A Dickens Christmas Movie Journal (2012)

Last Christmas, I did this fun thing where I wrote about every Christmas movie that I watched and then made the mistake of naming the project, “Christmas Movie Journal”. (link)

This year, as a point of pride, I will keep this most uninspired name and, of course, turn the whole thing up a notch, because that’s how I roll.  I’ll watch some Christmas staples, some classics and some guilty pleasures.  I’ll watch some of the same films as last year and knock out some unseen movies, as well.

However, this year, there is a twist, an Oliver Twist, if you will (sorry).  The main focus of the A Dickens Christmas Movie Journal (just rolls right off the tongue) is to watch as many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as possible.  There are a ton of film adaptations to this story, so this ought to be fun and interesting.  By the end of this Christmas season, I should be able to provide a pretty solid Top 10 list of the best adaptations of A Christmas Carol for anyone that asks.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Date Viewed: December 15, 2012The_Muppet_Christmas_Carol
Christmas Spirit Meter: 8

What else can you say about The Muppets except that it’s just good fun? The Muppets never try to do anything too fancy. They never try too hard and that is the secret ingredient to the success and good times of The Muppets. Michael Caine plays Scrooge and a good one at that, but the point of the movie is to sit back and see how The Muppets perform this story with their usual flare and humor and what new they can bring to it. Caine might be the story’s main character, but he doesn’t steal the spotlight. No, The Muppets are the stars of the show, here. They fill in the backdrop of characters for us much like Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) did, except with The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, we have a feature length film’s time to enjoy the humor, innuendos and clever puns. One clever choice I feel they made was casting Gonzo as Charles Dickens, himself, who is the actual narrator of the story. It’s fitting because Dickens wrote the story and it’s clever because Dickens is actually in the story, either as a bystander or one of those spirits that go about observing, yet unseen. Not taking itself seriously for a second, The Muppet’s adaptation keeps it real, but doesn’t really even worry about keeping it real.

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Date Viewed: 12/15/12A_Christmas_Carol_1984
Christmas Spirit Meter: 5

If I were to make a list of actors that I would want to play ScroogeGeorge C. Scott would probably be one of them. Some may consider his one of the best. I wouldn’t go that far, but he does bring some really understated skill to his part. He’s a calm, brooding Scrooge and one that scoffs at the merriment of others with a sort of pity that is quickly followed by a sarcastic smoker’s chuckle. Don’t let this laugh fool you, Scott’s Scrooge is the most sinister and cold of the Scrooge’s I’ve seen. This film elaborates on the actual occupation of Ebenezer Scrooge more so than most others. Instead of being a moneylender and charging an arm and a leg on interest, he is a seller of corn and charges an arm and a leg on interest. Scott’s Scrooge is a harsh and strict man of business with very little regard for the state of others or the shadiness of his dealings. Instead of refusing to give to charity, Scrooge cold cocks these corn buyers and chokes them of any profit. The film opens in a snowy London blanketed in fog and accompanied by an almost demonic score. The fog and music remind me of those early 80’s horror films. A Christmas Carol (1984) has an overall tone of extreme coldness and despair; for the audience, I mean. Usually in A Christmas Carol adaptations, despite the fact that our main character is the antithesis of happy, there are other townsfolk in the streets and background being happy and cheerful. Sure, in 1984, there are the few carolers out and about, singing in the snowy, gloomy London, but even they don’t seem to be glad it’s Christmas. Even Scrooge’s jolly nephew, Fred, appears deflated. This version of A Christmas Carol is easily the most frightening of adaptations I’ve seen due to the lack of merriment to balance out the bleakness. In other adaptations, when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning a new man, we are glad and warmed, too, by his renewed vigor and life and desire to be make others happy. A lot of this shared happiness is due to the fact that we’ve seen others in the film happy and making merry, as well. That does not exist in this film, so when the spirits are gone and he is so grateful that he is in tears, we’re not sure what to make of it because no one has really been happy in this movie. The only bright outlook that the remainder of the film has that is different than up to this point is that the sun comes out for the first time when he wakes up (or so I noticed) and so there is a brighter tone, though it is still not depressing at least a little.

Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988)

Date Viewed: December 13, 2012Blackadder_Christmas_Carol
Christmas Spirit Meter: 4

I can’t think of a better, more enjoyable way, to spend 43 minutes watching an A Christmas Carol adaptation than this short put on by Blackadder, the British sitcom. Rowan Atkinson plays Blackadder (Scrooge character), except this version is what one might call bizarro. In the beginning, Blackadder is the opposite of greedy. He’s so generous that he gives away all of his profits and what little Christmas dinner he has to those who ask. In fact, he’s so notorious for being a giving person that he’s become a bit of a laughing stock among the townsfolk. They call him, “softy” and take full advantage of his generosity. Blackadder is visited by a spirit (Robbie Coltrane) in the night who shows him a glimpse of his ancestors, who were full of dishonesty and trickery. The spirit also shows him his descendants and how being bad would make him ruler of the universe and being kind would make him a slave. Based on this information, Blackadder decides that he will be bad from now on, since those who are evil benefit more, and the following Christmas Day he is, indeed, evil and ruthless. Blackadder is easily the funniest adaptation of A Christmas Carol I’ve seen and, aside from the earliest silent film versions of this story (1901 & 1910) the least loyal to the original story. It’s on Netflix Watch Instantly. You must check it out.

Scrooge (1970)

Christmas Spirit Meter: 4
Date Viewed: Tuesday, December 4Scrooge_1970

Well, I will say that this film started out quite strong. The opening scene occurs in the office of Scrooge & Marley just like a typical adaptation might, but the look of film is what caught my eye in the beginning. The cinematography goes beyond just a still-standing camera and the art direction is geared towards a cold, London place of business lit with a golden aura created by the candle light. It sets the mood and a refreshing one, I’ll say that much. Ronald Neame directs this film and from the beginning scene attempts to make it his own with some dialogue and blocking changes that work and are just enough to keep things interesting.  And then the music happens. The horrible, horrible music happens and then I remember that just 2 years prior, another Charles Dickens book had been adapted in 1968’s Oliver!, one of my least favorite Best Picture nominees and a musical that I in no way enjoy even if it did win Best Picture in 1968. The music in Scrooge (1970) feels like it was written with a careless haste and, other than the musical numbers themselves, there’s no real score. Up until the first song, I was really impressed with the film, but after that, the whole thing begins to fail massively.  Alec Guinness is Jacob Marley. For the Ghost of Christmas Past, Neame deviates from tradition for no apparent reason by making the ghost a snooty, aristocratic old lady by casting Edith Evans. The school house scene is rushed and Fezziwig’s Christmas Eve bash is suffocated by a loathsome song and dance number.Albert Finney plays Scrooge and to say that he makes it his own would be an understatement. I’m reminded of Igor, the Young Frankenstein version. Finney’s Scrooge reminds me of a hunchbacked, shrilly-voiced mutant. There are unfortunate moments of attempted humor, but his crooked snarl and high-pitched voice is laughable and reminiscent of one of Monty Python’s mud-collecting peasants. In “Scrooge”, the “S” stands for “sibilant”.  As I’ve said in previous posts, a big part of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge. At what point during his being visited by 4 ghosts (3 spirits) does Scrooge’s heart really begin to change? That is up for debate and is what makes all of these adaptions so interesting. However, in Scrooge (1970), Scrooge’s changing of the heart does not come from an honest or sincere place. His visit with Christmas Past seemed to move him very little, if at all. The only reason he felt emotion in the Christmas Present is because the giant bearded and robed spirit let him drink out of his cheer-filled torch, which caused Scrooge to get drunk and, naturally, giddy. Christmas Future pushes Scrooge down a grave that takes him to hell, where Jacob Marley shows him around and takes him to his office. The fear of an eternity of doing Bob Cratchit’s job is what scares Scrooge into changing his outlook. This is not what the story’s all about. The change of heart should have something to do with the betterment of mankind.  Nevertheless, Scrooge wakes up and buys a bunch of toys for the Cratchits. He’s also dressed as Santa Claus. This is interesting since A Christmas Carol takes place in the year 1843 and, according to history, Santa Claus’ red suit came into existence around the year 1863.  Humbug.

A Christmas Carol (Doctor Who) (2010)Doctor_Who_A_Christmas_Carol

Christmas Spirit Meter: 6
Date Viewed: December 9
I have no idea what is going on in this special Christmas episode of Doctor Who, originally airing on December 25, 2010, nor do I even care because whatever it was, it was awesome! Somehow, the makers and writers over there at Doctor Who put their characters in a scenario to play out a very loosely-based version of A Christmas Carol. Michael Gambon plays Sardick, the Scrooge character, while Matt Smith, Doctor Who, sort-of plays Jacob Marley, Christmas Past and Christmas Present. Sardick cryogenically freezes family members of those in debt to him, just as his father did before him. Sardick and Doctor Who visit Sardick’s younger self where he meets a cryogenically frozen woman, Abigail, (Katherine Jenkins). They all become friends and this tradition is made manifest to us, the audience, via a particularly upbeat time-lapse montage showing us Christmas Eves over the next number of years. Sardick and Doctor Who return to release her from her tank each year where they frolic around having wonderfully merry and joyous times. Sardick gets older and, naturally, Abigail and he fall in love. However, Abigail only has days to live and each year they let her out she inches closer to her death. Afraid to lose her, Gambon shuts her up until his present, old self, prompted by Doctor Who, is visited by his young self, who is also the GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE. A mind-blowing development! The entire thing is tough to follow, but who really cares because, as most BBC productions are, it’s so well done. I will always remember this moment as the one that got me started on watching Doctor Who.

A Christmas Carol (1938)

Christmas Spirit Meter: 7
Date Viewed: Thursday, November 30ACC_1938
This film takes liberties (Scrooge fires Cratchit) and why shouldn’t it? When a literary piece is under constant re-adaptation, one has to separate itself from the rest and 1938’sA Christmas Carol is one of my favorites. Also, it’s not nearly as different from the original text as most other adaptations.

Dickens wrote a lot about class discrepancy and while A Christmas Carol doesn’t really deal with that firsthand, the idea of a rich old miser and his dirt-poor employee who he pays very little is not lost on us. In this version, neither London, nor the Cratchits are nearly as poor as they probably should be. While Bob Cratchit’s position at Scrooge & Marley is as depressing as ever

This is my favorite Scrooge. Reginald Owen plays a Scrooge that is less cold-hearted, though still very mean and grumpy. He creeps around hunkered down and hunched over like a praying mantis; ready to keel over at any second. Scrooge doesn’t seem too scared of the ghosts at first, but is more than willing to start liking Christmas again. There is a heartfelt Tiny Tim scene in the Christmas Yet To Come sequence that would bring anyone out of whatever dark abyss they’ve been stuck in., his home situation doesn’t seem nearly as destitute as his salary might suggest. The Cratchit household seems vibrate and happy, while the house itself looks perfectly middle class.

Some of the adaptations go wrong in the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge. The pacing is off because Scrooge either changes too quickly, too slowly or even in a way that is hardly convincing (see Scrooge 1970), but 1938’s A Christmas Carol does it all well. Sure, it adds its own things to the mix, but nothing that takes away from the story. This version also has my favorite Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, played by Barry MacKay. He’s bright, happy and kind and delivers his dialogue, which is pretty much said and played the same in every adaptation, with a new and refreshing vitality.

The score tends to lighten the mood of the film when it could benefit more from an ominous sound during those darker and haunting scenes. I feel that the film’s tone is brightened by it, though it’s possible this is the effect that the film desired.

In keeping with having my favorite Scrooge and favorite Fred, A Christmas Carol (1938) also has my favorite Bob Cratchit; an unflinchingly positive man, though the pressures of a sick son and a poor family are quite evident in his manner at times. Tiny Tim offers some pretty funny comedic humor during the film. I’m not sure, but that part could have been played by a little girl.

I checked this movie out of the Nashville Public Library.

Scrooge (1951)

Date Viewed: Monday, November 26
Christmas Spirit Meter: 7Scrooge_1951
This is widely regarded as the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol and I can certainly see why. This 1951 film, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, is aptly named, “Scrooge”, because of the efforts that the film takes to develop the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim), more so than previous films and even Dickens’ original text.. This film takes the opportunity to add back story, in particular, during the ghost sections, which works like a charm in making Ebenezer a more rounded character. We can see just how greedy and sinister he is, but can also see how far he has come when he wakes on Christmas morning reinvigorated. For instance, the scenes of Christmas Past add the death of Scrooge’s sister with his nephew present and emphasizes the importance

of Scrooge’s promise to his sister that he will take care of her son. Also, we see that Scrooge was hired away from Fezziwig by his and Jacob Marley’s future boss, causing Fezziwig to go out of business. In a later vision, this same boss is under investigation for embezzlement. The finger doesn’t necessarily point to Scrooge as having done anything illegal, but he buys out the criminal’s share of company stock. Time is also spent on Jacob Marley’s death and, though Scrooge and Marley were partners nearly all their lives, Scrooge takes Marley’s death with very little emotion and moves into his house after his demise. The Ghost of Christmas Past takes a good long while to get through, but it works at fleshing out Scrooge as a person. This film has more moments of comedy than others, but the extra story added into Scrooge’s past make him out to be more heartless.

Alastair Sim is great, playing a rather reserved Scrooge, though not any less sinister. This Scrooge is certainly a fast talker, but Sim doesn’t rush the lines and is not above speaking slowly or waiting to deliver the dialogue until after he has responded with well played mannerisms. Sim takes his time in acting, not getting overly flustered nor flying off the handle at the merry folks. He responds in a colder, softer way and is sometimes even slightly amused at the happiness of others. Sim really shows off his acting ability here and I would compare his likeness to that of a Hugh Grant, if you can imagine it. Though it takes bold chances with the added scenes, I would have to agree that Scrooge (1951) is one of the better adaptations.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Date Viewed: Friday, November 23MickeysChristmasCarol
Christmas Spirit Meter: 9
This is a wonderful short, animated film by Disney and one of my favorite adaptations of A Christmas Carol.  Sure.  Most of my admiration for this film is nostalgia, since I grew up watching this every year, but even upon a recent viewing, I really feel that it’s a legit adaptation of Dickens’ story and one that is done sufficiently in 26 minutes.  Mickey Mouse is Bob Cratchit and Scrooge McDuck plays Ebeneezer Scrooge.  This short stars a smattering of several characters from different Disney productions.  Mickey’s Christmas Carol was nominated for Best Animated Short Subject of 1983 at the Academy Awards.  If by some unfortunate mishap one day I should turn into a codgery, stingy old man, then perhaps the Ghost of Christmas Past will show me visions of my younger self watching this cartoon.  How meta would that be.

Scrooge (1935)

Date Viewed: Friday, November 23 2012
Christmas Spirit Meter: 4
Scrooge_1935
Directed by Henry Edwards and starring Seymour Hicks as Ebenezer Scrooge, this is supposedly the first sound feature version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Hicks’ interpretation of Ebenezer Scrooge is one that emphasizes a frustrated miser whose feathers are mostly ruffled. He’s still a grumpy, stingy and cold-hearted old man, but Hicks adds his own flavor to the role by playing a Scrooge that is more put-out than anything else. One interesting thing about the 1935 version is that the only ghost with a discernible shape is the ghost of Christmas Present, which is played by an actual person. Jacob Marley is invisible, except for an awkward-looking doorknocker face. Christmas Past is a blob-looking shape and Christmas Yet to Come is the shadow of a pointing finger, which I thought was pretty effective. When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, he seems like more of an old man with dementia than one who has a brand new outlook on life. This is meant to be the point at first, but Scrooge really could pass as a mental patient here. Something that I found odd was the fact that it was Scrooge who said, “God bless us, everyone” at the end and not the narrator quoting Tiny Tim’s earlier proclamation. The transitions in Scrooge (1935) are careless and sketchy and the editing is choppy even for a film as old as this. The miniature sets depicting a snowy London are nice and the overall art direction decent. With all of these A Christmas Carol adaptations, it’s fun to look out for all of the corner-cutting taking place in order to get everything in. Scrooge (1935) cuts some odd ones and the film as a whole is a decent adaptation albeit a pretty lazy attempt at one.

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