'A Christmas Carol.' Is there any other story that epitomizes what the modern day Christmas celebration is all about? And who would have thought this very English fable written over 150 years ago would be every bit as alive today here in the 21st century United States as it was in 1843 England when first published? Gerald Charles Dickens, great great grandson of THE Charles Dickens, was quoted recently as saying, "The 'Carol' is 10 times more popular in America than it is in England. In England, the 'Carol' is just a story. In America the 'Carol' IS Christmas."
Because I am such a fan of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," every year I receive a number of inquiries asking about my favorite filmed version. So a few years ago I posted here on my blog my reviews that I had originally written on Amazon.com - put them altogether in one posting. Well, I'm repeating the post again this year, only with the addition of the latest filmed version of the story, as well as a few changes in my reviews. Not that my opinion means squat - it's just my opinion. But, I do hope that it helps you decide which version you may want to watch this year - hopefully, you'll get a chance to see at least one version (besides the Muppet version, which too many feel is the only one they need to see). Or better yet, read the original book!
So, here they are, in no particular order:
The one with Alastair Sim as Scrooge - 1951:
This is the version that so many feel is the definitive Christmas Carol. It really is an excellent version. Alastair Sim plays Ebenezer Scrooge like no one else can. The believability factor here for both, the 'old mean Scrooge' and the 'newly transformed Scrooge' is very high, with the transformation itself coming about slowly. And that's what I like about this version. Scrooge doesn't suddenly become happy and giddy from the first of the three spirits, as in the Reginald Owen version. It takes Sim's old Ebenezer fully until the last spirit to convince him that he truly was a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!"
Victorian London is well represented here, its sinister darkness, dreariness, and hopelessness surrounding the viewer in glorious black and white to further the mood of the dirty old town.
This version has an excellent Jacob Marley (listen to the way he mourns and moans. Sends chills!). And Mrs. Dilber is hilarious at the end when Scrooge gives her a Christmas gift of money. The Ghost of Christmas Past is very close to Dickens' original description, as are all three of the Ghosts. Considering how little movie magic was used, that's no small feat! But, most important, Scrooge is well played here by Sim and his portrayal is a fine one indeed.
Yes, this is definitely an annual watch for us - my wife's most favorite version.
The one with Reginald Owen as Scrooge - 1938:
A nice, short, light-hearted family version of the Dickens classic. Good for the kiddies to introduce them to this great story. But for the purist, it has its shortcomings. First of all, Marley just speaks his part instead of wailing it ("Business? Mankind was my business." Instead of "BUS-A-NESS?!? Man-KIND was my BUS-A-NESSSS!!!" like it should be). Bob Cratchit is a bit too portly to be believably poor in my opinion. And, I'm sorry to say, Kathleen Lockhart does over-act. Watch her as she sets the pudding down on the table. Also, Reginald Owen becomes converted just too darn quick to believe that he is supposed to be this mean, crusty old sinner as he's supposed to have been.
Another complaint is there is more telling of the story here than actual portrayal of the story. Sort of like a Reader's Digest condensed version. Too bad the script writers wrote so many of their own scenes and changed Dickens' own 'staves,' too (this does happen through virtually all of the filmed versions, unfortunately).
I will say this, though, until the Jim Carrey version in 2009, this was the only version I had seen that explains about the Cratchit's goose being cooked at the bakery, to be picked up at an appointed time on Christmas Day. Many poor people in Victorian England did just that since their homes had too small of an oven or no ovens at all.
My advice is to purchase this one for the kids, then go after the Jim Carrey, George C. Scott, and/or Alistair Sim versions to get a more accurate portrayal of not only Dickens' original story, but Victorian London as a whole.
This is not a God awful version. Rather, a mediocre one that has its moments.
By the way, Scrooge's sister's name was FAN not Fran (as in Reginald Owens' and Patrick Stewart's Version).
The one with George C. Scott as Scrooge - 1984:
This version is, to me, a smidgen above the Alistair Sim version - just a smidgen.
Yes, it's that good.
The opening scene literally grabs you and pulls you into the gray, wintry Dickens London on Christmas Eve day 1843. The viewer will feel as if they were walking down the cobblestone streets of Merry Olde England, passing the street vendors hawking their wares, and hearing the carolers and street musicians singing and playing that wonderful Victorian Holiday music. Top hats and bonnets abound as the crowd of people - rich and poor alike - rush to celebrate this most Holy of Christian nights. That is, all but one. And the first image of old Ebenezer Scrooge, played here to perfection by the late great George C. Scott, will send chills down the back of even the most ardent skeptic.
Just think...if the opening scene is this good, you can just imagine how great the rest of this movie is! Of all the versions that have been filmed, this one of the best and most realistic I have yet to witness.
Now what puts this version of Charles Dickens' classic tale above the one with Alistair Sim? First and foremost is the feel. There is a certain ambiance here - a sort of realism - that is not present in the others. As stated previously, you, as the viewer, are drawn into the movie as a willing participant to the events happening about you. Given that this movie was filmed not on a stage set in Hollywood, but in and around actual buildings that were standing during the period in which this story takes place alone gives this version an edge the others can't touch. And the authentic costumes are as accurate as I have seen.
Another major plus here is that Dickens' original story is followed much closer than in many of the other versions. And the casting was pert near perfect as well. In fact, the only character I felt that was miss-cast was the actor (who's name escapes me) that played the role of Scrooge's nephew, Fred. Not toward the beginning of the film when he's inviting his uncle to dine with him, but toward the end when Uncle Ebenezer is dining with him. A bit of over-acting here. A small blip ever so minor that, because of just how wonderful the rest of the movie is, one would hardly notice. Not enough to lower any part of the score!
The Ghost of Jacob Marley tears at your heart, for the believability factor here is high that this specter is truly wrenching in pain and sorrow for his life's deeds. And the Ghost of Christmas Present, with his sarcastic wit, easily puts Scrooge in his place simply by using Scrooge's own lack of common sense and lack of courtesy against him.
Virtually everything about this version of 'A Christmas Carol' surpasses its predecessors. All the 'Carols,' before this have been good to very good. But this George C. Scott ranks above them.
The one with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge - 1999:
This Patrick Stewart version of 'A Christmas Carol' is one that, judging by other's reviews, you'll either love or hate. I believe, however, in a middle ground (or upper middle ground in this case). What makes this version so unique is that it actually shows many scenes that were in the original book but never put on the various filmed versions available for viewing. A few examples: the Ghost of Christmas Present showing Scrooge the many different types of people in detail - miners, lighthouse keepers, sailors out at sea - all celebrating this special day; the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come showing the lifeless body of Tiny Tim laid out in the Cratchit home (the Jim Carrey version is the only other one I have seen do this); the lower jaw of the ghost of Jacob Marley dropping "down upon its breast" when the bandage around his head was removed. Even the items that once belonged to Scrooge being sold at "Old Joe's" pawn shop, such as the sugar tongs, were listed in the original book.
This version also has the best Cratchit family put to film. Their physical appearance (even their teeth), their manner of speech, their clothing, all were as you would expect a poor 19th century London family to look, sound, and be like.
The costuming, the acting, the sets, all are very well done. For what I just wrote, I would put this particular version above average.
However, it does have its downside that brings it down a couple of notches. First and foremost is Patrick Stewart. He actually does a fair job in his role as Ebenezer Scrooge. But I truly do have a problem with the 'look' of this particular Scrooge. Instead of a mean appearance, Stewart's is almost sinister...murderous...like he could snap at any moment. Also, Mr. Stewart's choking out a laugh toward the end of the film is obviously (too obviously) forced.
Other small but noticeable errors: (1) Mrs. Fezziwig telling her husband that she is on a diet, and, (2) toward the end of the story, when Scrooge is asking the young lad to go and get the poulterer, the young boy answers with "you're joshing." I'm fairly certain that 'joshing' and being on a diet were not terms yet used in 1843. One must wonder why they put in such contemporary slang terminology.
One must also wonder why they call Scrooge's sister Fran instead of what she was called in the book - Fan. The 1938 version with Reginald Owen also makes this same mistake.
And, yes, I must agree that they could have done a better job on the phantom. Again, with all of the computer tricks available, why go with a battery operated child-type toy figure?
Why, with all of the wonderfully accurate scenes, did they allow for the inaccuracies that they did?
All in all, even with the inaccuracies, it is definitely worth adding to your collection. It is a high quality version that, because of what it has included in contrast to its deficiencies, will, I believe, stand the test of time.
The one with Seymour Hicks as Scrooge - 1935:
Better than one might think for 1935. I do place this slightly above the Owen version from 1938, however - not as Hollywood-y.
Unfortunately, I feel that they could have come up with better spirits than a light, a shadow, and a voice. I also feel that Scrooge's reformation comes on a bit too fast. He was clearly already a changed man before the Ghost of Christmas Past was finished with its job. And, I have to say that Scrooge's former love, Belle, seemed to be quite the motherly type - we counted at least 14 children from her post-Scrooge marriage!
Now for the pluses: the sets were terrific! Very authentic - I wonder if they were actually filmed in original period structures? The Cratchit's home is perfect for their status, as was the home of nephew Fred. And the showing of Tiny Tim's body lying in state in the Cratchit home gives realism that other more popular filmed versions (except for the 1999 and 2009 version) haven't touched. Also, seeing Mrs. Cratchit pull out the pudding from the laundry tub gave this that extra bit of authenticity rarely seen anywhere else.
The addition of Queen Victoria celebrating Christmas was unique.
Unfortunately, the quality of the print is not as good as it should be. It's not horrid but not what one is used to from a remastered disc. I am guessing that the original print is long gone. But, it's much much better than the VHS version.
All in all, not bad for its age. Mr. Hicks gives a fine rendition of Ebenezer Scrooge that is nearly as good as the others.
A worthy DVD, especially if you are a collector.
The one with Jim Carrey as Scrooge - 2009:
This is the version which is right up there with the best of them. Now, being a traditionalist, this may come as a surprise, considering the computerized-animated-humanistic approach Disney has taken with it. But, right up to the third of the three spirits it is the closest one yet to Dickens' original story; most of the dialogue comes straight from the author's own words, and the depiction of old London is simply outstanding! Now, don't let yourself be fooled...just because it is somewhat animated doesn't mean a fig. The details of old London are shown as realistic as if one were there - details from the past that would be much too costly to have been built on a set. And the homes are as authentic as I have seen yet! As with the George C. Scott version, the viewer is pulled right into the scene.
No easy task!
This is a downright very dark and very scary version, just as Dickens originally wrote. The characters seemingly jump off the screen right into your room - no, I'm not even speaking of the 3-D version here, but the regular DVD/Blu-Ray version - Old Marley's ghost is as real a depiction of an apparition as anything I have yet to see. In fact, watch his eyes...very eerie.
And Mr. Carrey as Scrooge is perfect!
Whether you like Jim Carrey as an actor or not shouldn't make a difference here, for one cannot even tell it's him! In fact, Carrey also plays the role of Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet-To-Come, as well as Scrooge in the various stages of his life, and he excells as each. The general feel is what, I suspect, one would imagine while reading the book, and there have been very few movies that have ever done that for me.
Now, as wonderful a depiction of this tale this version is, there are a few complaints I do have (possible spoiler alert):
1) Ghost of Christmas Past - I don't mind too much that a candle flame head represents the ghost...it adds just a bit of unique flavor without taking away from the story. But, what I didn't care for was when Scrooge snuffed out the candle with its hat, he is suddenly shot miles into the air, gliding in front of the moon along the lines of E.T., then falls back to earth, landing on his bedroom floor. I believe they only wanted to show the magic of 3-D here. It doesn't take away from the story, but it doesn't add anything either.
2) Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come - There is a scene where Scrooge is being chased by a phantom horse and hearse during this portion of the movie that I feel takes away from what this chapter was originally supposed to mean. Then, to further take 'artistic license' (if you want to call it that), Scrooge suddenly shrinks to the size of a rat while being chased, and slides through gutters, etc., while trying to get away.
(Maybe, in this way, they can promote this bit as 'for the children.')
Aside from the two above diversions (and just a couple others that matter little, really), the rest is as close to the book as I have yet to see, and easily overtakes the blips.
I would love to see a "director's cut" to show more of what was in the original book (like seeing Belle's family, Marley while he was alive as Scrooge's partner, more of Scrooge's future). In fact, on the DVD there are deleted scenes, and one in particular shows the horse-drawn hearse being driven up the stairs inside of Scrooge's house, just like in the original novel:
"You may talk vaguely about driving a coach-and-six up a good old flight of stairs, or through a bad young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say you might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken it broadwise, with the splinter-bar towards the wall and the door towards the balustrades: and done it easy. There was plenty of width for that, and room to spare; which is perhaps the reason why Scrooge thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom. Half a dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn't have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge's dip".
I wish they would include that scene in a future version of this!
Now, as I stated earlier, this is quite the scary version and may not be suitable for the younger set. Heck! Even a couple of older folks had to close their eyes upon a recent showing during a Christmas Carol party I had recently!
I think Dickens might agree that, aside from the blips taken to show off the modern 3-D magic in movie making and the chase scene, this is probably the most true-to-book depiction of "A Christmas Carol" put to film.
From me, that's saying a lot!
Now, I know there are a few I missed (Muppet version, the musical version, the silent versions). I just wanted to cover the major film versions (and I haven't seen the silent ones yet).
I must say, however, that I really enjoy the Muppet version, although I don't take it too seriously.
Hope you enjoy watching your favorite version of "A Christmas Carol."
"Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"