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A Christmas Carol

Posted by martinteller on December 17, 2013

I’ve seen a great many of the beloved movie classics (dare I say “most”), but certainly not all of them.  This is one that, until now, has fallen through the cracks (two others I’ve overlooked — Miracle on 34th Street and White Christmas — are also holiday favorites).  I have the faintest memory of watching an adaptation of A Christmas Carol when I was a wee child, but chances are it was the George C. Scott version.  I’d often heard that this was the best, so I figured it was high time I saw it.  Most of the praise seems to go to Alastair Sim, who is an actor I’ve enjoyed in other things, especially his comic turn in Green for Danger.  Here he is quite good, at least up until the ending, which is something that’s difficult for anyone playing Ebenezer Scrooge to pull off (more on that in a minute).  He’s just one of those guys that’s fun to watch, with a fine sense of physicality, a distinctive voice and a range of believable facial expressions.  I found most of the supporting cast quite capable as well, particularly Mervyn Johns as Cratchit and George Cole as young Scrooge.  And the film moves with a satisfying alacrity and is beautifully photographed by C. Pennington-Richards, who had previously done lovely work on Fires Were Started and Obsession.

However, the film did little to warm me up to this story.  I haven’t read a lot of Dickens (not nearly as much as I’d like to), but I’ve loved the little I have read… except this tale.  It’s never worked for me.  Despite all that Ebenezer sees, I still find his transformation far too easy and phony.  I could accept a change of heart, but all that goofy grinning and jumping around is just too much.  Though he tells his servant that he’s not mad, I would find it easier to swallow if he had actually been driven insane, at least a little bit.  It’s odd that he’s so cruelly stern and dour at the start, but even with the first ghost he’s showing signs of melting, practically ready to repent on the spot.  And good heavens, that Cratchit family is just too goddamn delightful, even without the unbearably precious Tiny Tim.

Maybe I’m just a big old grumpy sourpuss, a Scrooge myself.  But I find George Bailey’s transformation in It’s a Wonderful Life a hundred times more credible, satisfying and touching.  Still, this is a highly watchable movie and I must admit there was a bit of a lumpy throat happening when Ebenezer showed up to his nephew’s party.  Rating: Good (70)

 

Addendum 12/18/13: I wanted to add this bit which I wrote in a forum discussion: “I can view the pieces from a distance and see how they should work, but they never have for me.  I’m trying to pinpoint why… perhaps it’s because, given his encounter with Xmas Future, Scrooge ought to be motivated by fear, but at the end he appears motivated by a sudden infusion of goodwill.  I wonder if it would come together better for me if Present came after Future.  Or if Future was more sad and poignant rather than terrifying.  And now that I’m picking it apart… really, Scrooge doesn’t know he’s going to die alone and unloved?  This shouldn’t be such a huge revelation.”

IMDb
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2 Responses to “A Christmas Carol”

  1. Alan said

    I think this is the best version of A Christmas Carol , it just has the feeling right. The look and the cast. Other versions are either too much of a pander to Hollywood values/ and or miscast, or just the wrong visuals. Its like the Lillian Gish film “Way Down East”, when you read her memoirs and learn that the ice floes were real and that she was actually sprawled on them, and then you see the film -its pretty amazing- just the texture of the floes and the cold and wilderness. The Alistair Sim film has that authentic cold, Victorian look. I always watch it when I can at this time of year. It carries its message effectively.

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