Scrooge (United Kingdom, 1970)
With all apologies to It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is probably the best-loved, most often retold Christmas story of them all. There's something in its message of spiritual rebirth and redemption that strikes a responsive chord in all of us, especially in an age when the focus of the holiday season has shifted more to material goods than altruism. Most everyone, I'm sure, recognizes a little bit of Scrooge in themselves.
In one form or another (not counting TV series Christmas episodes), A Christmas Carol has been remade over a dozen times -- once with Muppets, once with Mickey Mouse, several times as cartoons, and once as an updated, mean-spirited parody (Scrooged). The best production of all was the 1951 black-and-white classic with Alistair Sim as the detestable skinflint. Then there's this version, a lavish musical written by Leslie Bricusse (Dr. Dolittle).
It can be debated at endless length whether it's a good idea to inject song-and-dance numbers into Dickens' tale. Purists probably don't like it, but if it can be done with Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, there's no reason why it can't succeed with A Christmas Carol. So, the problem with Scrooge isn't the concept itself as much as the execution. Even though Bricusse was given an Oscar nomination for the movie, the songs (with one exception: "Thank You Very Much") are instantly forgettable. Unlike the great musicals, where you might find yourself humming a tune a few days later, with Scrooge, you'll be lucky if you remember the name of one of the songs a few hours later.
The screenplay is faithful to the original story. Miserly old Scrooge (Albert Finney), who loves nothing so much as his money and hates the good cheer of Christmas time, goes home one Christmas Eve to be visited by four ghosts. The first, that of his dead partner, Jacob Marley (Alec Guinness) warns him of the penalty for mean-spiritedness. The second, The Ghost of Christmas Past (Edith Evans), takes Scrooge on a tour of happier times long gone. The third, The Ghost of Christmas Present (Kenneth More), shows him how friends and family are spending the holiday this year. And the fourth, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Paddy Stone), gives Scrooge a glimpse into a grim future of cemeteries, death, and Hell.
Of all the Scrooges to pass across the screen, none has been as convincing or memorable as Alistair Sim. There have been no shortage of contenders -- George C. Scott, Michael Caine, and Bill Murray have all taken turns at the part, with varying success. Albert Finney, one of today's best character actors, places himself somewhere in the middle of the pack with this hammy, albeit enjoyable, portrayal.
If there's a standout performance in Scrooge, it belongs to Alec Guinness, who turns in an unconventionally energetic and sadistically high-spirited version of Jacob Marley's ghost. Never before nor since has Marley been played with such a bizarre mixture of the nasty and the good-natured. Kenneth More is suitably jovial and larger-than-life as the boisterous Ghost of Christmas Present. Everyone else, however, is less-than-memorable.
Scrooge is basically a harmless, fitfully enjoyable version of the timeless classic, and worth a look for those who have had their fill of the more serious adaptations. It's entirely suitable for family viewing and, if the mood tends to become a little too sweet at times, keep in mind the season it was designed for.
Scrooge (United Kingdom, 1970)
Cast: Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, David Collings, Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Paddy Stone, Michael Medwin
Screenplay: Leslie Bricusse based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Music: Oswald Morris
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
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