Hello. My name is Baloo (not my *real</> name) and I’m a Christmas junkie.
[All:] “Hello Baloo.”
I love this time of year and especially love the Christmas flicks which always manage to draw a tear or so to my eyes. What can I say? I get sloppily sentimental over Christmas.
Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is one of my favorite stories. I hold “A Christmas Carol” in the highest affection and have as many versions as I can find (and afford) in my video collection. This Thanksgiving weekend I dug out as many Christmas movies as I could find, including several different versions of this classic.
Alas, I was unable to locate the version starring Alistair Simm (hopefully it is still available somewhere). Just in case, I hinted rather blatantly to my nephew in Sacramento that I wouldn’t mind finding it in my stocking this year. I did, however, watch (for the first time) the version starring George C. Scott. I have detected a pattern that only two versions seem to have escaped:
Nearly every version I am aware of is used as a showcase for the talents of an actor who is universally proclaimed as a “great actor” (at least at the time of filming). This actor invariably portrays Scrooge in an unconvincing manner. He is either so over-the-top as to be unbelievable or he is so wooden that the result is much the same. Part of the fault undoubtedly lies with the director, but actors generally get the blame when they do not deliver the goods.
Of the following versions of this story, I offer the following analyses:
<DL><DT>“An American Christmas Carol” (Henry Winkler as Benedict Slade, the “Scrooge” of this picture.)
<DD>This movie’s redeeming point is that the story is artfully set during the depression era. Henry Winkler is a good, not a great, actor, but as with many of these movies, the supporting actors save the movie from becoming either completely insipid or too serious for it’s own good.
<DT>“Scrooged” (Bill Murray)
<DD>This movie is proof that Bill Murray can’t seem to choose a good script. Here we have a talented comedic actor who can not prevent himself from mugging to the camera, in a movie that has no other point than to prove you can spend large amounts of money to produce something that is peripherally related to a literary classic and still wind up as entertaining but pointless schlock. It’s more entertaining than “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”, and about as sentimental.
<DT>“The Original Scrooge” (Sir Seymour Hicks)
<DD>Actually, not a bad try. The plot and story are given short shrift due to the abbreviated length of the movie (only 60 minutes). As in so many versions, Scrooge is portrayed unconvincingly, but Sir Seymour Hicks does a fair job during certain scenes. As this movie was produced during the 1930’s (1935) there is a certain sentimental melodramatic quality to the whole thing that, while it does not rescue the abbreviated story, goes quite a ways towards redeeming the production. Good. Not great, but good.
<DT>“A Christmas Carol” (Reginald Owen)
<DD>Another product of the '30s (1938 this time). This one suffers most from the director’s temptation to mold it into a sermon about how the rich ought to forget about accumulating wealth and distribute it to the (much more deserving) poor. Reginald Owen exhibits the worst overacting I have seen in any version. He begins almost from the start to forget that to him, money is of utmost importance, and shows great enthusiasm for Christmas almost from the first visitation of the spirits of Christmas. It seems he has done nothing worse than become preoccupied with business and only needed a little prodding to bring him back to the kind, loving and generous ways he originally had. He shows no remorse for how his life has been wasted, and only seems to regret all the fun he missed out on.
<DT>“Scrooge” (Albert Finney)
<DD>This is the only live action musical version (that I am aware of) to make it to film. As such, I believe it is in its own class. It is actually quite good, though over the top, as every musical must be. It’s possibly the second best on this list.
<DT>“A Christmas Carol” (George C. Scott)
<DD>I liked him better as Patton. Still, this movie is saved, as many other versions are, by an excellent supporting cast. The most memorable character (my opinion) is the Ghost of Christmas Present, portrayed by a fellow who resembles a seven-foot-tall John Cleese.
<DT>“A Christmas Carol” (Alistair Simm)
<DD>My favorite. I’m biased, of course, but I’m of the opinion that this is the best of the lot, ever. Scrooge is more believably miserly, corrupt and grasping in the beginning of this movie, and is more convincingly redeemed by the end. He convincingly shows the slow realization that upon examination, even he hates what he has become, and shows genuine remorse for the evil he has done in the name of “business”. The movie runs long enough to give us more than just a recap of Scrooge’s descent into miserhood. How he changed so much since his youth is plainly evident and understandable, not the unstated mystery it seems to be in other versions.
<DD>There are innumerable delightful scenes in this one. Four that quickly come to mind are:
[list=1][li]As Scrooge walks home from his business, he approaches a blind man and his dog. The dog glances in Scrooge’s direction, and nearly pulls his master off his feet getting him clear before Scrooge arrives.[/li]
[li]Bob Cratchitt proposes a toast to Scrooge’s health, and his wife (portrayed by Hermione Baddely) radiates disapproval and indignation and gives the best version of “If he were here, I’d give him a piece of my mind for him to feast upon!” (She isn’t the prettiest Mrs. Cratchitt, but she’s definitely the best.)[/li]
[li]Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning to discover it’s not too late to change his fate and make amends. As he prances around in giddy delight, the maid thinks he’s gone mad, fleeing from the room with her apron thrown over her head when Scrooge attempts to stand upon his head on a chair.[/li]
[li]Scrooge confronts Bob Cratchet on the day following Christmas. He seems fully aware of his mistreatment of Cratchitt and actually apologizes, rather than simply giving him a raise and pretending he’s done nothing wrong.[/list=1][/li]
Again: The best version ever.</DL>
The Muppet version is my favorite non-serious version, followed by the Mr. Magoo version (actually a serious version done in animation – well done, indeed).
The Scrooge McDuck version hardly merits comment. It serves mainly as a showcase for Disney’s animated characters.
Likewise, the Bugs Bunny version (My favorite animated character, along with Daffy Duck) seems to be more an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the famous Warner Brothers animated characters than an honest attempt to provide good entertainment value.
Any other versions I may have seen? Possibly. I’m eagerly anticipating the version with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. We shall see. I hope he has enough respect for the story to put an honest effort into it.
Apart from “A Christmas Carol”, I like (in no discentable order of favoriteness ;)):
<DL><DT>“A Christmas Story”
<DD>This story reminds me of a particular Christmas many years ago when I wanted RACECARS! I hinted without mercy (or guile) but stopped as soon as I noticed a package about the right size and shape with my name on it. On Christmas morning I saved that one for last. It was a TRAINSET?!?
<DD>Apparently dad always wanted a trainset when he was little and figured that’s what EVERY little boy’s heart desired. I didn’t have the heart to set him straight, but never really enjoyed it much either. Years later, I appreciate the sentiment, and figure the anecdote is more than enough compensation for the initial dissappointment.
<DT>“It’s a Wonderful Life”
<DD>I really like this movie. There is no rational reason why. Deal with it.
<DT>“Miracle on 34th Street”
<DL>I always get teary-eyed when Kris Kring