Charles Dickens has seen more than its fair share of celluloid. People will always have their favourite version, Bill Murray in Scrooged for instance or even Frank Oz's creations in The Muppet's Christmas Carol. This Brian Hurst (great family name there!), 1951 edition stands out as the best amongst them all and that boiled down to one man; Alistair Sim.
Being published over one hundred and fifty years ago this classic Dickens' story is well known by now. Financier and businessman Ebenezer Scrooge (Alistair Sim) returns home on Christmas Eve only to be visited by the ghost of his ex business partner who died this very night seven years ago. He warns Scrooge that unless he changes his ways he will forever wander in death, a soulless existence carrying the weight of his life behind him. Scrooge is warned that three spirits will visit him that night to give him an insight into who he was, who he is and who he will become. Are these three spirits enough to warm the heart of this cold man?
Dickens' tale needs little introduction or explanation and nothing much needed changing for this film adaptation, such is the power of the original story. That's not to say that Brian Hurst didn't take some artistic liberties. He introduced additional characters, and played with scenes to make them fit a little better for a viewing public. The main addition, and not necessarily needed in my opinion, is the inclusion of Mr Jorkin (Jack Warner) as a forward thinking but callous money grabbing businessman who lures Scrooge away from his stable position to one where he ends up scheming as Jorkin finally reveals himself to be an embezzler of company funds. I felt there was no need to explain Scrooge's demise, however it does makes a little more sense in padding the story out a little.
These days A Christmas Carol reads like a who's who of early British cinema, you'll be able to see a very young, foppish George Cole as the young Ebenezer, the afore mentioned Jack Warner before he was making people feel safe in Dixon of Dock Green, Patrick MacNee as Ebenezer's business partner, Jacob Marley and even Hattie Jacques as the wife of Ebenezer's first employer; so keep your eyes open for them, some more easily identified than others.
It is Alistair Sim's performance which, faults and all, you cannot for one moment dismiss. It is incredible and the role for which he is forever known. Whenever someone mentions the name Scrooge to me it is not the puffy face of Bill Murray that springs to mind but the almost gaunt features of Alistair Sim that spring forward. His performance has subtle nuances, look for example when he's explaining to two charity collectors near the start of the film why he will not contribute to their cause, his performance in this one scene is one that I could watch many times over. His look, the incredulity expressed in his eyes, his patience as it finally wears thin. A character actor if ever there was one and this was the role that he was born for. The fact that he was a Scotsman only solidified in the world's mind that all Scots are mean and canny with their money. Humbug! It is because of Sim's performance that he was asked to play the part on a number of other occasions. The most notable an animated television short which went on to gain an 1973 Oscar for its troubles.
Other performances worthy of note are that of Mervyn Jones and Herminone Baddeley as Mr and Mrs Cratchit respectfully as they portray the underdog of the story: the ones who beg Scrooge for one day off a year and are reprimanded for it. They're loving and warming to each other, mellow and in one future vision racked with sorrow and guilt at the passing of their youngest son, Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman). Dearman himself is good enough for the part as the young infirm Tim, however he can become a little too sugary for his own good, but then again you have to remember that like everything else this is a product of its time and at the time cute adorable youngsters were portrayed in this manner. Jack Warner hams it up a little too much in his created character, and Michael Horden as Marley's ghost is an inspiration itself. If ever I do become a wailing spirit then this is who I will base my actions on.
In the end though we are always left with the words and moral of Dickens' story and they are superbly presented on screen for the viewer to learn from. Dickens was a man who grew up in troubled times and whilst born into a family of some means eventually ended in a debtors prison because of his father's over exuberances. There he saw poverty the likes of which he had not entertained before and there lay the groundwork for many of his subsequent novels. His story of understanding and redemption is never better summed up than in this his most heart warming of stories. And I cannot think of a better representation in the movies than this most iconic of versions from 1951. There are a number of Christmas movies which must always be wheeled out at this time of year, It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, The Snowman and this timeless classic, A Christmas Carol
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