Monday, December 1, 2014

#1,568. A Christmas Carol (1951) - Spotlight on England

Directed By: Brian Desmond-Hurst

Starring: Alastair Sim, Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison

Tag line: "Now! The story that has brought joy to millions! A new screen triumph!"

Trivia: This film was released in Great Britain under its original title, Scrooge

As I mentioned in my write-up of 1984’s A Christmas Carol, that movie will forever be my favorite take on Dickens’ classic tale. That said, I also hold a special place in my heart for 1951’s A Christmas Carol (released as Scrooge in the UK), which is as emotionally rewarding as any version ever produced.

It’s Christmastime in Victorian London, and the only person not celebrating is Ebenezer Scrooge (Alistair Sim), a mean-spirited miser whose only obsession is his money-changing business. Scrooge is so nasty that he refuses to donate money to help the poor, and is even cold towards his nephew, Fred (Brian Worth), his only living relative. In fact, it’s only begrudgingly that he allows his sole employee, Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns), to have Christmas Day off!

But this Holiday season has something special in store for Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge. Shortly after arriving home on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is haunted by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern), who tells him he must change his stingy ways and start tending to his real “business”: the welfare of mankind. To this end, Marley informs his associate that, during the night, he’ll be visited by three spirits: the ghosts of Christmas Past (Michael Dolen), Present (Francis de Wolff) and Future (C. Konarski), all of whom will work in unison to show Scrooge the error of his ways. 

Will Scrooge learn to open his heart to the world, or is he destined to die alone… and despised?

One way this version of A Christmas Carol differs from the ’84 film is the amount of time it spends with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Approximately half the picture (perhaps more) is dedicated to Scrooge’s visit to his younger self (played by George Cole), showing us the loving relationship he had with his sister Fan (Carol Marsh), including a scene where Fan is on her deathbed, at which point the elderly Scrooge finally hears his sister’s dying wish (one of the film’s most poignant moments). 

As with the ’84 movie, Scrooge is also forced to re-experience his whirlwind romance with Alice (Rona Anderson), a penniless girl to whom he was engaged prior to making his fortune; as well as his time spent as an apprentice at the shop owned by the kindly Mr. Fezziwig (Roddy Hughes), who tried unsuccessfully to teach Scrooge that there was more to life than money.

In addition, we're treated to the backdoor dealings that made Scrooge and Marley partners, and how, years later, Scrooge refused to visit the dying Marley until the day’s business had concluded. The scenes set in the past show us a kinder Scrooge, but they also reveal how his heart was hardened to the world, and the shame of it all is too much for the older Scrooge to bear (he’s continually asking the Ghost of Christmas Past to cease the visions and return him home). 

The movie does spend some time in "Christmas Present", including a sequence at Bob Cratchit’s house featuring his sickly son, Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman); and the scenes set in the future are every bit as chilling as they were in the ’84 version, but it’s Scrooge’s past that made him the man he is, and this film takes its time unveiling the events that transformed an ambitious young man into a greedy, angry older one.

Alistair Sim is remarkable as Scrooge (both when he’s mean and when he’s a changed man), and an added sequence towards the end featuring his housekeeper Mrs. Dillber (Kathleen Harrison) starts Scrooge's Christmas Day reformation off on a humorous note. But it’s the depth of feeling the movie stirs in its audience, helped along by Scrooge’s visit to the past, that resonates strongest. 

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has always been a moving, life-affirming story, and thanks to Alistair Sim and his wonderful co-stars, this particular film version is guaranteed to move you to tears.

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