Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? A slightly poleaxed musical version of A Christmas Carol.
What did I get? How fortuitous that this post appears on December 21, of all days — would that I could recommend it more forcefully. This sprightly musical adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was strongly influenced by the previous year’s smash hit Oliver! — but it has not held up well. In a world devoid of any other portrayals of the Christmas classic, this would serve honorably as an entertaining version for all ages and types. The existence of the indelible 1951 movie starring Alistair Sim as Scrooge, however, shows its flaws in stark relief.
To be fair, Scrooge is really okay, and it might make for better viewing for children. The songs strike me as pretty pedestrian, but again, kids might respond more enthusiastically. A few niggling irritants prevented me from enjoying the movie as fully as I might have.
First, Finney is not well cast. Finney was about 33 years old when Scrooge was filmed, and he’s a vigorous, stocky type, both of which points are quite evident throughout. His main strategies for mimicking the advanced years of the elder Scrooge are to scrunch up his face in an unnatural way and to adopt a pinched, reedy voice. Actually, come to think of it, there’s something funny about Finney’s voice in general, so maybe that wasn’t so much a strategy. In any case, Finney rarely seems like an old man, and that blunts the effectiveness of his performance, even though some credit it as a feat (he did win awards).
Second, and this is nobody’s fault really, but the vivid colors featured in Scrooge don’t help matters. The black-and-white cinematography of the 1951 version made the material seem authentically Victorian and helped the filmmakers thematically accentuate the points they wanted to land — here, there’s too much stuff filling the frame, and all of it so blurrily, wanly colorful, that it’s all too easy for the viewer’s mind to get distracted and for the iconic force of the story to dissipate.
And third, the musical numbers are just eh. I have never seen Oliver! — but I can hum “Consider Yourself” at a moment’s notice. I could hardly imagine humming any of the musical numbers in Scrooge. They’re just not very memorable.
If you want to watch a version of A Christmas Carol this year, the 1951 movie really can’t be beat, although it must be admitted that it has no songs (possibly a selling point).
Final thought: This movie was released on November 5. I can’t understand the thinking of a movie company that would ask families to gather in movie theaters to watch A Christmas Carol in early November. But maybe that’s just me.
What here smacks of 1970? The Oliver!-ish approach and cinematography are very much of its time, as mentioned.
IMDB score: 7.2
My score: 6
Director: Ronald Neame
Writer: Leslie Bricusse
Starring: Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Michael Medwin, Laurence Naismith
IMDB synopsis: In 1860, the stingy and cranky Ebenezer Scrooge that hates Christmas; loathes people and defends the decrease of the surplus of poor population runs his bank exploiting his employee Bob Cratchit and clients, giving a bitter treatment to his own nephew and acquaintances. However, in the Christmas Eve, he is visited by the doomed ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley that tells him that three spirits would visit him that night. The first one, the spirit of past Christmas, recalls his miserable youth when he lost his only love due to his greed; the spirit of the present Christmas shows him the poor situation of Bob’s family and how joyful life may be; and the spirit of future Christmas shows his fate. Scrooge finds that life is good and time is too short and suddenly you are not there anymore, changing his behavior toward Christmas, Bob, his nephew and people in general.