Variations on A Christmas Carol: CFQ Round Table Podcast 2:48.2

a christmas carol

The Christmas season is upon us, and as we have had occasion to mention, that means ghosts and spirits. And what greater Christmas ghost story is there than Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL? That is the subject of this week’s Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast: Dan Persons, guest John W. Morehead (of, and Steve Biodrowski take a look back at the original novel and the numerous film and television adaptations, both live action and animated, that have brought not only Scrooge but also Jacob Marley and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to life on the screen. Listen for fond remembrances of everything from the 1951 classic SCROOGE starring Alistair Sim to the 1970 musical starring Albert Finney, from George C. Scott to Patrick Stewart, not to mention Mr. Magoo, the Muppets, and Doctor Who!


Dr. Who Does 'A Christmas Carol'

BBC America announced that it will be premiering the DOCTOR WHO Christmas Special A Christmas Carol on the same day it airs in the UK—Christmas Day!


Harry Potter’s Michael Gambon Guest Stars in the Holiday-Themed Adventure
Following Matt Smith’s appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on Tuesday November 16, BBC AMERICA announces that the new Doctor Who Christmas Special will premiere in the U.S. for the first time on Christmas Day. The festive Dickens-inspired adventure, A Christmas Carol, is penned by award-winning lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat (Sherlock, Coupling) and premieres Saturday, December 25, 9:00 pm ET.

Behid the Scenes Photo © BBC Television
Behind the Scenes Photo © BBC Television

Newlyweds Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are joined by Harry Potter’s Michael Gambon and Opera diva Katherine Jenkins, for what may be the Doctor’s most Christmassy adventure yet.
Lead Writer and Executive Producer, Steven Moffat, commented on the upcoming special: “Oh, we’re going for broke with this one. It’s all your favorite Christmas movies at once, in an hour, with monsters. And the Doctor. And a honeymoon. And … oh, you’ll see. I’ve honestly never been so excited about writing anything. I was laughing madly as I typed along to Christmas songs in April. My neighbors loved it so much they all moved away and set up a website demanding my execution. But I’m fairly sure they did it ironically.”
Perry Simon, General Manager, Channels, added: “Doctor Who has become a key part of the BBC AMERICA schedule, and having the opportunity to air A Christmas Carol on Christmas Day is like receiving our very own holiday gift. The Timelord may travel through time and space, but he’s certainly found a home at BBC AMERICA.”
Doctor Who is currently filming in Utah for next season’s two-part premiere set in the U.S. during the late ‘60s. Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston and guest star Mark Sheppard are all in production stateside. The next season premieres spring 2011 on BBC AMERICA.
In the run up to A Christmas Carol on Christmas Day, BBC AMERICA will be running a marathon of the series, beginning at midnight on December 24 and leading up to this year’s special. The marathon includes previous Christmas specials and a selection of favorite Doctor Who episodes from recent seasons.
Christmas Day will also see the premiere the Doctor Who Prom, a live concert featuring stars Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as hosts. The Doctor Who Prom was filmed earlier this year at the world renowned Royal Albert Hall and features appearances from the Weeping Angels, Daleks and the TARDIS. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, who record the soundtrack for the series, present a selection of intergalactic music – including Murray Gold’s music from the TV show, plus a selection of classical favorites.
Fans can catch up on the new Doctor’s first season with Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series Blu-ray and DVD, both are now available in stores.

The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

“ Love is a magic comfort food for the weak and uneducated.”—Connor Mead

Charles Dickens is surely rolling over in his grave over this non-romantic rip-off “comedy” of his hallowed holiday classic.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, a modern-day by-the-numbers serious-comedic spin on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is such a smarmy, unfunny and hypocritical riff, that DVD-viewers will pound their own stake of holly through its heart by giving it amiss come the next round of rental picks. Maybe it’s a telling point that this “Holiday Movie” wasn’t even released at Christmas, but made an untimely arrival last summer. In any event, yours truly chose the Chick Flick assignment to stretch my range of cinematic scrivening, but five minutes into it, was already regretting that I hadn’t turned to the, say, infinitely more healthy romantic banter of Ed Lee’s Header.
Directed by Mark Waters (he of the fairly decent Mean Girls and Freaky Friday), and scripted by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover, Full of It), the movie, like its repulsive, womanizing photographer protagonist Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey), flashes a fair set of visual choppers, a decent cast, and well-scrubbed production values. But in the end, the flat, banal jokes, phony plot, and general mean-spiritedness wreck any chance of creating audience sympathy or selling its seasonal “All You Need Is Love” bromide. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a right nasty hum-bug, buoyed only occasionally by some decent turns in the minor parts.
Anyone familiar with Dickens’ novelette, and all its cinematic incarnations, will have no problem guessing how this version is going to play. Replacing miserly, X-Mas-loathing Ebenezer Scrooge with a heartless fashion photographer who earns $150K-a-year, the film presents its “hero” as a vile, womanizing jerk, who is so commitment-shy that he can’t even bring himself to consider “spooning” with any babe he dates and so contemptible in the cold exercise of his “love ‘em and leave ‘em philosophy” that he breaks up via conference call with his three latest victims – which is a fair indication of how superficial and smug the rest of the film is going to be. There is no doubt that a rude wakening lies ahead for Connor, and its easy to guess how the Dickens formula will sign-post each plot point before the inevitable happy conclusion.
McConaughey, who is one of the mainstays of the modern romantic comedy (How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days, and Failure to Launch to name just a few of his recent vehicles), is as tanned and toothy as a TV televangelist, and the actor essays Connor with reptilian, narcissistic style. The problem with McConaughey in the role is that the actor’s good-natured presence is totally at odds with the despicable character he is playing, and because of this, you can’t take him seriously as Lady Killer or Reformed Cad. He wavers between the two extremes, and never registers as anything approaching a real human being; Mead is so vile and off-putting that there is no way that one could believe for one tiny second that so many beautiful women would buy into his shtick. Credibility is strained from the onset with this hateful playa’ cypher, and it only gets worse. In fact, it’s hard to really envision this movie as a sought-for “Chick Flick” rental because it is so outrageously insulting to the distaff set. Renting Fellini’s City of Women would probably be a better use of time.
When Connor heads to New England for his brother Paul (Brecken Meyer)’s wedding to long-time girlfriend Sandra (Lacey Chabert), he wastes no time making the rehearsal as rancorous as possible by bashing on the institution of marriage and deriding love as “magical comfort food for the weak and uneducated.” Given Connor’s general attitude and predatory ways, you have to wonder why they invited him in the first place, let alone entrusting him with the wedding toast. Of course, you have to wonder why his nebbish brother is marrying Chabert’s Sandra – a shrill harridan who screams and bellows every line of trite dialogue. To complicate matters, Connor’s childhood love, and former conquest, Dr. Jenny Perotti (played with the usual awkward, coltish charm by Jennifer Garner), is the maid of honor. It should be no great revelation that Garner’s hottie doctor character believes that Connor The Conqueror, deep-down, is really a “sweetheart”: this character is another of the movie’s blatant and implausible elements: how could Dr. Jenny still believe in such an unrepentant, sleazy dog. The answer to that question is simple: because the dictates of the plot demand that she does.
Hashing through his ambivalent feelings toward Jenny (as shallow as Connor is, you can’t really say he’s wrestling with his conscience), and relishing the chance to bed the one bridesmaid (Amada Walsh) he hasn’t managed to seduce, Connor receives an unexpected jolt when he is confronted by the ghost of his legendarily libidinous Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, having fun with the Marley role). He informs Connor that he will be visited that night by the Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Present and Future who will show him the folly of his self-centered ways, and that if he does not change his life, he will wind up as alone as Wayne was when he died. The aforementioned statement is actually rather misleading: strictly speaking only one of the “Ghosts” of Girlfriends Past is actually a “girlfriend” (she lasted 32 seconds!).
This is where the cinefantastique elements kick in, such as they are. When Connor repairs to his bedroom expecting a tryst with said bridesmaid, he encounters his first spirit guide, the Ghost of Girlfriends Past: brace-wearing, frizzy-haired teen Allison Vandermeersh (Emma Stone), Conor’s first sexual partner. Allison takes Connor back to the ‘80s and shows him how, after being rebuffed by Jenny at his senior prom, Connor apprenticed himself to his womanizing cad of an Uncle Wayne (“the power of a relationship lies in who cares the least”, Uncle Wayne advises). This is probably one of the movie’s finer segments because at least Stone’s Allison and Douglas’ Wayne are a shade fun and lively. The rules of Haunting are a little muddled as Douglas and Stone can go from physically substantial to phantom insolubility at any given time. Yet, Wayne is downright creepy in his committed misogyny: when he takes Connor to a bar to give him his first lessons in defeating the opposite sex, you have to wonder why Child Services isn’t tearing Connor away from such an irresponsible and dangerous guardian.
The next “spirits” on the horizon are a bit of a cheat: the Ghost of Girlfriends Present is neither a Ghost nor one of Connor’s conquests but Melanie (Noureen DeWulf) – Connor’s long-suffering assistant and the only healthy relationship Connor has with a woman (you almost hope that they’ll wind up together). Melanie takes the time to show Connor the emotional wreckage of his harem lifestyle by showing him the weepy aftermath of his three-way break-up. It’s indicative, however, of the sloppy writing that Melanie’s “ghostly” persona shows up at the Happy Ending as the same time that the Real Melanie makes an appearance. Still, these scenes do have at least one effective and poignant moment of fantasy when a torrential downpour falls on Connor – composed of “all the tears of the women who have cried over him.” Unfortunately, even this scene ends in a vulgar payoff.
That takes us then to the “Ghost” of Girlfriends Future (again, not a Girlfriend), personified by an anonymous, ethereal beauty (Olga Maliouk) who shows Connor how his life will go if he continues to reject these last opportunities for love. She also reveals the equally tragic consequences for his brother Paul (this character kind of serves as the “Tiny Tim” figure by default), who after he has spent most of the movie defending his lecherous bro (Connor pretty much raised him), is headed for his own downward spiral after Sandra has discovered that he had had a years’ past indiscretion with one of the bridesmaids (the news leaked by Connor of course). So, with Jenny slipping away and Paul and Sandra’s nuptials in tatters, will Connor sink fully into the slime or will he seize redemption, reunite with Jenny, and save his brother’s wedding?
The major problem is the strong whiff of toxic hypocrisy at the heart of this fluff that is totally at odds with the narrative’s feel-good message. As much as the Ghost of Girlfriends Past trashes the McConaughey character for his selfish, predatory ways, it also unabashedly celebrates his womanizing by parading as much femme eye-candy on-screen as possible, and relishing the fall of every vacuum-minded boy-toy. Aside from a couple discerning female characters (Melanie and Anne Archer, slumming here), the rest of the chicks in this Chick Flick are shallow, vicious ditzes who exist only to feather Connor’s bed. This is the kind of world where all bridesmaids and fashion models are brainless, masochistic sluts eager to throw themselves at any conscienceless seducer. You wind up shaking your head and wondering “Doesn’t this guy’s reputation precede him? Don’t the gals possess a whit of esteem or emotional self-preservation?” On the flip-side, with the exception of one male wedding guest Brad (Daniel Sunjada), who has been invited for Jenny’s benefit, the groom’s men are all homely, spastic dweebs. This really is the kind of film that will send the most committed feminists into a fury.
It’s hard to put a finger on what is more outrageous: the total cynicism, or the filmmakers’ hard-sell of the hateful main character’s change of heart. Piled on top of Jenny’s laughable assertion that Connor is really a decent guy, is the unconvincing bid to give Connor a “heart” by portraying him as an orphan who had to singled-handedly raise his brother. Even worse, though Michael Douglas’ Hugh Hefneresque Marley character (who calls everyone “Dutch”) has been sent back to earth to convince McConaughey to mend his hedonistic ways, he himself shows no signs of repenting his past indiscretions. He’s still a randy swinger’on The Other Side. This really indicative of the objectionable smirky wink-nudge nature of Ghost of Girlfriends Past and effectively deflates the moral dilemma here: How can you accept the hero’s transformation if the ghostly moral messenger still waxes nostlgic for his lothario days? Even after the Big Change, I was unconvinced that either Connor or Wayne truly repented their lifestyle choices.
That’s not to say that Ghost of Girlfriends Past is absolutely awful or without merit. The basic structure of the Dickens plot definitely has its appeal, and there are a clutch of decent supporting performances on hand. It’s good to see the usually fine Robert Forster in anything these days, and he gets a good chuckle as Sandra’s dad, a USMC sergeant-turned-minister who offers a wholly inappropriate wedding toast to the bride and groom. Stone is energetic, annoying and sprightly, and is, at least, a character that’s wholly alive. Noureen DeWulf brings some much needed level-headedness to her role as Connor’s go-to girl (“There’s apple, bubble gum and Tandoori. I know it sounds gross, but have two of them and you won’t feel your face,” she openes as she comforts a trio of Connor’s victims). Anne Archer, in a brief appearance as the bride’s sexy mom, is sweet and savvy as one of the few women who see through Connor’s games, though getting a laugh out of the chase. Garner is good as Jenny, despite the character she’s playing, and Douglas gets a number of decent laughs as Wayne. Daryn Okada’s photography and Bruce’s Green’s editing is brisk.
The DVD offers no special features: it includes Wide-Screen and Full-Screen versions, and language choices of English, English for The Hearing Impaired, and Spanish.
GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST (May 1, 2009). Directed by Mark Walters. Written by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Emma Stone, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Daniel Sunjata, Noureen DeWulf.

A Christmas Carol (2009)

christmascarolposter3It’s Christmas Eve, all, so we here at want to wish you the very best of Christmas holidays and a most pleasant 2010! And in keeping with the jovial spirit of the season, we submit the following question: Does the world need another version of Charles Dickens’ 1843 perennial classic, A CHRISTMAS CAROL?
Yep, there be yet another celluloid (and digital, too) incarnation of the beloved tale, entitled DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL (or A CHRISTMAS CAROL: AN IMAX 3D EXPERIENCE, depending on where you see it). The addition of IMAX and 3D may strike a note of fear in the heart of purists though: Has Dickens’ delicate tale been steam-rollered beneath a barage of Hollywood high technology? Read on for the answer…
Just in case you’ve been living on another world or in another dimension, the whole story kinda goes like this:
Seven years hence Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner (and probably only friend) Jacob Marley died and Scrooge has been greedily carrying on by his lonesome ever since. But this Christmas Eve Marley’s pained spirit pays Scrooge a visit to warn him that if he doesn’t change his ways he will suffer Marley’s fate and be forced to wonder eternity in misery and regret. Then Marley informs Scrooge that in order to aid his reclamation, three spirits will be sent to show him. You know them, right? The Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? In the end, does Mr. Scrooge become the penitent man he needs to? Ehhhhhh, could be.
But because you probably know the story as well as you know your own name you may be asking why yet another version? Just how many do we need, anyway? After all, it’s always the same story involving the same characters, right? It’s pretty much engrained in everyone’s head, isn’t it?
Well, I suppose one could argue that those are all valid questions. But then again, couldn’t a fan of the season retort with a simple Why not? And would that person really need logical force behind his or her defense? I mean, isn’t it rather like listening to a singer you like singing their version of a half-a-dozen loved Christmas carols?
In the case of the latter, one might simply say, “Let the folks who want it have it. ‘Tis the season, you know.” But in regard to the former one could point out that this rendition of A CHRISTMAS CAROL offers us the wild & wacky Jim Carrey (HORTON HEARS A WHO, LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS), a new animated take (in ‘state-of-the-art’ CGI, no less)…and 3-D!
In fact, Disney’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL does attempt to make its mark on each of those levels, and perhaps because I’m in the Christmas spirit – and because there is hardly another decent Christmas-themed movie out there right now – I’m going to tell you that it’s a pleasant effort, and you should go ahead and take the family to see it so that all of you may enjoy a relatively nice Christmas event in the theater. Allow me to explain why:
Several of the versions I’ve seen over the years tend to get lost in the classicness of Dickens’ tale; they take themselves a bit too seriously, becoming bogged down in their own form of stodginess, with Ebenezer Scrooge devolved into a heavy-feeling caricature rather than a flesh and blood character. Not all have been so – there is the notable exception of George C. Scott’s 1984 portrayal, and let’s not forget Alastair Sim’s famous 1951 incarnation – but enough have taken this approach to leave an indelible imprint on my mind. For example, one of the relatively recent incarnations stars Patrick Stewart (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION), a solid thespian, yet the piece felt a tad stilted and heavy; it lacked a sense of holiday spirit, holiday fantasy fun.
Not so with new version directed by Robert Zemeckis’ (POLAR EXPRESS). Jim Carrey’s Scrooge fits in nicely with Mr. Dickens’ description of the character: “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice ….” The new animated rendition of the old coot – achieved with motion-peformance capture technology – brings this description to life on screen.

Marley's ghost may be a bit too scary for the kiddies in this version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Granted, this is another interpretation that descends to the level of caricature here and there, but it does so in the vein of fun. It’s an animated story; therefore, I allow it to indulge a bit more in playful qualities that will keep you generaly entertained (frankly, at a cost of about $200 million you’d better be). However, I should also like ready you in relation to a scene in which Jacob Marley’s ghost falls too much into the horror film category for a Christmas fantasy, to my way of thinking at any rate. There are also times where the film seems a shade more interested in taking us on roller coaster rides at the expensive of a building of character or a deepening of story or generating its own sense of reality, animated or not.
Still, at its heart, this A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a genial telling, which manages to be light and uplifting. Neither is the animation as eerie feeling as it is in POLAR EXPRESS. And its technique – which I was not anticipating with any great gusto – offers an intriguing vision of the story. The color scheme is appealing, as is the lighting design that illuminates Dickens’ Victorian world and places parts of it in shadow. And Alan Silvestri (who is to Zemeckis what John Williams is to Spielberg) delivers a score that adds to the jolly, joyful spirit of the fantasy. In other words, it is not miserly in design or execution.
So in the end, minor reservations aside, I can say to thee, put on thine ole Christmas cap, tuck away thine cynicism, and enjoy yet another version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. And God bless ye, every one.

DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Buena Vista; 2009; 96 min.) Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay by Robert Zemeckis. Based on the novel by Charles Dickens. Produced by Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, and Robert Zemeckis. Executive produced by Mark L. Rosen. Cinematography by Robert Presley. Production Design by Doug Chiang. Art Direction by Marc Gabbana, Norman Newberry, and Mike Stassi. Special Effects Supervision by Michael Lantieri. Visual Effects Supervision by George Murphy. Music by Alan Silvestri. Edited By Jeremiah O’Driscoll. Casting by Scot Boland, Victoria Burrows, and Nina Gold. Cast: Jim Carrey (in eight parts, no less), Steve Valentine, Daryl Sabara, Sage Ryan, Amber Gainey Meade, Ryan Ochoa, Bobbi Page, Ron Bottitta, Sammi Hanratty, Julian Holloway, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins, and Jacquie Barnbrook. MPAA Rating: PG for scary sequences and images.

Scrooge (1951)

click to purchase
click to purchase

For many decades, this 1951 production was considered to be the best adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and it is easy to see why: it features excellent production values and a wonderful performance by Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Ironically, it is also one of the less faithful adaptations, featuring considerable revisions and additions by screenwriter Noel Langley; fortunately, these changes give SCROOGE a life of its own, allowing it to stand as a great film, not merely a good adaptation of great source material. Although several subsequent adaptations have come along to challenge SCROOGE’s supremacy, none of have eclipsed it.
Departures from the original text begin almost immediately, with the film opening at the business exchange instead of within Scrooge’s office; outside, a debtor asks for more time to repay a loan, and Scrooge encounters the two men seeking charity for the poor. Sims gives us an immediate glimpse into his interpretation of the hard-hearted old sinner: a bemused Scrooge whose attitude seems to irritate more than dismay the charity-seekers.
We also see that the dialogue is considerably condensed from the book. Purists may object, but the screenplay retains the essence and allows the film to move at its own pace, with room for additional scenes such as Tiny Tim staring wistfully into a toy shop window (as sometimes happens in films, he does not look deathly ill, but his brightness is waning), followed by a scene of old Ebenezer Scrooge dining on his way home from work (a scene also in the 1935 film, starring Seymour Hicks). In an amusing throw-away bit, Scrooge asks the waiter for more bread, then changes his mind when he learns he will be charged extra for it.
The presentation of the ghosts is effective, beginning with Scrooge’s late partner Jacob Marley, who in this version is heard before he is seen, his voice calling out to Scrooge before his face appears on the front door’s knocker. Adding a new twist to the old bit, after Scrooge gets inside and sits down to his gruel, the bells begin ringing by an unseen hand – but this time, they do not actually movie; only the sound is heard, distorted on the soundtrack to suggest the supernatural.
Sims does a good job registering dread before Marley appears; he even screens when his bedroom doors bang open, allowing the ghost to enter. Atypically, Michael Hordern plays Jacob without th bandage around his head (there to keep the deceased’s jaw from dropping open – which is exactly what happens when Marley takes it off in the book). Hodern’s is a tormented Marley, rather than the baleful Leo G. Carroll interpretation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938). His shrill scream is as much from his own agony as from trying to convince Scrooge that he is indeed seeing a ghost, not a hallucination brought on by a bit of “underdone potato.” (This line is often omitted from film adaptations. In a script notable for condensing the text, it is interesting to see this often neglected bit of dialogue retained.)
Another often discarded bit is retained when Marley directs Scrooge to gaze out the window, whereupon he sees other helpless, hopeless souls in Marley’s predicatment – wandering, unseen phantoms, unable to alleviate human suffering.
The Ghost of Christmas Past is here portrayed as an old man (Michael Dolan) in vaguely Grecian robes – a change the angelic outline of th 1935 version and the woman of the 1938 version. (The vaguely androgynous approach to the character would be incorporated into subsequent versions.) When the spirit takes Scrooge back to his old school to see his younger self visited by his sister Fan, the young girl runs through him, unaware of his presence.
The script presents Scrooge as the younger sibling, whose birth killed his mother (accounting for his father’s cold indifference to Scrooge). This is also used to increase our understanding of why Scrooge dislikes his nephew: Fan died giving birth to him, just as Ebenezer’s mother died giving birth to him.
The scenes of Christmas Past are the most augmented in the screenplay, which is less interested in tracking Ebenezer Scrooge’s loss of love than in depicting his rise as a business man. When young Scrooge’s employer, Fezziwig, turns down a chance to sell off his business, young Scrooge takes a job with the rival company. Fan’s deathbed scene is depicted, with the old Scrooge registering convincing anguish at his past behavior. We then see the young Scrooge meeting a young Jacob Marley at his new job. This company apparently drives Fezziwig out of business and seizes its assets, allowing young Scrooge to take on the now unemployed Bob Cratchit as his clerk – at a reduced salary, of course.
Later, the company employing young Scrooge and Marley runs into trouble when its boss is caught embezzling funds. The two young men offer the board of directors: they will help them avoid a scandal by making up the losses to investors, but in exchange, they get a controlling interest in the company.
Years later, Marley lies on his deathbed on Christmas eve (a scene mentioned but never visualized before) while Scrooge refuses to visit him until after business hours. Marley offers a deathbed warning – as if, hovering on the point of death, he has had a premonition of what awaits on the other side of the grave.
After this much expanded sequence, the rest of SCROOGE sticks a bit closer to the basic outline of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, but there are still interesting additions. Now accompanied by the Spirit of Christmas Present (a lively Francis DeWolfe), Scrooge sees his former fiancee working to help the poor (usually, Scrooge sees a glimpse of her with a happy family, illustrating the life Ebenezer could have had, but lost). In this version version the Spirit of Christmas Present does offer a grim glimpse of mankind’s horrible children, Ignorance and Want, who are also occasionally omitted from other films.
Scrooge (1951)One of the most memorable images in an filmization of A CHRISTMAS CAROL is the presentation of the ominous Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Here the spirit is presented mostly as an immobile silhouette, a figure enclosed in an impenetrable pitch-black shroud that suggests a monk more than the Grim Reaper (as he is so often depicted); his hand, the only part of his body glimpsed, is pale white rather than skeletal. Although not as outright horrific as some other versions, the Spirit of Christmas Future retains his power to intimidate, and we feel for Scrooge when in spite of his sincere wishes, he expresses doubts about his ability to change at his old age.
There is an extremly poignant scene of Bob Cratchit lamenting the death of Tiny Tim – a good example of the film taking a potentially maudlin moment, whose emotional value could have been sucked dry through familiarity, and completely recharging it so that it feels fresh and new again.
This invigorating sense of the new continues when Scrooge awakens after his glimpse of the future. Sims’ giddy delight – the sense of a burden lifted and a new life begun – is a joy to behold, and the script builds it up by adding a scene of Scrooge encountering his charwoman (the very same one who in Scrooge’s vision of Christmas Future was seen selling his bedclothes after his death). Her hysterical reaction to Scrooge’s overnight metamorphosis underlines the extraordinary event, providing a moment for Sims to flash a small sign of regret over the lost years while insisting to the woman that he has not taken leave of his senses. (This new scene incorporates some dialogue that usually takes place between Scrooge and the young lad whom he sends to purchase a goose for the Cratchit family dinner – another example of SCROOGE tinkering with the original text to create something new that works for the film as a film, rather than as a faithful adaptation.)
Scrooge’s awakening feels like a breath of relief, thanks in large part to Sims, who is the first on-screen actor to give old Ebenezer some semblance of reality. His Scrooge is more than a one-dimensional caricature of a greedy old man; Sims gives the character some glimpse of an inner life, the ghost of what he once was, which is fully glimpsed again when he is reborn on Christmas Day. At the same time, the miraculous transformation has not completely oblitered memories of his wasted years, which flicker briefly across his eyes while telling his charwoman that he is not bad; fortunately, in the end, the spirit of Christmas is overcomes even these regrets: Scrooge admits to himself that he does not deserve to be so happy, and yet he is happy, regardless.
That image of a soul once dead, now renewed, is projected through Sims’ face without undue melodrama or overdone mugging. In the middle of a fine film that works on all technical levels, it is this performance that gives SCROOGE the life it needs to live on as a classic that stands the test of time, worthy of its high reputation.
SCROOGE (1951). Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst. Screenplay by Noel Langley, based upon “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Cast: Alastair Sim, Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley, Michael Hordern, George Cole, John Charlesworth, Francis De Wolff, Rona Anderson, Carol Marsh, Brian Worth, Miles Malleson, Ernest Thesiger.

A Christmas Carol (1938)

Click to purchase

This 1938 production is probably the first good film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Although slightly corn-ball and even treacly, it features lovely black-and-white photography and solid production values  – artificial but appropriate for the story – all in the service of good-natured, uplifting entertainment, which should appeal to fans of old-fashioned Hollywood-style film-making.
Although the short running time (69 minutes) would seem to preclude much extrapolation on Dickens’ familiar text, screenwriter Hugo Butler makes several additions and revisions. The film begins with a new scene of Scrooge’s nephew Fred meeting Bob Cratchit’s crippled son Tiny Tim (who looks more effeminate than chronically ill here). Fred is only engaged, not married, to Bess. While playing in the snow, Scrooge’s put-upon employee Bob Cratchit accidentally hits Scrooge with a snowball, prompting the old miser to fire him. Cratchit keeps the bad news to himself while spending his final wages on the Cratchit family feast, but his daughter eventually realizes the truth. When Marley manifests, Scrooge calls for police officers to help with an intruder, but of course they see nothing. When Marley leaves, there is no glimpse outside Scrooge’s window, showing other ghosts in similar straits. The conclusion has Scrooge making his newphew – instead of Bob Cratchit – a partner in his firm; this enables Fred to marry Bess. Then Scrooge pays a visit to the Cratchit home to spread good cheer.
Some of the screenplay’s additions feel awkwardly spliced in. For example, Fred does meet Tiny Tim in this version, but when the subject arises in a seen of Christmas Future, Bob Cratchit stills makes reference to Fred acting “as if” he had known Tim. And it is hard to believe that Mrs. Cratchit would volunteer a toast for her husband’s miserly employer.
There are also a few deletions that weaken the story. The scenes of Christmas Past feel truncated: there is no Christmas party with Scrooge’s former employer Fezziwig, nor do we see the young Scrooge in love; likewise, in the Christmas Future sequence, we do not see the selling of Scrooge’s stolen goods by those who robbed his dead body. In general, there is little of Scrooge watching the scenes shown him by the three Spirits of Christmas, and the action plays out with little opportunity to see old Ebenezer learning any lessons from these events.
Reginal Owen in his old-age makeup as Scrooge
Reginal Owen in old-age makeup

The acting style of A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a bit melodramatic throughout: this is not a film that strives for realistic performances; everything is larger than life. Reginald Owen, wearing a somewhat unconvincing old-age makeup, offers a rather actory turn as Scrooge, but he certainly fits our conception of the character, and he does offer some good moments (as when he spits while denouncing Christmas to Bob Cratchit).
There are fewer Christmas carols than in other film versions of the story, but the film suffers from its over-insistent original score, which includes angelic music underlining Fred’s speech about the spirit of Christmas to his cynical uncle.
Marley (Leo G. Carroll) confronts Scrooge (Reginald Owen)
Marley (Leo G. Carroll) confronts Scrooge (Reginald Owen)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL’s presentation of the Ghosts is an improvement over the earlier SCROOGE (1935). Seen mostly as a transparent superimposition, Leo G. Carroll makes a baleful Marley, in greasepaint makeup. Ann Rutherford’s Ghost of Christmas Past resembles Glinda the Good Witch of the North. Contrasting with other filmic depictions, the Ghost of Christmas Future resembles a monk more than the Grim Reaper; his outstretched hand is skinny rather than skeletal, but his scenes are nicely staged in front of a cyclorama painting of the sky, which looks like something out of Frankenstein (1931).
There are some good miniatures for the scenes of spirits flying Scrooge through the air, although the process shots combining live actors with miniatures are hit and miss.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL may not be a great film, but it is a good adaptation.Whatever its weaknesses, it translates the essence of the immortal Dickens tale to the screen with a professional sheen that brings the story to entertaining life: the horror of Marley’s ghost, the warmth of Christmas Past and Present, the ominous foreboding of Christmas Future, the redemption of hard-hearted old Scrooge – all play out glossy Hollywood terms that make this a fine film to revisit during the Yuletide season.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938). Directed by Edwin L. Marin. Screenplay by Hugo Butler, based on the novella by Charles Dickens. Cast: Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Terry Kilburn, Barry MacKay, Lynne Carver, Leo G. Carroll, Lionel Braham, Ann Rutherford, D’Arcy Corrigan, Ronald Sinclair.

Scrooge (1935)

Click to purchase
Click to purchase

This early sound adaptation of Charles Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol (1843) is slow in pace, static in execution, and sometimes shoddy in its productions values (or at least it looks that way in the run-down prints usually available – a recently restored version on DVD and VOD looks somewhat better). There are a few nice visual interpretations of the written text; otherwise, the film is of mostly historical interest, and only completists, film historians, and fans of the story are advised to seek it out.
There had been several short, silent versions of the story (including one with Seymour Hicks, who recreates his starring role here) and at least two feature length adaptation, including one directed by Rupert Julian, who went on to helm THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) with Lon Chaney. The 1935 screenplay is reasonably faithful to Dickens, but it does takes a few liberties with the text that prefigure later adaptations. For example, a maid is added, rather pointlessly for the scene of Scrooge’s awakening on Christmas morning. Over fifteen years later, a similar addition would appear in SCROOGE (1951), starring Alistair Sim, but the scene between Ebenezer and the maid is handled much more memorable gusto and humor.
Other changes include a scene of Scrooge chasing carolers away from his business being replaced with a scene of him eating out and telling a waitress in a dusty apron to silence carolers outside. In the flashback of Scrooge losing his fiance, the tone is overwrought and melodramatic, unlike the book, which emphasized the young woman’s wistful disappointment that the man she loved has changed into a cold-hearted stranger; there is also an added scene of her at a later date, married and enjoying Christmas with her family. Finally, Scrooge himself is given Tiny Tim’s closing line: “God bless us, everyone!”
Cinematically, SCROOGE comes up short, although there are a few worthwhile touches. Some effective miniatures are used to depict air-born point of view as the Spirits whisk Ebenezer to different locations. The camera occasionally moves, but overall the action feels stage-bound, with actors filmed in profile as if through a proscenium arch.
For some reason, Scrooge’s visit to the past is shot like a flashback, glimpsed through a gauzy frame, rather than a trip through time; there is no interaction between the old Scrooge and the scenes of his younger self. This lack of interaction repeats in the future, when Scrooge is seen framed in his own shadow, watching the events but not walking among them. When Scrooge’s ultimate demise is revealed, the camera shows evil, cackling faces silhouetted in darkness as the charwoman sells items stolen from Scrooge’s deathbed – an interesting visual experiment that yields only awkward results. Later, when Scrooge struggles with the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, trying to rub out his name on the gravestone, we see only hand-shadows. The overall impression is of an awkward attempt at style, when a more straight-forward approach would have worked better.
SCROOGE also suffers from an overemphasis on background music to punch up the drama, along with some unnecessary songs. An early scene shows an assembled throng singing “God Save the Queen.” Later, Tiny Tim – who gives little visible evidence of chronic illness – sings, and our only reaction is “Oh brother!”
In the title role, Seymour Hicks offers an indifferent version of Scrooge who comes across more like a grumpy old neighbor yelling “Get off my lawn” than a symbol of greed depressing the human spirit. Perhaps the performance has simply not aged well: Hicks was apparently a success in the part on stage, but to modern eyes, he seems too much a one-dimensional cliche, without the subtle hints of loneliness or humanity that other actors would use to foreshadow the character’s eventual redemption.
The depictions of the Spirits of Christmas is eccentric. Christmas Past is a bright outline with a voice. Christmas present is a rotund beardless figure. The Ghost of Christmas Future is a shadow that Scrooge confronts in his bedroom, like the previous ghosts – but unlike the book and other film adaptations, which have him encounter the ominous spirit outdoors.
There are a few creepy moments. The atmosphere inside Scrooge’s dark house nicely sets up Marley’s “appearance,” which is foreshadowed by a nicely done ghost face on the knocker of the front door – the subtle disappearance suggests an optical illusion, making it easy to believe that Scrooge would shrug off this first supernatural manifestation. Curiously, when Marley does arrive for his chat with Scrooge, he is entirely invisible, his presence revealed only by objects that appear to be moving themselves and by his voice – which in a further irony, resembles that of Claude Rains, who starred as THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) two years earlier.


The 1935 SCROOGE has long been available only in a severely truncated form, with large chunks of the story cut out, such as flashbacks of Scrooge’s sister and Scrooge’s acid-tongue comment to a charity collector about descreasing “the surpluss population. The later is a particularly glaring omission, considering that this cut retains the later scene wherein the Ghost of Christmas Present disparagingly quotes Scrooge’s words back to him!
Care should be exercised when renting or purchasing the film on DVD.  Discs tend to list the complete 78-minute running time, whether or not the print contained is in fact complete.

East West Entertainment's DVD

A good example is the dollar-discount disc from, which lists the 78-minute running time even though the actual length is closer to one hour. The print is watchable but speckled and soft. The presentation is barebones, without trailers or even a scene selection menu; the transfer has been chaptered-stopped; you just have to go through it one step at a time to reach the desired scene.
However, it is not quite right to say there are no bonus features; the disc contains one surprise that seems like an accident. After SCROOGE fades out, there is another Christmas title: a 1955 television version of THE MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, made for the 20TH CENTURY FOX HOUR and starring Macdonald Carey, Hans Conreid, and Thomas Mitchell as Kris Kringle. The title is not listed on the disc’s cover art, nor is is accessible through the DVD menu; you simply have to wait for SCROOGE to end (or advance through all the chapter-stops). It is as if EastWest ran off a bunch of discs with both films on them and labeled some SCROOGE and some THE MIRACLE ON 24TH STREET.
Another eccentricity of the East West disc is that the cover bills it as a “John Brahm Film” even though it was directed by Henry Edwards. This is an apparent attempt to earn some cache by associating the film with production supervisor Brahm, who went on to direct a few wonderful thrillers in the 1940s: THE UNDYING MONSTER (1942), THE LODGER (1944), and HANGOVER SQUARE (1945)
Click to view instantly
Click to view instantly

A colorized version of SCROOGE is available from Legend Films (a company that specializes in such releases). The Legend DVD also contains a transfer of the film in it soriginal black-and-white. Although billed as “beautifully restored,” the running time is listed as 60 minutes. The B&W print looks sharper and cleaner than the East West transfer (the speckling and scratches have been erased), but the image registration is still a little wobbly, and dimly lit scenes look a bit washed out. This black-and-white version is available for rental through our Video on Demand service (powered by
Whichever version you see – on television, DVD, or VOD – you would be well advised to lower your expectations. Although Legend Films’s product description claims that SCROOGE is “considered the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol ever made,” they do not specify who considers it so, and it is difficult to imagine many viewers who would agree, in light of the many entertaining adaptations that have followed.
If you are afraid of wasting your money on the rental of the incomplete version, you can see the complete cut of SCROOGE on YouTube here, with a different opening credits sequence.
SCROOGE (1935). Directed by Henry Edwards. Screenplay by H. Fowler Mear, based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Cast: Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop, Robert Cochran, Mary Glynne, Garry Marsh Oscar Asche, Marie Ney, C.V. France, Athene Seyler, Barbara Everest, Philip Frost.