Thursday, December 22, 2011

Scrooge (1951)

Hark! The Herald Film Snobs Sing!

- Considered by many to be the be-all-end-all of the many film adaptations of Charles Dickens' brilliant and timeless novel "A Christmas Carol," 1951's Scrooge (AKA: A Christmas Carol; depending on your geographical location) did not live up to its reputation for me.

Scrooge has many good elements that, in the end, do make it a worthwhile film. The element that undoubtedly (at least in my mind) stands head-and-shoulders above every other element apart of the film is the photography. The black-and-white photography by cinematographer C.M. Pennington-Richards services the film extremely well, ending up being one of the few things that actually grants the film atmosphere and character.

Pennington-Richards' cinematography is the only unblemished plus for Scrooge, the film's other good elements have a tailing asterisk. The film's atmosphere is created by the great cinematography, creepy music, and some then-groundbreaking special effects, but the direction could have been much stronger. Scrooge feels unfinished, not feeling like a tightly crafted cohesive whole and more like a patchwork of chapters that are stitched together ever-so-weakly by a reoccurring time travel sequence. The script has some good elements, including dialogue lifted directly from the pages that Dickens penned, but is marred by the rather large liberties taken with the story throughout the film.

Alastair Sim makes a fairly good Scrooge because he simply looks like a humbug but he is also quite disappointing for three specific reasons. The first thing that makes Sim's Scrooge disappointing is a result of the script: Scrooge is not in the process of learning anything during his Christmas Eve journey with the Spirits. He says a thing or two here or there but he eventually turns around and grumbles all the same until he reads "Ebenezer Scrooge" on the front of the tombstone. The all-important evolution of Scrooge's character, which can be seen in later versions of "A Christmas Carol," is simply not here in this 1951 adaptation. Another  disappointing feature of Sim's Scrooge is that he is too theatrical. Sim was primarily a man of the British stage rather than the silver screen and his very over-the-top-expressive manner of acting does not lend itself well to the hurt, sulking, grumble-pot that is Ebenezer Scrooge.

The third and final thing that makes Sim a disappointing Scrooge is how Sim performs the film's final scenes: after Scrooge is visited by the Spirits he finds himself reformed, I get it, but the way that Sim's Scrooge carries on and on and on like a crack head on Red Bull causes one to laugh bitterly in embarrassment. George C. Scott got as giddy as a school boy at the end of his 1984 Christmas Carol film but he did not make a complete fool out of himself or the character - for crying out loud, Michael Caine underplayed the role and he was surrounded by freaking Muppets!

Still, this 1951 adaptation seems to be thought of as the definitive film adaptation to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol despite the licenses taken with the story, the lackluster direction and an over-the-top Scrooge. Why is *this* considered to be the alpha and omega of screen A Christmas Carol adaptations? Because it is old? Because it was film in black-and-white? I cannot help it, I feel that 1951's Scrooge has enough good-to-great aspects to be enjoyable but the film snobs are wrong: there are better film versions of Dickens' classic tale.

CBC Rating: 7/10


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