25 Days of Christmas: ‘Scrooge’ showcases Alistair Sim’s definitive take on the classic character

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Throughout the month of December, TV Editor Kate Kulzick and Film Editor Ricky D will review classic Christmas adaptions, posting a total of 13 each, one a day, until the 25th of December.

The catch: They will swap roles as Rick takes on reviews of television Christmas specials and Kate takes on Christmas movies. Today is day 25- Merry Christmas!

Scrooge/A Christmas Carol (1951)

Written by Noel Langley
Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst

What’s it about?

An adaptation of the Dickens classic- The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve, prompting him to reevaluate his values.

Review

By this point, everyone knows the story of A Christmas Carol. It’s one of the most performed and retold novellas ever written and it seems that every few years a new actor takes on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. There’s the Albert Finney version, the George C. Scott version, the Michael Caine version (better remembered of course for the Muppets’ contribution), the Patrick Stewart version, the Bill Murray version, even the Cicely Tyson version, and that’s just a smattering of film and TV adaptations. These are all good and interesting takes on the character, but perhaps the best is Alistair Sim’s turn in 1951’s Scrooge, retitled as A Christmas Carol for its US release.

Many actors are great with Scrooge’s grim early disposition, but none capture the giddy joy of his Christmas morning quite like Sim. Unlike most of the actors usually cited as the best Scrooges, Alistair Sim was known mostly for comedy, including a memorable turn as Headmistress Fritton in two of the St. Trinians films, and perhaps this is what allowed him to so perfectly capture Scrooge’s near manic, ecstatic closing scenes. When she comes upon him, Scrooge’s maid is legitimately scared- she thinks he’s gone insane, ranting to himself and jumping around. This scene is included in most adaptations, but in Scrooge, it’s actually believable.

Sim also keeps his early interpretation of the character simpler than many and this subtler approach contrasts well with the later scenes. The entire cast is strong, with particularly memorable turns from Jack Warner as the slimy Mr. Jorkin and Brian Worth as Fred, who brings warmth to a character that can easily become boring or a caricature. Other problem characters, such as Tiny Tim, who frequently goes from being kind but pitiable to cloyingly precocious , are also handled well and the overall tone matches this, avoiding the saccharine aftertaste so many others leave behind.

Though it isn’t the most faithful adaptation of the original source material, the changes feel entirely organic and, to blaspheme a bit, a few perhaps improve the story. Noel Langley’s changes include the addition of the aforementioned Mr. Jorkins and the increased role of Mrs. Dilber, which fill out the story a bit and make it work better as a film. They also provide a nice surprise for those who, by this point, know the story backwards and forwards. Even with these additions, the film comes in at 86 minutes, earning every one while avoiding the temptation to overstay. It’s easy to overlook Brian Desmond Hurst’s contribution, given Sim’s performance, but his confident handling of the material is impressive and prompts interest in his other, less remembered work. All of these years later, Alistair Sim remains the quintessential Scrooge and Scrooge remains the best and most interesting adaptation of this classic story. It’s time more people sought it out.

How Christmassy is it?

This is arguably the most retold (non-Biblical) Christmas story. On the Christmas movie scale (1=Brazil, 5=A Christmas Story), it gets a 5.

You may like it if…

You like the story or character and would like to see one of the definitive versions.

Other Observations

The effects are impressive, for the time, though modern audiences may find them a bit creaky. The ghosts are particularly well done, with equal credit going to the effects and the performances.

Final thoughts

Scrooge is a fantastic take on the Dickens classic and Alistair Sims is the definitive Scrooge.

Kate Kulzick

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