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

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