Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Christmas Carol

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens is, perhaps, my all-time favorite story. I have multiple copies of the book and, so far, every available copy of the movie versions. And, as stated in a previous blog, I participate every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Holly Dickens Festival in Holly, Michigan. This year, much to my delight and surprise, I am Charles Dickens himself, and I speak on how "I" came to write this most famous of Christmas stories.
Anyhow, today I would like to write of my favorite filmed versions of "A Christmas Carol" and why they are good, fair, or poor.
First off, my favorite movie version is the George C. Scott version from 1984. Why? Well, Mr. Scott makes a very human and realistic Scrooge - his believability factor is a 10 out of 10. He's not evil...just mean. I also think this has the best Tiny Tim, Ghost of Christmases Past and Present, and a very good Jacob Marley. It really helps that this was filmed in an actual 18th and 19th century village in England, lending the authenticity lacking in some of the other versions.
My second favorite is the Alistair Simm version from 1951. Simm also makes a wonderful Scrooge, and a very comedic one as well. It's this version that has my favorite Jacob Marley - truly a haunting and torturous creature. And 'Old Joe' at the hock shop is excellent (during the 'future' portion of the movie). This is the only version that gives Mrs. Dilber such a prominent role. It's because of these other factors that this movie shines.
Now we hit the 1999 version with Patrick Stewart. In my opinion (sorry Stewart fans) he is one of the worst Scrooges. He is beyond mean - he can be downright evil. And, I really don't care for a totally bald Scrooge. But the worst part to me is the obviously fake choking out a laugh when he has been reformed. Embarrassing.
But, this version has, hands down, the best Cratchit family, bar none. They not only look as ragged as they are supposed to, with poor teeth, well-worn clothes, and obviously without many means, but their speech is of a lower class London family as well. This is also only one of two versions to show the dead Tiny Tim lying in state in his home, as he would have been at the time.
But, to whoever wrote the script - please, Scrooge's sister's name was FAN - not Fran!
Oh, one more thing: the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come is really awful here. I would have expected more for such a recent filming.
The 1933 version with Seymour Hicks is very well done considering its age. The buildings look authentic, the Cratchit's are very realistic, and Hicks plays a wonderfully authentic Scrooge.
Unfortunately, the spirits in this version are awful: a light, a voice, and...well...nothing but Scrooge's replies to unheard questions. Now, I know in 1933 the ability to super-impose was already a common practice. Why they went this route is beyond me.
A very big plus is showing Mrs. Cratchit taking the pudding out of the laundry tub, as the book states. One of the funnier moments was seeing Scrooge's old love, Belle, having 14 (!) children!! And, in a bit of an unusual twist, we see Queen Victoria celebrating Christmas. Hmmm...
My least favorite is the Reginald Owen version from 1938. I feel there was no soul put into it. And Owen himself is far too young to play such an old miser as Scrooge - it's obvious he has a fake head piece on. He also changes much too quickly for my taste - he has become reformed clearly by the first spirit. The over acting (watch Mrs. Cratchit as she brings in the pudding) is sickening. There is no "life", so to speak, in the spirits, especially in Jacob Marley. Again, they call Scrooge's sister Fran (it's FAN!), an obvious pet-peeve of mine.
But, on the plus side, this is the only version showing the Cratchit children going to the baker's to get the goose.
So there you have it - my personal reviews and opinions of the movie versions of "A Christmas Carol."
If you want to get a great book version, search out "The Annotated Christmas Carol" by Dickens and Michael Patrick Hearn. The explanations of 19th century life are clearly defined.
"Dickens Christmas" by Simon Callow is also an excellent book version. Both include the complete text as Mr. Dickens originally wrote it. Both also include many historical notes to accompany the words.

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