Today! Because I’m too old and beyond hope! Go and redeem some younger, more promising creature –
A Christmas Carol (1951)
Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst
Starring Alastair Sim, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley, Michael Hordern, George Cole, Rona Anderson, Kathleen Harrison, Francis De Wolff, Brian Worth, Peter Bull, Patrick Macnee
The greatest Christmas Carol ever filmed, 1951’s Alastair Sim take feels like a much longer film than its 86 minute run time. Hell, the Jim Carrey motion capture thing from ’09 is 96 minutes (and you feel every second of that thing). But while a short film feeling longer is typically not a good thing, the ’51 Carol benefits grandly, as it actually took the time to expand on elements teased in the novel and never explored in any prior film version. This also might not necessarily be seen as a positive aspect of a typical film adaptation – just straight adding things to a plot – and especially one with a story widely regarded as one of the best ever told, but the additional material feels so organic, so Dickensian, that unless you are really a Christmas Carol scholar – films or novel – you may not notice.
And while I don’t pretend to be any manner of Dickens expert, I have seen every filmed version of Christmas Carol that I’m aware of, and I’m aware of quite a few. You’ll recall the three already on this list – #227 Scrooged, #188 The Muppet Christmas Carol, and #298 1938’s rendition – and there are a handful more television shorts that I’d put right in their mix for Best Ever designation – the incredibly quick Mickey’s Christmas Carol, where Scrooge McDuck finally got his dream role, and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, still the best musical version of the story created. There are a bunch of other solid features – Albert Finney’s musical Scrooge, the 1935 dreary Seymour Hicks take, George C. Scott’s epic performance in ’84 (TV movie?), Patrick Stewart’s oddly muscular version (also TV?) from 1999, Jim Carrey’s is a lot but it’s pretty decent – and a few other TV versions worth mentioning – The Alcoa Hour‘s musical episode The Stingiest Man in Town starring Basil Rathbone from ’56, Shower of Stars‘ first adaptation starring Fredric March as Scrooge and Rathbone again, this time as Marley, from ’54, the padded but decent Flintstones Christmas Carol from 1994. And honestly, there are a ton more not worth mentioning at all. Seek out your local video store for more recommendations!
While most have some fun changes or distinctions, they are typically pretty minor – Gonzo’s on-screen Dickens with the Muppets, the invisible Marley in 1935, Magoo’s having the Ghost of Christmas Present arrive first for some reason, and so on. But 1951, while not changing many of the standard beats, adds loads of background. The Ghost of Christmas Past sequence nearly unbalances the film, running so long as it does, but you get tons of alluded-to moments not seen anywhere else, including Scrooge & Marley shoving Fezziwig out of business, Scrooge’s sister Fan’s death – and what he missed in that moment, Marley’s death and how he tried to save Scrooge at the last moment, foreshadowing his entire involvement in things seven years hence. For Scrooge-o-philes, this is some wonderful stuff, never mind the fact that it comes from one of the best casts assembled to deliver this story, and the unquestioned top (film) man in the Ebenezer game, the great Alastair Sim.
I qualify this, as for my money the best Scrooge I’ve ever seen still plays the role every year (as of this writing) at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago – the king of Christmas, Larry Yando. Make the pilgrimage, non-Cook County folks! Yando is God!
Back when I still theatre’d to pass the time, I adapted A Christmas Carol for the stage in Scranton, and borrowed liberally from many of the other versions I’d seen – including opening the play with Marley’s death scene. Why isn’t this done more? It really jumps you into the story, I feel. This play was almost directly responsible for getting me into grad school too, as it sure looked better on the resume than the years I’d spent processing insurance claims at that point. So thanks, Charles Dickens! I hope to do the same for you someday!
Virtually no Christmas Carols have been given awards over the years, so many versions having been produced (Yando did get nominated for a Jeff award in like his tenth year in the role, just saying), but turns out the Alastair Sim Christmas Carol is my favorite movie from 1951! Take that, #324 Fourteen Hours and #241 Strangers on a Train!
Also, Sim appeared in The Ruling Class back at #264, making him our only new Two-Timer on the list. Spotlight!