Scrooge Month Day 2: Alastair Sim in A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951)

Christmas Carol 1951Director: Brian Desmond-Hurst

Writer: Noel Langley, based on the novel by Charles Dickens

Cast: Alastair Sim, Mervyn Jones, Kathleen Harrison, Hermione Braddeley, Michael Hordern, Rona Anderson, Francis de Wolff, Carol Marsh, Brian Worth, Michael Dolan, Glyn Dearman, Roddy Hughes, C. Konarski, Peter Bull

Notes: This well-known version of the story was released in the UK as Scrooge. Although originally slated to have its US premiere at Radio City Music Hall, it was rejected for being “too grim.” Evidently, the Radio City folks didn’t know what they were getting into when they booked the most well-known Christmas ghost story of all time. The movie wound up having its premiere at a different theater, on Halloween night. A colorized version was released in 1989, as part of Ted Turner’s ongoing pact with Satan.

Thoughts: Another fairly straightforward production of A Christmas Carol today, friends, although we’re getting into some of the most well-remembered versions now. The Alastair Sim Scrooge has been considered a classic for sixty years, and with good reason. His depiction of the character is remarkable, and the rest of the cast is quite impressive as well. Glyn Dearman’s Tiny Tim, for instance, is much more convincing than the one we saw in the Seymour Hicks film, whose perfect hair and chipper tone made it somewhat difficult to believe we were looking at a child on death’s door. Michael Hordern as Marley is notable as well – he has this distant, forlorn keening in his voice that makes it really easy to accept he’s spent the last seven years suffering torment for the sins of his life… and that he knows he has an eternity more to look forward to.

This version ratchets up the spooky very well, starting with Marley. He shows Scrooge visions of other tormented souls, a nice shot of toiling, despairing ghosts imposed over Alastair Sim that really has a haunting quality to it. No wonder Radio City thought this movie might freak people out.

This time around get see a story that really plays up Scrooge’s relationship to his sister, Fan (Carol Marsh). I’ve always liked when a version of this story gives her the proper respect. Early on we see her talking to Scrooge about their father, and how he’s kinder now than he used to be; Scrooge later comments how much of Fan he sees in his nephew, Fred. In this production Fan dies giving birth to her son, something that wasn’t stated in the Dickens book, but that has passed into many of the versions of the story since then. Fan even calls Scrooge to her deathbed, but he storms out in a rage when he hears the baby cry. He never hears Fan’s last words, in which she begs him to take care for Fred, until Christmas Past shows the moment to him, and Old Scrooge breaks down in tears, begging for forgiveness.

The reason this works for me is purely character-focused. Fan was a ray of light in what was obviously a very gloomy childhood, and her death is one of the clearest events that could have caused Scrooge’s slide away from the good young man he was into the cold old man he became. What’s more, by connecting her death to Fred’s birth, we’ve also got a rock-solid reason for Scrooge’s distance from his only remaining family: not only does he blame Fred for the death of his beloved sister, but seeing so much of her in the young man he becomes is no doubt painful for Scrooge. Every minute he looks at Fred, he’s reminded of his beloved sister’s death. Hell, when viewed through that prism, who could blame him for not wanting to spend Christmas with Fred’s family?

This version spends more time with Christmas Past than most others, even taking us to Marley’s deathbed, at which point Scrooge has already become a miserable old miser. Before Marley dies, though, he whispers to Scrooge that they were “wrong” – he’s realized his mistake before he dies, but too late to do anything about it. This focus on the past really works well, showing Scrooge his own fall so that he can fully understand the mistakes he made in his life. Most versions of the story pluck out different highlights that force the viewer to merely assume that Scrooge turned into a bigger jerk in-between each scene we actually get to see. Here, the changes are apparent. When Christmas Present (Francis de Wolff) finally shows up, Scrooge already realizes he’s made terrible choices in his life. The Present serves mostly to show him that those decisions go beyond ruining himself, and indeed carry a heavy cost for those around him as well.

The way Sim plays his interaction with Christmas Yet to Come is pretty unique. He begs the Spirit to leave him be, not because he’s unwilling to change, but because he’s “too old to change.” What’s more the way he says it sounds sincere, not like someone just making an excuse. I don’t know that I’ve seen any other versions of A Christmas Carol that put this particular spin on Scrooge (although now that I’ve said that I’ll probably find exactly that thing next Thursday or something). Taking this approach changes the story just a little. When you combine it with the earlier scenes with Fan, we now see Ebenezer Scrooge as a man craving stability. Why did he run before his sister died? Why did he drive away Alice (changed from “Belle” for some reason) before they could be married? Why, even now, does he cling to his horrible ways, even after he has come to accept how horrible they are? Because anything else would require something different, and that’s something Scrooge is unequipped to deal with. With just a few lines, screenwriter Noel Langley gave Dickens’s story a much different subtext than we usually get.

In the end, this all leads to a beautiful transformation: Scrooge sits in his counting house, berating himself because he doesn’t deserve such happiness, but laughing all the time because, with the goodness he’s managed to find within himself, he simply can’t help it. This version perfectly encapsulates the real meaning of Dickens’s work: it is, first and foremost, a story of redemption, which is tailor-made for Christmas.

This is, simply stated, one of the real classic versions of A Christmas Carol, and with good reason. It’s a great cast with a take on the characters that’s just slightly off-center, while still being fully respectful of the story Charles Dickens told back in 1843. That’s not easy to pull off, but director Brian Desmond-Hurst and his actors handled the task with style.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

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About blakemp

Blake M. Petit. Author. Podcaster. Teacher. Actor. Geek Pundit.

Posted on December 3, 2013, in 4-Icons, Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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