There have been many good film versions of the Charles Dickens novella, A Christmas Carol. Several of them could even be called classics. Everyone from Bill Murray to James Earl Jones to Tori Spelling to Fredric March has taken a turn at playing a version of the famous miser who, after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, changes his ways and becomes the most generous man in London. This holiday season, I watched quite a few old TV shows and I was somewhat surprised to discover just how many sitcoms have featured an episode where one of the characters has A Christmas Carol-like experience.
Though actually, I shouldn’t have been surprised. A Christmas Carol is a universal tale and it’s one that continues to be appealing 174 years after it was originally written. You don’t have to be rich, British, greedy, or even a man to relate to what Ebenezer Scrooge goes through. We’ve all be haunted by the past. We’ve all wondered what we’re missing out on in the present. And we all fear how we’ll be remembered in the future. In fact, I would say that A Christmas Carol is probably as close to perfect you can get. The only problem is that Bob Cratchit’s son is named Tiny Tim and any work of fiction that features a character named Tiny has to be docked a few points.
With all that said, my favorite film version of A Christmas Carol is the 1970 musical, Scrooge.
Scrooge sticks to the original details of the story. Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Albert Finney. (Finney was only 34 when he made Scrooge but was made up so that he looked closer to 120.) The men, women, and spirits in Scrooge’s life are all played by a collection of distinguished British thespians. Edith Evans is the stately Ghost of Christmas Past. Kenneth More is the Ghost of Christmas Present, a decadent figure who drinks wine and travels around with two frightening-looking children. Alec Guinness is a heavily chained Jacob Marley and he plays the role with just the right combination of sarcasm and concern. (“No one else wanted to come,” Marley says when he greets Scrooge at the entrance of Hell.) An actor named Paddy Stone is credited as playing the silent and shrouded Ghost of Christmas Future. Let me just say that the Ghost of Christmas Future always scares me to death whenever I watch Scrooge. I imagine little children in the 70s were traumatized by his skeletal visage.
What sets Scrooge apart is that it has singing and dancing! That’s right, this is a musical version of A Christmas Carol, featuring songs composed by Leslie Bricusse. Now, the overall quality of the songs is open to debate. There’s 11 of them and really, only three of the songs are particularly memorable. (Those songs are: I Like Life, I Hate People, and the Oscar-nominated Thank You Very Much.) But, honestly, who cares? The cast performs them with so much energy and enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to get swept up in it all.
(Admittedly, Albert Finney doesn’t really sing. He just kinda growls the lyrics. But that’s appropriate for the character of Scrooge.)
Scrooge is an outstanding production of a timeless tale. It came on TV at least four different times this holiday season and I watched each time. And I’ll do the same next year!
And as Tiny Tim, who did not die, said, “A Merry Christmas to all! God Bless us, everyone!”