Yesterday, my wife and I watched two versions of Charles Dickens’s immortal classic. One was the 1999 TV movie starring Patrick Stewart (my review is here), and the other was the much acclaimed Alastair Sim film released in 1951 under the title of Scrooge in the UK and A Christmas Carol in the United States. I had seen the Sim version many years ago. I remember liking it, but most of the details were pretty hazy in my mind. So coming to it again, it was almost like I was watching it for the first time, which lent itself really well to a review.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Sim) is an old, stingy miser who cares for nothing but his business and pocket book. He pays his clerk Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns) barely enough to put food on the table for himself, his wife (Hermione Baddeley), and his six children, among them the crippled but bright and hopeful Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman). On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley (Michael Horden). Marley says Scrooge will be visited by the three spirits of Christmas (Past, Present, and Yet To Come). These visitors are Scrooge’s last chance to redeem himself. Should he not heed their lessons, he’ll be doomed with Marley to eternally walk the Earth as a ghost with massive locks and chains attached to him and who may not interfere in the lives of men.
Scrooge is known as one of the best (some would say the best) adaptations of the Dickens story. Despite this, it’s also the one that adds a hefty amount of new material, primarily to the Ghost of Christmas Past section. In Dickens’s novella, we don’t ever witness Scrooge’s transition from the kind, hopeful young man to the cold, bitter shell of a human we see in the story’s opening pages. Scrooge does show all of this. It even adds a new character, the greedy businessman Mr. Jorkin, who acts as a mentor to Scrooge after he leaves the employment of the kind Fezziwig. We even get to see the meeting of Scrooge and Marley and their rise to power as they start their own business through not so nice of means. Other added material includes the death of Scrooge’s goodhearted sister and the passing away of Marley.
It’s interesting to actually see Scrooge’s downfall, but it strikes me as unnecessary. It’s not important how Scrooge came to be the way he is. It’s important that he became it. If it seems imperative to show that transition, it would be better if it was told through a couple of well-written lines than the lengthy series of events we’re given here.
These added scenes might not have been as much of a problem if they didn’t bog down the Ghost of Christmas Past section, which lasts twice as long as the Present and Yet To Come ones. You can really feel the added time, too. When we finally get to the Ghost of Christmas Present stuff, it was a relief to say the least.
Everything else feels a little rushed and chopped up in places. The biggest problem is the diminishing of Tiny Tim. You barely know the character in this version. Scrooge’s lamenting over the possible death of the boy in the future when the Ghost of Christmas Present says, “I see an empty seat, and a crutch without an owner,” feels hollow when Scrooge has literally only known the boy for 20 seconds by that point. The final scene of Yet To Come is also hurried. This is a problem throughout, as the characters and important moments aren’t generally given enough time to breathe and develop.
What’s recommendable about Scrooge is the man playing the title character. Alastair Sim is a joy as Ebenezer. His face is wonderfully expressive, able to convey grumpiness, disdain, bitterness, greediness, confusion, fear, regret, sorrow, humor, and ecstatic, hyper happiness with just a few slight adjustments. Sim’s skill at playing both drama and comedy are also not to be underappreciated. He pulled at my heartstrings and made me genuinely chuckle more than once. In other words, he’s a brilliant actor and a great choice for Scrooge. He shines so bright that the other actors, mainly Bob and the rest of the Cratchit family, pale in comparison and end up being rather forgettable.
So, if you’re going to come to Scrooge for anything, come to it for Sim; the spooky atmosphere that’s rather effective thanks to some wonderful, shadow-laden cinematography and eerie camerawork; nice special effects and innovative scene transitions; and Dickens’s story that still holds charm despite some of the shortcomings in its translation to the 1950s’s silver screen.