Thoughts From The Gameroom

The ramblings of a Euro-gamer from South Dakota

Comparing versions of A Christmas Carol– Part 2: The Movies

Posted by sodaklady on December 15, 2010

These are the movies that I have in my collection, listed in chronological order from earliest to most recent.

Scrooge (1935) 78 minutes
Sir Seymour Hicks
The lighting and background music have the feel of a silent movie which, combined with Sir Seymour’s exceptionally gruff Scrooge, left me with the overall feeling that he was the nastiest, scariest Scrooge of all.

I appreciated the unique handling of Marley’s ghost in this version– he’s invisible. You hear his voice but there is no rendering of the character at all.

Unfortunately, the scenes of Scrooge’s youth (in school and as an apprentice) are missing. The school boy, left alone every holiday season, explains a little of why Scrooge doesn’t appreciate Christmas as a man; the reminder of the goodhearted Fezziwig shows Scrooge how little it takes to give joy to others.

Overall, a good version but recommended for serious fans only.

A Christmas Carol (1938)  69 minutes
Reginald Owen
This version departs from the well-known story in many areas, sometimes for the worse.   This is the shortest version at 69 minutes, which may be the reason that many well-loved scenes are left out. On the other hand, added scenes have taken up time that could have been used for the scenes that Dickens actually wrote. Still, variety is the spice of life so the added scenes may be a nice change to a too-predictable story.

It starts out on a lighter note with Fred on the street where he enjoys a slide on the ice with kids, and meets Tiny Tim and his brother Peter. Then he’s off to say Merry Christmas to his uncle but finds only Bob Cratchit in the office so they have a drink to celebrate the holiday. All in all, a much lighter beginning.

Instead of sliding on the ice, Bob joins some boys throwing snowballs at passersby. Unfortunately for Bob, the hat he knocks off is Scrooge’s, resulting in his getting sacked.  But this doesn’t affect Bob’s Christmas cheer too much as he wishes a Merry Christmas to everyone within hearing.

When Scrooge is faced with Marley’s ghost, he sticks his head out the window and calls the Watch to come in because he has an intruder. This takes up some time that would have been better used by letting Marley’s ghost say all of his lines.

The dance at Fezziwig’s is missing again, and Belle isn’t mentioned at all. Poor Belle, left by Scrooge and now the producer.

Another shortcut was made at the Cratchit’s Christmas dinner where Mrs. C. offers the toast to Mr. Scrooge instead of giving the well-known speech about giving him a piece of her mind to feast upon. Maybe they were trying for the softer approach but I miss that little bit of female strength.

The last departure from tradition is that Scrooge actually takes the turkey and a pile of gifts to the Cratchit’s himself, causing Mrs. C. some concern when he’s left alone with the children.

This is one of the better known versions and one I’ve watched and enjoyed many times so it’s sad to realize how much of the actual story was left out. Still, the light-hearted approach makes it worth seeing.

A Christmas Carol (1951) 85 minutes
Alistair Sim
This is probably the best-loved version and not because it is the most accurate and complete, but because of Alistair Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge, his natural reactions in so many instances. Watch his face when the ghost of Christmas past wants him to leave his bed to follow him; when he finally understands how Fezziwig’s modest outlay gave so much joy to his workers; when he first sees the ghost of Christmas present; or his hesitancy about opening the door at Fred’s.  And who doesn’t love his unrestrained exuberance on Christmas morning, singing and dancing and scaring the charwoman?

I believe another reason this version is so well-loved is that they have managed to make Scrooge’s character more sympathetic in small ways than in other versions. It’s the only version that shows Scrooge at Fan’s side as she’s dying, and he finally hears her ask him to watch over her little son. Very sad that he didn’t hear that as a young man.  The ghost of Christmas present does not remind Scrooge that maybe “in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.” During his journey with Christmas future he says, “I am too old; I cannot change. It’s not that I’m impenitent, it’s just that I… wouldn’t it be better if I just went home to bed?” And finally, the touching appeal to Fred’s wife: “Can you forgive a pig-headed old man for having no eyes to see with or ears to hear with all these years?”

This is a must-have.

A Christmas Carol (1984) 100 minutes
George C. Scott
This Scrooge is crabby and nasty but seems to enjoy being so, smiling and laughing as he delivers the “holly through the heart” and the “decrease the surplus population” lines. He also manages to keep his crabby character almost to the end, unlike most of the others who have shown signs of understanding much earlier. He actually gets angry at the ghost of Christmas future when he’s shown the covered body on the bed.

A very good version due to George C. Scott’s performance and Edward Woodward’s brilliant portrayal of the ghost of Christmas present. Yeah, I’m a fan of Edward Woodward’s, too, ever since watching The Equilizer.

I recommend this version if you want something more recent or for some dumb reason refuse to watch anything in black and white.

A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) 85 minutes
Michael Caine
Music by Paul Williams makes this the only musical version I could stand to watch all the way though. The songs are mostly light and catchy. The final one is always stuck in my head afterwords.

If you like the Muppets, you have to have this version. Kermit is Bob Cratchit, his missus is played by Miss Piggy. Jacob Marley is joined by a brother, Robert, and played by the two old gentlemen hecklers. But the highlight is Gonzo, who says he’s Charles Dickens and guides you through the story, accompanied by his friend, Rizzo the Rat. He often quotes from the book which adds a little atmosphere that no other version does.

A Christmas Carol (1999) 95 minutes
Patrick Stewart
There really isn’t much to say about this version except that it’s always a pleasure to watch Patrick Stewart, and it’s a beautifully done version. Stewart is delightfully grumpy, but he scared me most when I thought he was choking on Christmas morning instead of trying to laugh.

I recommend this version to anyone who is a fan of either the story or the actor.
A Christmas Carol (2009) 98 minutes
Jim Carrey
The most obvious first remark is “the motion capture is awesome!” Truly, this version is a complete pleasure to watch even if you’re not a fan of either A Christmas Carol or Jim Carrey.

This is the only version that starts with the body of Marley instead of a coffin, hearse, or just the opening line, “Marley was dead to begin with.” And it begins with the penultimate Scrooge maneuver, taking the tuppence from Marley’s eyes!

Apart from being the most thorough version, leaving out very few of the main scenes from the book, it is wonderful for all of the small details and choices they made: the ghost of the past with his head done as a candle flame and his voice a whisper; Mrs. Cratchit’s facial reaction when Bob tells about Tim in church and says he’s getting stronger every day is probably the most accurate, in my opinion. She’s not fooled, Tim is a very sick little boy; and the ghost of Christmas future is just a shadow– how brilliant is that?

The one complaint I have is the goofy part they created when Scrooge is being chased by a hearse through the streets and is made smaller and smaller until he escapes into a drain. I have no idea where that came from or why but I could definitely have done without it.

Will this replace Alistair Sim as my favorite? No, I’m sorry but his Christmas morning shenanigans, and the scene in the office the next morning keep this at the top of my list. But it IS a must-have version.

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4 Responses to “Comparing versions of A Christmas Carol– Part 2: The Movies”

  1. Gerald McD said

    Wow, that’s excellent! Thanks for the insightful summaries and noted differences. That was fun reading.

    Now, you need to consider seeing “Scrooged,” starring Bill Murray. You will only see flimsy parallels to the original story, but just enough to remind you that it was based loosely on Dickens’ book. Otherwise, it revolves around typical madcap Bill Murray. He is one of the nastier Scrooges I’ve seen, so over-the-top that it’s humorous. The three Ghosts are hilarious — completely wild versions. Bobcat Goldthwait is great in it. The story line is in a modern setting and is crazy, but it resolves in a vein similar to the original — Scrooge finally getting the Christmas message and changing completely.

    Perhaps you should rent it, before deciding to purchase. Since I enjoy Murray’s humor, I like this version. It is the weirdest version I have. The Muppets version is probably my favorite, and I really enjoy the one with George C. Scott.

    • sodaklady said

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Gerald.

      I have Scrooged and like it well enough. Alfre Woodard and Karen Allen are also exceptional in it. The ghosts are a little over the top for me, though.

      I’ve also seen Ms. Scrooge with Cicily Tyson, not a bad version but not great; A Carol Christmas with Tori Spelling which I enjoyed; A Diva’s Christmas Carol with Vanessa Williams which doesn’t do a ghost of the future but a VH1 special look at her life after she’s dead, which I think is pretty neat idea; and the version with Susan Lucci which is a good modern version. Hmm, those are all women Scrooges! Think there’s a message here somewhere? 😉

  2. Gerald McD said

    So, are doing a Part 3 here? That would be good; I’m sure you have plenty of free time! 🙂

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