Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Viewing: “Scrooge,” 1951

Of all the many film versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this one, in my opinion, is the best. Produced and directed in 1951 in Britain by Brian Desmond Hurst, the film was originally released under the title, Scrooge. When it was distributed in the United States, United Artists preferred to use the name, A Christmas Carol.

Alastair Sim plays the title character—perfectly. His Scrooge is crusty, but charmingly so, slightly mad and shows us just a little vulnerability beneath his initially hard exterior. Joining Mr. Sim is Kathleen Harrison as Scrooge’s charwoman, Hermione Baddeley and Mervyn Johns as Mrs. And Mr. Cratchit, Michael Hordern as Marley’s ghost, Patrick MacNee as young Marley and Ernest Thesiger as the undertaker. The rest of the cast is also exceptional—each giving performances which seem to have been directed by Dickens himself.

The film differs from the original text a bit. The name of Ebenezer’s fiancée is changed from Belle to Alice and we learn more about her than we do in the book. We get more of a back story into the business relationship of Scrooge and Marley. Scrooge’s charwoman adopts the name Mrs. Dilber when she’s nameless in the book and Mrs. Dilber is actually the laundress. The most notable difference is the inclusion of an explanation for Scrooge’s sour disposition—having apparently been the cause of his mother’s death during his birth. This addition is meant to balance Scrooge’s distaste for his nephew since his beloved sister died during childbirth as well.
These minor changes notwithstanding, the film follows the book relatively well and includes much dialogue straight from the pages of Dickens. What I like most about this film is that it’s so very English. It’s an English film about an English book made in England and actually shot in and around London. This is something that just can’t be replicated. No special effects, no amount of dialogue coaching, nor any scenic trickery will ever be able to match that.

Another enjoyable aspect of the film is the soundtrack. The music was composed by Richard Addinsell who added traditional English music to his dramatic score. Included in this assortment is “
The Ballad of Barbara Allen”—a song which I’ve always loved (as you already know).
If you’ve not seen it, you must watch this film sometime this Christmas season. If you have seen it, watch it again. It’s available on DVD and, surprisingly, on Blu Ray. Many of the DVD copies come with the 1989 colorized version of the film. To that, I say, “Humbug!”

Here's the whole film...

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