"A Christmas Carol" (aka "Scrooge") is Charles Dicken's novel that has been
adapted to cinema more times than any of his other works. I'm sure there will
be some disagreement with me in that I consider the 1951 Alistair Simm
version the definitive one. That's not to suggest there aren't very good
alternate pictures out there but Simm's performance and the style it
was photographed in best represents the author's worldview.
Dickens (1812-1870) was part of the Fabian society in England. Other
notable writers included George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell. They
called themselves 'scientific socialists' a term later utilized by
the Soviets. Like all socialists, Dickens only saw the dark side of
capitalism and ignored it's attributes. However it should be
noted that free enterprise was considerably more rigid in
Great Britain because it had a class system combined with it.
Unlike America, it was difficult to impossible to move upwards and
people tended to be stuck in their caste from cradle to grave. So
Dickens wrote fictional stories about protagonists who through strange
circumstances or chance were able to improve their lives. Novels like
"Oliver Twist" are stories about fate rather than people taking the initiative
to alter their conditions as in American novels. It's one of their flaws in my
opinion. Fortunately, Dickens had a real flair creating believable antagonists
and villains. They helped distract readers from his shaky narrative structures
that were full of preposterous coincidences. Dickens also had a fondness for
wacky names which also lightened their tone.
Much of Dickens work had a thinly disguised anti-capitalist and
anti-class theme. "A Christmas Carol" certainly fell into that category.
Ebeneezer Scrooge is a userous money lender although I'm not sure where
he got his fortune from since it appears that a number of his clients were
unable to pay him back and went to debtor's prison. The other question I
always pondered was why Bob Cratchit had so many kids if he couldn't afford
to raise them on his salary. Wouldn't a smaller family been a wiser and more
responsible choice for himself and society at large? I guess by asking that puts
me at odds with the Fabians and their contemporaries then and now.
"A Christmas Carol" is ultimately a ghost story and some of it almost fits into the
Gothic horror category. Certainly Brian Desmond Hurst's version has appropriate photography with lots of sinister shadows and bizarre sound effects. What makes it work the best is the transformation of the lead character. Virtually any older thespian
can play a grumpy, heartless miser. But Simm's change into a compasionate
and loveable 'Uncle Scrooge' is so convincing and giddy that all of the other
players who have attempted this role come in second place. Not only does
Simm alter his personality but he actually 'youthens' to the point where he
simply must stand on his head like a little boy.
There are many copies of this movie in the various formats including
VHS, Laserdisc and DVD. The only one worth purchasing is the last release
called "Ultimate Collector's Edition". It has a color photo of Simm smiling on
the cover. What's the difference? It's the first time the distributor had
actual film elements to master from. Up to now they only had videotapes
supplied by the owner to work with. Like "Miracle on 34th Street" this was
another picture that was the victim of it's own success. This movie has been
printed over and over again so many times that the negative was pretty battered
and worn. So they were able to go directly from the 35mm negative in the US
and remove the wear and make it look brand new. But there's a proviso here...
The US negative was a duplicate negative not the original one which is still in
England. This negative did not have the full contrast range and gray scale
as the original so it looks a bit grainy and washed out at times. The image is
clean but it doesn't look as good as it could. I know there was a British PAL
DVD released in Great Britain which might have been mastered from first
generation sources but it's been discontinued so I'm unable to compare them.
Even though it's not perfect this DVD is certainly better than any of the previous
releases so I recommend it.
The audio is more problematical. British soundtracks were never as good as
US tracks back then. The duplicate one they shipped over was a bit overmodulated
and shrill making it sound worse. They created a simulated 5.1 version for this
disc which gives some echo to the ghosts but otherwise is still a bit distorted
when it comes to the music. There's also a poor colorized version which doesn't
work at all and undercuts the stlyish black and white photography. Even more absurd is a cropped widescreen version which chops off the tops and bottoms of the 1.33 composition. I have no idea why they created it.
The suppliments are mildly interesting. There's an extensive interview with
George Cole who played the younger Scrooge in the film. He's still recognizable
and discusses his friendship with Simm.
In Summary: Picture quality B, Sound C +, Cinematography A, Performances A +,
Story and Screenplay A