Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tonight's Movie: A Christmas Carol (1951)

The next film to be reviewed from my list of 10 Classics to see in 2016 is A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951).

The 1938 MGM version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL was the first one I ever saw and holds a special place in my heart, especially as I have a great fondness for MGM movies and cast members such as Ann Rutherford, June Lockhart, and Lynne Carver. I also particularly like the very fine 1984 TV version starring George C. Scott.

Since I usually go to one of those versions when I want to see the story, or MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1983), I'd never gotten around to seeing the highly regarded British version starring Alastair Sim (GREEN FOR DANGER).

Well, what can I say? I shouldn't have waited so long. The Sim version was every bit as special as advertised.

I won't spend time recounting the story, which surely must be known to all my readers -- if not, please watch this movie! Suffice it to say that it's a lovingly rendered adaptation, with a beautifully modulated performance by Sim.

Sim keeps his Scrooge grounded and real, including in the film's last, joyous scenes; he's ecstatically happy, scaring his housekeeper with his delight at having a second chance, but there's also great depth and regret underneath the laughter.

In some ways it thus seemed to be a "quieter" telling, yet those depths of emotion conjured tears from me such as I have never before cried during any version of this story. The look on Scrooge's face when he asks Fred's wife (Olga Edwardes) to forgive him was deeply, deeply moving. Sim was perfectly cast and responded with one of the great film performances.

The supporting cast is also superb, including Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit, the great Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley, and Patrick Macnee as Marley's younger self.

Kathleen Harrison, Jack Warner, Rona Anderson, Carol Marsh, Michael Dolan, and Francis De Wolff are also in the large cast.

I particularly liked the score by Richard Addinsell, conducted by Muir Mathieson, which incorporates Christmas carols. It added a great deal to the film's mood.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, alternately known as SCROOGE, was directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and filmed in black and white by C. Pennington-Richard. The screenplay was by Noel Langley. The running time is 86 minutes.

A fun bit of cast trivia: Hermione Baddeley, Mrs. Cratchit, would go on to play Ellen, the maid in MARY POPPINS (1964). Ellen's employer, Mrs. Banks, was played by Glynis Johns, the daughter of "Mr. Cratchit," Mervyn Johns.

I watched A CHRISTMAS CAROL on DVD in a lovely restored Ultimate Collector's Edition from VCI. It's part of a two-disc set which also includes a colorized version and the 1935 version of the film starring Seymour Hicks.

Highly recommended.


Blogger Irene said...

I recently rewatched this version of Christmas Carol myself getting that 2-disc set from the library. The reason for this is because it was being shown over and over again on some cable tv channel that my brother gets at his nursing facility. When we visited him on Christmas Day is was again playing and my husband had never seen this version. My brother and I both feel this is the best one out there due to Alastair Sims performance. I also loved the George C. Scott version and ---- the Muppet version :) The reason I got this set from the library is because the version being shown on TV was very poor. Why they don't use the cleaned up one is a mystery to me. The black and white version on this set is superb! I didn't bother with the colorized one because I much prefer it in black and white. I have known for some time that Patrick Macnee was in this (Avengers forever!) and Hermione Baddeley was too. But I did not know that Mervyn Johns was the father of Glynis Johns! So thank you for that. Glad you were able to see this one finally.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Lee R said...

The Sims '51 version has long been my favorite version. I actually didn't like the '38 version, esp. the guy who played Scrooge. Also liked the George C. Scott version, but I can not bring myself to watch Muppets of any kind in any movie. Also the Mr. Magoo version is pretty amusing too. But the all time best version is the Campbell Playhouse radio version with Orson Welles & the great Lionel Barrymore as the best Scrooge you'll ever hear or imagine. In a perfect world Lionel would have played Scrooge in the MGM movie version, that would probably have been the very best Scrooge ever. But getting back to the real world, Sim's Scrooge is the best of the movie versions of Christmas Carol, the colorized version is my absolute favorite over the dull b/w.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Irene! Enjoyed your thoughts very much. Interesting the TV print was so poor! The VCI DVD looks great. Glad I could give you a good bit of movie trivia!

Thanks for your feedback as well, Lee! It's a shame in a way that Lionel Barrymore couldn't play Scrooge on film, although I'm fine with Owen. Thanks for the recommendation of the radio version, I've read about Barrymore doing the role but not heard him. I remember seeing the Mr. Magoo version eons ago! Glad to hear another favorable response to Sim.

Best wishes,

8:41 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

So pleased you got to cross another classic off your list and that you loved it so much, Laura.
The film is a true classic, beautifully filmed with a great cast. Mervyn Johns is especially fine in it (remember him in 'DEAD OF NIGHT'?) but it is a real tour-de-force for Alastair Sim. Wonderful actor (and man, I believe). He and his wife took into their home a poor young man who aspired to be an actor, George Cole, and gave him inspiration and love. Cole went on to great success but never failed to mention his mentor and friend.
I actually met the film's director, Brian Desmond Hurst, when he sat beside me at a screening of one his earlier films at London's National Film Theatre. This was in the 70s (and there is quite a bit more to this story but I wouldn't want to bore your readers LOL). A very interesting man, a gentleman and an under-rated director.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I can understand a nostalgic affection for an old favorite and a first look at the story, but I saw the MGM CAROL years after seeing several other versions (including this one), and the '38 is pretty near the bottom of my list of Scrooge stories. Reginald Owen is fine at what he does well -- the sort of easily offended, marginally doltish, upper crust British chap -- but he was way way out of his depth as Scrooge. Actually "depth" is an interesting and accidental choice of words on my part, because his performance is utterly lacking in depth.

The Sim and the Scott are, far and away, my favorites. Then the Muppets, after that pretty much everything else.

I don't have the exact quote, but I read an interview with George C. Scott around the time his CAROL was broadcast. He said, essentially, that he'd been forced to find his own way to play Scrooge because the "traditional" approach had been perfected by Sim and there was no way he could top it. Quite a compliment from the man I consider probably the greatest of all screen actors.

As for Sim the person...I know almost nothing about his off-screen life, but In a biography of British actor Michael Ripper, I read that Alastair Sim was a very close friend of Ripper's father who was reportedly a cruel and dreadful man. I try not to make too much of that, but reading it did cast a slight shadow over Sim in my mind.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

Something else has come to mind about this version that I forgot to mention in my previous comment. Originally when this film came "across the pond" and renamed there were big plans to screen it at Christmas time in New York with a big splashy showing at Radio City Music Hall. But at the time everyone was still enamored with the previous '38 version. At a screening for the big shots at Radio City, they felt it was dark and morbid and decided to scrap the showing at Christmas. Instead it premiered here in a smaller theater in New York near Radio City at Halloween Time! It was a disappoint here in the States and did not do well at the box office whereas in Great Britain it was one of their most popular films in 1952. TCM talks about this a bit and declares it the best version thanks to Sims.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I held my breath until I knew you loved this movie. It has been our Christmas Eve tradition for as long as my memory can reach. It is as simple as the fact that it is or was always shown on Canadian television on that night. With the advent of tapes and DVDs it was always the first movie purchased.

If it is not too much, I'd like to share my thoughts from a long ago post (we've been doing this a long time, haven't we?):

12:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts on this lovely interpretation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Rick, I like Owen OK but tend to agree with you that he didn't bring as much range to the part as other actors. What I like about the MGM version, aside from the supporting cast, is its overall tone; it's short, sweet, and rather less dark than other versions. And because of childhood memories I immediately feel "Christmas" when I see it! Anyway, very interesting thoughts on George C. Scott, who was so good as Scrooge as well.

Irene, how interesting it wasn't a success here! Thanks for sharing the TCM article -- which reminded me I neglected to mention Jack Warner being in the cast. I've updated it!

Caftan Woman, your piece on this film was lovely and I recommend it to all my readers. You eloquently captured many things I appreciated about the film, including the score, which I found quite striking and added a great deal to the movie.

Thank you all!

Best wishes,

7:30 PM  

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