Three Scrooges, Part 12 (the last): Leftovers, a potpourri of Carol adaptations and one final thought…

Three Scrooges, Part 12 (the last): Leftovers, a potpourri of Carol adaptations and one final thought…
                I was lucky to have caught “Carol for Another Christmas” when it aired on TCM. It had only aired once before on ABC in late December of 1964. It was a politically-charged version of Carol starring Sterling Hayden as Scrooge (he played the police chief Michael Corleone shot in “Godfather”).  He played the Scrooge-ish Daniel Grudge – a multi-millionaire whose son was killed on Christmas Eve during WWII.  He was against all foreign entanglements (paraphrase: every twenty years or so we send our boys ten thousand miles across the planet to help solve other people’s problems”) as well as any aid to the poor and oppressed (“tell the poor and oppressed that the hand-out box is closed for good and you’ll see less poor and oppressed” – paraphrasing again). His son, named Marley, appears but does not speak.
                Grudge is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past (played amazingly well by Steve Lawrence), Present (Pat Hingle – I remember him as Commissioner Gordon in the 80s and 90s Batman movies) and Yet to Come (played by Robert Shaw, who as usual steals every scene he is in).
                Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, it was his only television work, and written with Rod Serling’s usual heavy hand; the movie is a 90-minute lecture against isolationism. In a post-apocalyptic future, Grudge’s Butler Charles was put on trial for “treasonous Involvement” by Imperial Me (played with sinister glee by Peter Sellers).
                Probably the rarest “Christmas Carol” adaptation of all! And no wonder – it was hard to sit through even with the objective eye of looking at rare television. In today’s politically charged air it is almost unwatchable.
                “Bah, Humbug! The Story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” from 1994, This was a dramatic reading based on Dickens’ own scripts ala Patrick Stewart’s one-man shows. This was performed at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. Ironically named after JP Morgan – the very embodiment of Scrooge later in the century.
                Robert MacNeil introduced the reading. James Earl Jones performed all of Scrooge’s lines and Sheen all others. Very commendable job by both actors – I think both would make great Scrooges in their own productions. I chanced upon this on PBS one afternoon and had not seen it since.
                Laurence Olivier’s reading of “A Christmas Carol” aired on the radio in the early 1950s. It is not a reading – the consummate actor plays every part except the ladies (Mrs. Cratchet) and Tiny Tim. Echo chambers are used for the ghosts.
                Scrooge is played straight, but the ghosts, particularly the Ghost of Christmas Past, bring out the old ham in Lord Olivier…
                It lasts 30 minutes and races through the story. Nothing is added and much omitted (youthful Scrooge, Belle, Fred’s party, etc.), but it’s Laurence Olivier! A good, quick listen.  Available on CD, I found it on YouTube.
                Thought of the blog: So whatever happened to Tiny Tim. I have a theory; stay with me here.
                Despite his salvation, Scrooge likely had about ten years left to live. During that time, his financial support nursed Tim to health. Tim’s gentle nature and history led him to wish to work with children or even aspire to be a physician.  His second father would have encouraged it.
                Unfortunately, when Scrooge died, all his estate would have gone to Fred. Scrooge would have made some provision for the Cratchets, which makes sense. But Bob isn’t known for his financial acuity. Likely by the time Tim comes of age the money is long gone to establish Peter and provide dowries for his sisters.
                Tim takes his fate with stoic grace and takes a job at a local clerk or shopkeeper.
                By the 1870s Tim will have lost his parents. The charitable giving of Fred has likely stopped – he supported the Cratchets but now it is their descendents and extended family. Fred helps when asked, but not to his detriment. Fred has a kind soul, but money only goes so far. Tim hears that a lot lately, especially from Peter and his brothers-in-law.
                Tim is alone. He remains unmarried – potential brides are put off by his poverty and his physical condition.  Although cured, he still walks with a cane and his hand is still withered. The local east-end streetwalkers have sympathy on his sweet nature and offer him solace. “I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there.” 
                That is how he caught syphilis.
                Tim was nearly fifty when the last stages of the STD rampaged through his system – a system still weak from the malady of his youth. Like his second father, a cold bitterness set in. Added to his coldness came the mental imbalance from the STD.
                At least Scrooge had the solace of being a “good man of business” and sat on a sufficient, albeit unused, accumulation of wealth. Tim had no such solace. His financial future was taken by his many sisters four decades ago, just as his health was taken by fallen women. What does his Bible, his only refuge, say? “…the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you. “
                His father’s house is gone. His second father’s house is gone. All that are left are the harlots…
                Purge the evil, he thinks, yes, they must die. This is why in the late 1880s, Tiny Tim, his senses marred and warped by his bitterness and disease, committed some of the most heinous crimes still reviewed and examined to this day.
                Thus, it is my belief that Tim Cratchet was, in fact, Jack the Ripper.
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 11: Personal Best (my favorite versions)

Three Scrooges, Part 11: Personal Best (my favorite versions)
               Thought of the blog: How much do you think Scrooge donated to the solicitors that Christmas morning? In George C. Scott’s Carol movie, it is obvious they are mouthing “a thousand pounds” that would more than likely have been just over $150,000 US. Back payments indeed!
               “A Christmas Carol” starring George C. Scott as Scrooge was a made-for-television film shown on CBS in 1984. It was the first serious attempt at a Carol movie in thirty-three years. All previous adaptations were animated features, musicals or a spoof/homage from current television programs.  As such it was the first serious adaptation to be filmed in color.
               This is without question my favorite version. The acting and characters are superb. The scenery is beautiful. Its flaws are small and insignificant compared to the majesty of the film.
               Uniqueness: it’s loyalty to the original story makes for very few scenes that are not in the book, but they exist. Changes were had because of Scott’s tinkering with the character to reflect his “motivation”. They make sense: borrowing from 1951’s “Scrooge”, he was the younger child, Fen the older (Scrooge’s mother died in childbirth and his father holds him a-grudge).  We get to see Scrooge’s father for the only time in any other adaptation (Scott standing defiantly behind his younger self sends a shiver down the spine – staring down at the man who made him what he was.
               Missing: not much. No trip to the miners/lighthouse/ship is the only part I can recall missing other than Dickens’ asides. The debate between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present about closing the bakeries on the Sabbath is missing (only “Disney’s …” includes it to date). Too bad, it would have given the Ghost played by Edward Woodward another reason to snarl at Scrooge.
               There is so much to love about the movie – not just the beauty of the settings. The Ghost of Christmas Present’s verbal bitch-slapping of Scrooge to mind his tongue when discussing the poor and destitute was the dramatic highlight. Rather than cringe, Scrooge smirked and nodded, conceding the point.
               Scrooge meeting Fred’s wife for the first time says, “I was in love once, can you imagine that?” “Yes, yes I can,” she says quietly. Scrooge then addresses his nephew, “You will forgive me but I see the shadow of my sister in my face.  … God forgive me for the time I’ve wasted.” A moving scene.
                Cratchet, mourning Tiny Tim, holds his youngest daughter and cries, “my child; my little, little child”. If that does not bring a tear to your eye, you have no soul.
               Scenes of poor families living under a bridge and cooking scraps found on the street is not from the novel, but aptly placed.
               His descent into coldness was realistic; his conversion was realistic. That was Scott’s point in tinkering with the “motivation” of Scrooge – these were not caricatures or archetypes, these are (or at least should be) real people.
               The book says Scrooge was not a man of humor, but Scott imbues Scrooge with a sharp intelligence and humor, wicked though it may be. “You’re devilishly hard to have a conversation with,” he tells Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
               The cast is perfect – although Bob Cratchet could have looked a bit less robust. Tiny Tim looked, well, tiny. And cute as a button.
               The film is a joy to watch. A joy.
                The television show “WKRP in Cincinnati” aired for three years on CBS. It was a documentary about the inner workings of a radio station disguised as a sit-com.  IMHO it was the best thing ever to air on TV.
               They did two Christmas shows – one was a Carol spoof. Mr. Carlson played the Scrooge character refusing to give out Christmas bonuses. He is visited by cast members Jennifer (Loni Anderson never looked more beautiful than in this episode), Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid having contagious fun) and Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman’s genuinely creepy Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come).
               The humor was, as always, character-driven, well-written and funny.
               Ironically I find the third visit the most melancholy. Fever shows Carlson the future of the radio station. There was Herb Tarlek sitting at a desk while the automated computer behind him broadcasting generic music (Christmas music) with presumably generic DJs.
               If you’ve listened to the radio lately, you’ll know that despite Carlson’s conversion, the dark future happened anyway. Most radio stations nowadays are composed of the sales staff and a computer tech.  It was the only Christmas Carol in which Scrooge did NOT change the future…
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
               “A Christmas Carol” – an Australian 1982 animated feature. I have not yet seen the movie, but it received glowing reviews. It is called the most complete and accurate depiction of the novel done to date. Wow! I’ve got to YouTube THIS…
Next: Leftovers (a potpourri of Carols that didn’t quite fit…)
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 10 (of 12): The Big Guns

Three Scrooges, Part 10 (of 12): The Big Guns
               What would Scrooge’s reaction had been if it were August and Fred invited him to church instead of a Christmas party? Would he have still called it a “humbug”? Would he consider church an excuse for picking a man’s pocket every week?  He attended a church service on Christmas morning after his conversion, but would he have been so vitriolic to Fred’s invitation?
               “Scrooge” was released in 1951 by a British company named Renown Pictures. The milestone. The one all Carol adaptations before and after are compared. It was so influential and successful it was 33 years before another serious movie was made of the novel – others being cartoons, spoofs and TV episodes adapting the plot.
               How I disliked this film for many years. Overly dramatic; Scrooge mumbled his lines so quickly as to be inaudible. Over the years I have warmed up to the film and, although not my favorite, it’s not so bad.
               It includes most of the standard Carol scenes. Scrooge states that swallowing a toothpick would haunt him with goblins for the rest of his days. When showing the toothpick, Scrooge says “you are not looking at it”. Marley says, “but I see it nonetheless.”  Those lines have not appeared in any other version of the tale I have seen.  The miners are shown during the Ghost of Christmas Present’s visit, but not the lighthouse keepers or the ship at sea.
               What makes this movie unique is what it adds: a long and very interesting segment showing Scrooge (and Marley’s) financial rise; the death of Scrooge’s sister giving birth to Fred; Scrooge’s fiancé Alice (Belle in the novel) working at a home for poor children; Scrooge at Marley’s deathbed; and a comic scene during Scrooge’s redemption with the charwoman Mrs. Dilber (in the novel Dilber was the laundress).
               The effects are standard – lots of double exposures to make for see-through ghosts.
               Despite my warming to the movie, I still laugh at an obviously health Tiny Tim. I can’t help but think of the great quote for “Black Adder’s Christmas Carol”: “Tiny Tim is 15 stone and built like a brick privy.”
               A nice bit is Scrooge’s genuine scream of terror on meeting the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  It is a little harsher than the MGM 1938 film, but still a good movie to watch with plenty of popcorn and family.
               Note that I do not go on too much about this (and the 1938 version) if only because by the time you read this you will likely have seen it already this season – or will find it and watch it yourself.  I enjoy discussing some of the more obscure adaptations and encourage you to find them online or (rarely) on cable.
               Actor Fredrick March has appeared in two TV versions of Carol.  One was under the umbrella of his own show “Tales from Dickens” from 1958 and the other a musical version in 1954.
               1958 version stars Basil Rathbone as Scrooge with March narrating. Rathbone’s profile under his long white wig makes him look like an elderly Geddy Lee.
               Despite its running time of twenty-five minutes, it packs in scenes usually excluded from other short productions. It does omit the solicitors and the married-with-children Belle discussing Scrooge with her husband.
               The special effects are nearly non-existent with the exception of Marley’s double-exposure-produced etherealness.  Otherwise the only other effect was dry-ice mist on the floor of most scenes. It does not lessen the production.
               I was tickled to see they added the line about (I paraphrase) Scrooge expecting anything from a baby to a rhinoceros for his second ghostly visit. I have never seen or heard that in any other version.
               The 1954 version starred Frederick March as Scrooge and Basil Rathbone, this time, as Marley.  Fred was played by Ray Middleton, who played Col. McKean in “1776”, a Cardinal on MASH and Ted Knight’s father in the sitcom “Too Close for Comfort”. He doubled as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
               Although called a musical, the “music” was mainly choirs singing between scenes. Belle and the young Scrooge do sing, as does the Ghost of Christmas Past & Present. Tiny Tim sings. Tiny Tim always sings. But it does not deter from the plot (ie – “oh another song, time to get some more Fritos…”)
               This was produced for the anthology series Shower of Stars. March received an Emmy nomination and the show was filmed in color, although only the black and white version are known to still exist.
               Coming in at under 60 minutes it includes all of the standard scenes except for Fred’s party (the ghostly visit and the actual visit).
               The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is never shown, and they imply he is played by a crow barking over Scrooge’s grave. That’s never been done before. Nice touch. One other VERY commendable casting was making the other ghosts people from Scrooge past and present. The same actor plays Fred and the Ghost of Christmas Present.
               The same actress plays the Ghost of Christmas Past and Belle. Scrooge comments on it to the Ghost when they meet – “You look so like …” She was played by the fall-on-my-knees beautiful Sally Fraser. I looked her up on IMBD, but did not recognize her other roles than a bit part on “North by Northwest”. I think if I ever did a version of Carol, I would make Belle the Ghost of Christmas Past, too. I would have added much more pathos to the encounter than they did here.  Another nice touch!
               The effects were good for its time – double exposed see-through ghosts. Rathbone makes a better Marley than Scrooge; his final lament of “Oh God, oh God, there is so little help for me…” as he leaves the scene was spooky…
               Scrooge was missing a front tooth – upper left side just before the canine. Yet another nice touch – one of many for this version of the novel. This has become one of my favorites.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
               “A Diva’s Christmas”, “A Carol Christmas”, “It’s Christmas, Carol” and “It Happened One Christmas” – I have never seen either of these movies – the twist being the Scrooge character was played by a female lead (Vanessa Williams, Tori Spelling, Marlo Thomas, etc.). I saw about ten minutes of “A Carol Christmas” and may have seen “Happened” when it first came out, but I have no memory of that movie. I wasn’t too impressed with “A Carol Christmas”. Are the others any good?
NEXT: Personal Best
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 9 of 12: Strange Scrooge, Kill What’s Inside of You…

Three Scrooges, Part 9 of 12: Strange Scrooge, Kill What’s Inside of You…
                Thought of the blog: If the Ghost of Christmas Past only lived during Christmas Day, and he supposedly visited Scrooge “the next night at the same hour”. That would have been 1:00 amDecember 26th – wouldn’t he have been dead for an hour by this time (of course a ghost cannot be dead, by that I mean he no longer existed… )? If Marley visited Scrooge after midnight (and the second stave seems to imply), then the Ghost of Christmas Present may have visited Scrooge on December 27th– and would have been dead for the prior 25 hours.
                One “Thought of the blog” has been resolved – how long has Cratchet been employed. In “The End of It” Scrooge wishes Cratchet a Merrier Christmas “than I have given you, for many a year.” So Bob had worked for Scrooge several years – thus this was Fred’s first visit to his uncle to invite him to Christmas dinner!
                “Scrooged” was a theatrical movie starring Bill Murray from 1989. It met to mixed reviews but did fairly well at the box office and has since become very popular. It is a modern take of the Carol tale in which Scrooge is the CEO of a successful television network. He is cruel to his employees and family until three ghosts shows him the past, present and future. He redeems and reconnects with his family and lost love.  There the similarity with the Dickens’ tale ends. Wonderful special effects, a funny script and good acting on all parts make this a fun movie.
                Social satire abounds – especially when it punctures the state of mass entertainment.
                Hold on to your belts: the 2004 Barnes & Noble Classic paperback “A Christmas Carol, the Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth” by Charles Dickens, Katharine Kroeber Wiley calls Bill Murray’s take on Scrooge one the most accurate depiction of Scrooge as Dickens intended. Wow. It’s true – his cynicism and redemption both seem true and realistic. Murray is an expert at playing the wisenheimer (think “Stripes” only meaner) and chews the scenery in the last bit as the cast sings into the camera to their Christmas Eve audience, but I would bet anyone who knew a network CEO would say how well he nails their personalities. “… greed, gluttony and sleazy self-indulgence …”? Nailed it!
                “Rich Little’s Christmas Carol” – only in my blog and Rich Little’s website will you see his name and “comic genius” in the same sentence. I LOVE Rich Little. His mimicking ability steals every scene in every show he has guest-starred –  from Carol Burnett to the Muppet Show. But he has never been able to capture the magic in a show on his own. This TV special from 1978 is a great example.
                I saw it when it aired and I want my 60 minutes back.
                Little played most of the roles – WC Fields as Scrooge (actually a good choice – he would have made a good Scrooge…) and Paul Lynde, Nixon and Little’s flawless Johnny Carson and Humphrey Bogart all in various other roles. What could have been a great idea if more thought was put into applying the right voice to the right character fell flat. It was not funny. Worse, it was Bob-Hope-in-his-later-years lame.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                “A Country Christmas Carol” with Hoyt Axton as Scrooge and “Scrooge’s Rock ‘N Roll Christmas” with Jack Elam as Scrooge.
                These beg to being spoofed, don’t they? Like “Carol” doesn’t lend itself to being spoofed anyway…
                 The Country version could have Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr. (if you could pry the tin foil off his head) and Hank Williams III as the Ghosts…
                I actually wrote and drew a rock version of Christmas Carol in 1986 or so. Eric Clapton was convinced to stop his synth-pop nonsense from the mid 1980s to go back to real rock and roll. Elvis as Ghost of Rock-n-roll Past, Tom Petty as Present and a faceless computer jock as Yet to Come. Of course he was forewarned of their visit by the ghost of Bob Marley (I was particularly pleased with that one…)
NEXT:  Part 10, Big Guns!
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 8 (of 12): Silly

Three Scrooges, Part 8 (of 12):  Silly
                Thought of the blog: At Fred’s party, they played a guessing game called “Yes and No”. Fred thought of a thing and they had to guess with yes-or-no questions what that thing was: it was a savage animal that growled and grunted and lived in London. Someone asked if it were a horse.  Were the streets of Victorian London stalked by savage, growling horses?
                “A Muppet Christmas Carol” was a theatrical release in 1992 starring Michael Caine as well as Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzy and the gang. It was the first Muppet production after the death of Jim Henson –  to me it added a sad air to the film. Hearing Kermit’s new voice was jarring. Richard Hunt had also died of aids earlier that year. He and Henson did the voices of the crotchety critics Statler and Waldorf. Hearing their new voices was also somewhat sad.
                The movie was peppered with musical numbers, most of which are forgettable except for “It Must Be Christmas”.
                Critics were underwhelmed. They had the same complaint as they did for “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” – a canny effort adding nothing to either the Muppet or Carol mythos.
                True, but without Henson at the helm you would hardly expect a home run. And it does have its charms: Old Fozzy-wig; Rizzo the rat became a top-level muppet with this movie; Sam the Eagle as the schoolmaster (“It is the American way! Hmm? Oh, yes, it is the British way!”); Robin as Tiny Tim warms the heart; Scrooge’s clerks (all rats) breaking into a calypso, etc.
                The best bits? Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker as the solicitors (any scene with Beaker is first class) and Statler and Waldorf substituting for Marley (ditto).
                The story followed closely to standard adaptations seen before and since and without many bits added on. My favorite though is Scrooge’s reaction to seeing his younger self, “Good Lord, it’s ME!”  That kind of reaction has never been done.
                And Michael Caine is as brilliant as ever. He played it straight despite emoting to cloth-covered costars with ping pong balls for eyes.
                Could it have been better? Oh yes – they could have taken a page from Mr. Magoo and made this an extended version of “The Muppet Show” with Michael Caine as the guest doing a version of Carol. Caine could have been particularly grumpy and the ghosts showed him the errors of his ways all while the production of Carol on the stage continued. This is the basic plot of Bill Murray’s “Scrooged”  a few years before. Perhaps they didn’t want to risk the comparison.
                I adore the Muppets, so I probably have a bias in this movie’s favor it does not deserve; but I like the movie. It’s sweet, accessible to a younger audience and (knowing its back story) sad. The puppeteers (including Frank Oz) have said they still miss Jim Henson. If they heard him say, “Mmm, lovely,” after a take they knew it was the perfect one.
                I’m sure he said that very thing when he saw “The Muppets Christmas Carol”.
                “Black Adder’s Christmas Carol” from 1988. I love the “Black Adder” television program! My love for Rowan Atkinson as Black Adder even surpasses my dislike of Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean.  Here is the Victorian Blackadder, the nicest man in the old town. The Ghost of Christmas (played by a post-Cracker but pre-Hagrid Robbie Coltrane – someday I will write about the post-Python comedy troupe that included him, Atkinson, Emma Thompson and the cast of “The Young Ones”) shows him what rotten people his ancestors were. Miranda Richardson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Frye and Hugh Laurie all reprise their various roles. Blackadder sees the error of his goodly ways and converts to become a complete bastard – finally enjoying a Happy Christmas! You probably need to be a fan of the series to enjoy it, so become one. All that laughter will only do you good!
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                I vaguely remember an episode of “Family Matters” doing a Carol spoof. Alex – the teenage Reagan Republican raised by ex-hippie parents, played Scrooge. I suppose the rest of the family played the Ghosts, etc. The show was on before “Cheers” which is why I only saw the last two minutes of each program. Perhaps some fan of the show can fill in the blanks.
NEXT:  Strange Scrooges…
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 7: Animated Carols

Three Scrooges, Part 7: Animated Carols
Thought of the blog: So what exactly was wrong with Tiny Tim?  Here’s a great site with a logical explanation:
Another break of format…
                “A Christmas Carol” is a 25-minute animated short from 1971. It is the only version of the tale to win an Academy Award. It was produced by Chuck Jones (best known for his Warner Brothers work – Bugs Bunny, Daffy and the like) and featured the voice of Alistair Sim as Scrooge and narrated by Michael Redgrave.
                It deserved the Oscar – although its length was so short it left out many vital scenes and dialogue, what it did present was excellent. It’s hard to believe this came from Chuck Jones – you can see hints of his style throughout but it was otherwise very realistically drawn.
                Marley was horrifying. The Ghost of Christmas past shifted quickly between a young girl and an old woman. Her figure shifted constantly – at some points it looked as if she had three eyes.
                But it was too short. Some of the final scenes went by in a flash. Scrooge spoke to the young lad outside his house; fade; Scrooge buys the prize turkey; fade; Scrooge is greeted by his nephew at the party; fade; Scrooge offers Cratchet a raise; etc. It’s almost as if the producers said “We only have four minutes left! Hurry!”
                The lack of score adds to the rapidity – when the ghosts whisks Scrooge away to the past, present or future it nearly gives you vertigo!
                But it did include parts of the story that are rarely seen – the trip to the miners-lighthouse-ship and mention of the religious significance of the holiday – other than Cratchet speaking of Tiny Tim in church hoping others will see a cripple and etc.  (Here as in the book Marley stated his eyes were “never raise(d) … to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode”.).
                I put this under the “Rare” category as I have not seen in broadcast and only occasionally see a DVD for sale. I found it in YouTube. It is worth the search.
                “A Christmas Carol” animated TV special from 1969 was my first exposure to the novel, so I remember it more fondly than it may deserve. It proved so popular that the company producing it created several more literary adaptations under the umbrella “Famous Classic Tales” that would air throughout the year. For example, I remember seeing “Last of the Mohicans” on a Thanksgiving afternoon.
                It’s a good cartoon and a nice jumping off point for children or anyone interested in first seeing the story. Marley was the most frightening of any adaptations – he was a phantom with no resemblance to his former self.
                Scrooge argued with the ghosts – the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past did nothing to change his mind. “Hard work made me what I am!” “Lonely?” “Successful!”
                The break-up with Belle is usually a “bell”-weather (ouch) for his conversion.  Here though he said, “had she married me she would have been a rich woman now.” It is not until he sees his silhouette on the slab that he finally realizes what his lifestyle has wrought.
                The artwork isn’t Disney and nor is it on part with Chuck Jones’ Academy Award-winning short two years later; but it’s not BAD. One trouble I had with it (being a one-time cartoonist) is sometimes the proportions are way out of whack.  Look at the gravedigger during Marley’s funeral – his hands and arms are HUGE compared to his head. This happens a lot in the cartoon.
                Oddly, when Fred invites Scrooge to dinner they break into song. There is no other musical interlude in the show – almost as if they had changed their mind about making it a musical but hated to waste the one song they recorded.
                You can find this on YouTube either divided into chapters. I typed in the word “complete” in my search to find it uninterrupted.
                “The Stingiest Man in Town”. Rankin/Bass (of Rudolph and Frosty fame) produced this cartoon in 1978. Walter Matthau (a good choice – he chews the scenery and you can tell he enjoys the taste) provided the voice of Scrooge. As is the case in Rankin/Bass holiday specials a famous star plays a narrator having little to do with the story (Jimmy Durante for Frosty, Burl Ives for Rudolph). Here we have Tom Bosley as B.A.H. Humbug. … Yeah, I think so too…
                This cartoon came between Rankin/Bass’ “Hobbit” (1977) and “Return of the King” (1980) – every character has a pudgy hobbit-look to them, almost as if to keep in practice. Scrooge looked vaguely like Matthau, though. As with the Tolkien adaptations produced before and after, musical interlude abound in this movie. As with the Tolkien adaptations produced before and after, they are mostly forgettable.
                And the songs are constant. Dialogue for a few minutes, then a song. I found it tedious and overlong after only 15 minutes of viewing; so I count this as a “never-viewed” Scrooge…
NEXT: Silly Scrooges
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 6: Santa Mouse

Three Scrooges, Part 6: Santa Mouse
               Thought of the blog: as a boy Scrooge attended an isolated boarding school in which characters in books come to life and illustrations move about independently. My god in heaven, he went to Hogwarts!
               A bit of change in format here as I discuss more than one version of “A Christmas Carol”…
               “Mickey’s A Christmas Carol”. The animated Disney movie from 1983. I have never seen it. “WHAT!?” you say. It was and remains hugely successful and airs annually, but …  Not because I do not wish to; just that it has never passed under my radar for all these years.
               Uncle Scrooge McDuck plays Scrooge, his nephew Donald plays his nephew Fred, Mickey and Minnie the Cratchets, etc. Canny and predictable? Yes. That was one of the critiques at the time – it is a straightforward telling of the story. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but this is Disney – we expect more.  Considering how high the bar had been raised by previous animated versions, Disney played it safe.
               However, since my daughter is into all things Minnie, this will be a perfect way to introduce “Carol” to her.  My viewing of the movie is only a few Christmases away…
UNSEEN SCROOGES … until I finally saw it:
               “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” from 2009 – I can only take Jim Carrey in small doses. And this was done in the same format as “Polar Express” and “Beowulf”. It got good reviews and Carrey, if kept on a short leash, would probably make a good Scrooge.
               Since preparing this blog I have seen an hour or so of “Disney’s…” and was impressed. It was very close to the novel and even included the debate between Scrooge and Ghost of Christmas Present about closing bakeries on the Sabbath. NO version of Carol I’ve ever seem has this. Not one. Bravo.
               Jim Carry does several voices and I am again impressed – he could be a very good voice actor. The inerrant Gary Oldman plays Cratchet (what a Scrooge he would make) and Colin Firth as Fred.
               The special effects were fantastic, perhaps too much so. It detracted from the story at times. The characters looked like a cross between a marionette and claymation. Though there were times (with Belle) that they looked real.
               The Ghosts were the most impressive (I use that word a lot here…) – Past looked like a living candle, Present traveled by moving Scrooge’s house. The long chase scene with Yet-To-Come and a mouse-sized Scrooge was unnecessary and boring. Despite that niggling, it was well done! Give me a few years and it MIGHT be on a favorites list.
               Combining franchises is always a good way to boost sales. Who wouldn’t want to play Lord of the Rings Risk or Simpson’s Game of Life. There are more versions of Monopoly than there are people on earth who play it. What would “A Christmas Carol” Monopoly look like?
               I have mentioned a few TV shows that did “Christmas Carol” variations, but there have been stand-alone shows and characters that have done it too.
               Perhaps the most famous franchise to tackle the tale was “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”.
               The Flintstones (I vaguely remember this – perhaps the idea of it intrigued me, but I do not remember watching it …), Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Beavis & Butthead (the mind reels…), Maxine, Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, Alvin & the Chipmunks and Barbie. Yes, Barbie.
               I have not seen a one. Are they any good? Aside from the Barbie one of course, that one being lousy is a given.
NEXT: Animated Carols
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 5: Gone Hollywood

Three Scrooges, Part 5: Gone Hollywood
                Thought of the Blog: Except for the Ghost of Christmas Present, neither of the other Ghosts show Scrooge any events of Christmas Day itself. They should be called the Ghost of Christmastime Past and Yet-To-Come. Ghost of Christmas(time) Past shows Fezziwig’s Christmas Eve party, and the novel does not say specifically when Fen visited Scrooge at the Boarding School or the day he broke up with Belle.
                As for the Christmas Yet to Come; if all that happened on Christmas Day itself, that Christmas of 1844 was particular busy – Tim Cratchet died, Bob Cratchet bought a plot of land, Scrooge died, the news of his death made it to the Exchange (which was open), his tombstone was prepared, his belongings were looted and sold at Old Joe’s (Old Joe being “open” Christmas Day was probably the one thing most realistically “open” that day…). As with Past, the events of Yet-To-Come were most likely events close to Christmas Day, without being on the day itself.
                “A Christmas Carol” from 1938 was released by MGM. This film features June Lockhart’s first movie (she was one of the Cratchet litter). Also, Scrooge was originally cast with Lionel Barrymore instead of Reginald Owen. Barrymore recommended Owen for the role when he could not do it due to illness. The movie is known more for those facts than anything having to do with the actual film.
                Obviously it had been filmed many times before, but this was the first time “Holllllllll-ywood” (with all the phrase implies) had a stab at it.  Some parts of the novel missing here include Belle and Old Joe and the opportunists selling Scrooge’s possessions at Old Joe’s.
                Gene Lockhart plays Bob Cratchet.  Such a portly Cratchet hardly portrays the gaunt scratching existent Dickens implies, but he makes a fun Cratchet. Plus he later played the judge on “Miracle on 34th Street”. If we (the collective we) had known, we would have demanded he have a bit part in “It’s a Wonderful Life” to complete the Christmas movie trifecta!
                Scrooge seems completely converted by Fezziwig’s party. “I do love Christmas, I do!” It is a good movie with most of the important elements. It airs every year and although eclipsed by the 1951 version, it stands on its own.
                It is a merry film – as you would expect from an MGM release during the Great Depression. Very accessible and a nice film to introduce the tale to children – its not too scary.  Unfortunately it seems to be blocked off of YouTube – I can’t find the movie in its entirety.
                I thought you would all appreciate that I never mentioned Tiny Tim’s line “I’d like to stroke it.”
                Vincent Price seems an odd choice to narrate “A Christmas Carol”. Strike that – he is the PERFECT person to narrate “A Christmas Carol”. He was the king of the macabre and the star of two of my favorite creepy movies – “The Conqueror Worm” and “The Last Man on Earth”.
                He narrated a 1948 television presentation of “Carol”. I have no other info about the broadcast – on which network it aired or whether it was part of an anthology series. It is just over 25 minutes long and contains most of the standard bits. It leaves out the two solicitors, Belle was mentioned by the Ghost of Christmas Past but not shown, Fezziwig’s party was omitted, as were the ghostly visit to Fred’s party and Old Joe and the opportunists. To save time, Fred and his wife joined Scrooge at the Cratchets’ to help deliver the turkey. An odd moment: Scrooge said he had met a friend at church that Christmas morning who was a famous surgeon. The surgeon agreed to help Tiny Tim back to heath. Scrooge attending church that morning was in the novel. But a friend? Scrooge? And a surgeon to boot?
                The History Channel’s otherwise excellent “History Unwrapped” said this was a TV special from 1958 after it showed a few brief clips. It took me some hours and help from Facebook friends to find the facts. At first I thought the star was Lionel Barrymore, but Scrooge was instead played by the similar-looking-and-sounding actor who also appeared in “Father of the Bride” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”.
                The special effects are non-existent – no double exposures or fades. The ghosts either walk onto the set or open a curtain to reveal themselves. This doesn’t detract from the story.  The actors playing the ghosts are youthful – Present looks like George Reeves.
                Wouldn’t Vincent Price have made a great Scrooge?
                Type in “Vincent Price Christmas Carol” on the You Tube search engine to see this quick, enjoyable version.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                Henry Winkler’s “American Christmas Carol” from 1979. I remember watching this but have no memories of it. Here is Henry Winkler at the height of his Fonzie fame showing us his acting chops. I’d have been 15 when it aired and probably got quite bored with it as, at the time, I did not care to see Winkler’s acting chops. I wanted more Fonzie…
NEXT: Santa Mouse
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 4: The Sound of Silence – some silent movie versions

Three Scrooges, Part 4: The Sound of Silence – some silent movie versions
Thought of the Blog: Whither Dick Wilkins? Scrooges’ fellow apprentice who liked Scrooge very much. Is he still alive? In business for himself? Has he ever visited the man who thinks him his best friend?  How would Scrooge react of Dick, instead of Fred invited him to Christmas dinner? Would Scrooge have been so curt or glad to see him (glad for Scrooge that is)?
Bit of a change of format here as I would think most silent film versions of “A Christmas Carol” to be quite rare…
1901 – only 3-1/2 minutes exist, but it tells nearly the whole story. Marley shows Scrooge his past, present & future with sophisticated special effects for its day.
1910 – ten minutes, but packs more into the story than most hour-long specials. It even includes mankind’s children Misery and Want (instead of Ignorance and Want). As sometimes is the case in version of the novel, here Scrooge goes to Cratchet’s house to present the goose and give him a raise. Here, as in Patrick Stewart’s version, Cratchet wields a weapon to protect himself from the obviously crazed Scrooge (in this case a fireplace shovel). In this version, as in the 1951 film, Scrooge makes his nephew Fred a partner. These are the only two versions I have seen this happen. Scrooge also give Fred enough money to marry his beloved fiancé (in most versions, they are already married).
1923 – Russell Thorndike plays Scrooge in this silent version of “A Christmas Carol”.  My copy is on a DVD and it is in desperate need of restoration.  At times the copy is so bleached you cannot see the faces or costumes of the actors – only their outline. Actually, that would make a better ghost effect than the double-exposure see-through (the height of special effects at the time) that they used here.
                This version runs 27 minutes and the beginning hits all the highlights – Scrooge barking at Cratchet about the coal fire, Fred, the businessman (singular) visit, the “You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose”. Marley does not appear until 12 minutes in!
As usual in these short silent films only a few segments of the novel are used (only his break-up with Belle is shown in the past and the Ghost of Christmas Present appears, lectures Scrooge and leaves without showing Bob’s dinner or Fred’s party) and the sets are sparse at best.
                Uniqueness of this movie? The Ghost of Christmas Past is only two foot tall, Ghost of Christmas Present is basically Father Christmas.  Tiny Tim, the lynchpin of most adaptations, is nowhere in the film! No Tiny Tim? Scrooge does attend his nephews’ party at the end and there is a brief scene with Topper wooing Fred’s sister-in-law (in a much less eely fashion than in the Patrick Stewart version). Topper yes, Tiny Tim no?
                A nice aspect of the silent movies is the costuming – Cratchet is dressed in near-rags and Scrooge’s suit is threadbare.
                With his black Edwardian suit and longish white hair this Scrooge reminds me of William Hartnell’s Doctor Who. (An aside – the television show “Doctor Who” has also done a Carol adaptation – and a good one – but sentimental me was hoping for an appearance by a former actor appearing as a Doctor-Who-of-Christmas-Past. Rumors always abound of Peter Davidson appearing (Doctor #5), which would have made the perfect opportunity. A Doctor-Who-of-Christmas-Yet-To-Come would have featured a future regeneration, but his features stealthily hidden).
NEXT: Gone Hollywood
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 3: Song and Dance Men

Three Scrooges, Part 3: Song and Dance Men
Thought of the Blog: Dickens says that Bob Cratchet had only met Scrooge’s nephew once (this was in Stave Four in the future: “Mr. Scrooge’s nephew, whon he had scarcely seen but once” – an odd way of putting it if they had met more often than once). This was when Fred visited Scrooge at his counting house and invited him to Christmas dinner.
                This implies one of two things – either this is the first time Fred had come to Scrooge’s counting house for any reason, let along to invite him to his party (Stave Three says he WILL go by year after year but not necessarily HAS in the past); or, if Fred HAS been inviting Scrooge year after year, Cratchet has only been working for Scrooge over the past 364 days at MOST. When Scrooge says, “You’ll want all day tomorrow…” was this the FIRST time he asked this to Cratchet, or was this an annual conversation. It seems to imply this has happened before – getting all day off – perhaps Scrooge comes to expect this from his clerks.
                If Cratchet has only been at his job less than a year – what of the other clerks?  How many has Scrooge had over the years? Can you imagine the job interview? Where had Cratchet worked before? Was he that bad of a clerk this was the only position available? I would think not many people would recommend Scrooge and Marley as an ideal work environment…
                In the late 1960s the Hollywood Musical* as a genre was on its last great gasp. In the 1970s they were as rare as a Jennifer Aniston blockbuster – for every “Cabaret” there were ten “Mame”s.  The theaters were dominated by big-budget wide-screen epics including “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Oliver!”  A Dickens tale as a musical? Sure, and if it worked once…
                *Note that “Scrooge” was filmed and produced in Englandand therefore not, literally, a Hollywood Musical, but it snuggled nicely into the genre.
                “Scrooge” was released in 1970 and starred Albert Finney in the title role. It received four Oscar nominations and Finney won a Golden Globe. It was well received critically.
                Several things differentiate this version of the tale – not least of which is the music. Most “Christmas Carols” contain music – usually brass band versions of old Christmas songs, a small choir singing carols, Tiny Tim’s Peter-Brady-like-cringe-worthy renditions of various tunes; and the occasional song during Fezziwig’s and Fred’s parties. But this was a Musical with a capital “M” – the songs had little to do with the holiday and more to do with reflecting the mood and emotion of the moment: teasing children belt out “Father Christmas”.  “December the 25th”is a fun tune at Fezziwig’s party but not the kind that would become a Christmas classic. There is the genuinely sad “You … you” during which we see the exact moment when the adult Scrooge shut himself off from the world and when his older self realized what he had become. Most people remember the unbelievably catchy “Thank You Very Much” sung twice during the movie. You’ll be humming it all day now.
               Its unique moments are what stand out – seeing the face of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come and the scenes set in hell – no other version of the tale has this (“Disney’s Christmas Carol shows a vague face and a coffin deep in the glowing earth, so it is close). In fact, it’s not in the novel at all. But I don’t mind that – if I want a faithful rendition of the novel I would hardly expect it from a musical.
                And it is always fun to see Alec Guinness try to sing. Being of my generation, I did not realize Alec Guinness was Marley until after I had seen him in that OTHER movie he was in. Therefore, I will always associate him with that OTHER movie first. Put another way, every time I see “Scrooge” and the ghost of Marley enters I expect him to say, “Go to Dagobah, Ebenezer, and learn from Yoda…”
                Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962). WHAT!? This classic is put in the “rare” category!? Yes, in the 1970s it was on TV quite a bit, but it went decades without rebroadcasting. Maybe where you live some local station aired it, but not in my market. Not even the cable channels. It has come back to television recently though – TiVo has helped me find it. This cartoon is usually at the top of most favorites list, so I suspect the show has aired elsewhere annually or I just missed it. For twenty years. … Hmm, I stand by its rarity.
                Now this Magoo isn’t the doddering racist from the weekly cartoon; this is the Magoo from the 1950s UPA shorts – still blind as a bat but painting, hunting, camping as if nothing is remiss. Unfortunately most of those shorts are long gone.
                It presents itself as a musical – hence its inclusion here. The titles bring the tunes to mind – which is a good indication of their longevity – Lord’s Bright Blessing, Ringle Ringle, etc.  The songs were written by the same team that wrote the tunes to “Funny Girl” – which explains why the songs rank so high in retention.
                Jim Backus does the definitive voice of Magoo, the immortal Paul Frees also provides voices. So does Morey Amsterdam – immortal in his own way as Buddy Sorrell (remember him stealing the show on the Christmas episode of Dick Van Dyke? Or for that matter … of every episode of Dick Van Dyke?).
             Its unique moments:
1.       It begins and ends with Magoo and the other characters preparing to perform Carol on stage. In between acts the curtain closes to begin the commercial break. We are watching a cartoon pretending to be a stage production of “A Christmas Carol”.
2.       Gerald McBoingboing speaks!?
3.       This was the first holiday cartoon produced specifically for television. It paved the way for Charlie Brown, Rudolph and all the other animated “Christmas Carols”.
4.       The ghosts were out of order! The Ghost of Christmas Present was first! I have always remembered that: this was one of my first (not THE first – that was the 1969 cartoon) exposure to “Christmas Carol” and I always wondered why “later” versions had the ghosts appear out of order.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                Near the end of NBC’s reign as the #1 broadcast network, it collected some of its stars to be in a musical version of “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” in 2004. It was based on an earlier stage musical.
                Kelsey Grammer took a break from Frazier to play Scrooge. Other NBC stars such as Law & Order’s Jesse L. Martin and Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander was Marley.
                I tried watching it, I really did. But I lost interest quickly and turned the channel. The musical numbers were not that catchy and I found it kind of boring.  To me it added nothing unique to the tale.
                It was fun watching Martin and Alexander sing and dance. Seinfeld fans are usually shocked to know Alexander is quite different from his shlub-counterpart George Costanza. Likewise Martin – given his and L&O partner Jerry Orbach’s legendary musical theater background it is too bad the two of them never did anything else together.
                I watched it when it was broadcast. I tried watching it again the next year during a repeat with the same feeling of ennui. I’ve yet to see it all the way through. Maybe it picks up at the end. I doubt it…
NEXT: The Sounds of Silence
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry