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Scrooge -or- A Christmas Carol

I am speaking, of course, of the 1951 British film adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim in the title role of Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge. This has long been one of my favorite adaptations of the classic novel, usually watched on the local PBS station late at night on Christmas Eve until I had the good fortune of obtaining a DVD copy. As I believe we all know the tale of Ebenezer so well, I will merely highlight why I love this particular edition so much. Be aware for those who have not seen this particular version, there lies below a spoiler or two, so read on only if you're unconcerned about that.

The appearance of Marley's ghost in Scrooge's rooms--formerly Marley's own--is well-constructed and delightfully creepy, and Marley's wail when it is affirmed that Ebenezer does not believe in him chills the bones a bit. The effects in the scene may not seem like much by 2010 standards, but for 1951 they were highly impressive, and the child in me can still come back to the very first time I saw it.

In the scenes shown to him by the Spirit of Christmas Past, Scrooge is brought to the birth of his nephew, Fred, and simultaneously to the death of his beloved sister Fan. Having just checked my copy of the novel, I was surprised to find this scene was not in the book as I remembered it being, in which case it is merely a masterful piece of work by screenwriter Noel Langley. The young Ebenezer pleads with Fan to make good on her promise not to die, and when the doctor lays a hand on his shoulder, he leaves with an angry stare toward the crib of his newborn nephew. But as Ebenezer the shadow learns, Fan woke up one last time and begged him to care for her baby, then passed away. He begs her forgiveness as the Spirit whisks him away to the next shadow of his past. I cannot watch the scene without crying, but its very moving nature is also the reason I love it so much.

Scrooge's face as he signs the register as a witness of Mr. Marley's death is subtle, but very indicative of his avariciousness. I also love the hint in the preceding scene that Marley, on his deathbed, had come to realize the error of his ways, and was trying to communicate that to Scrooge before it was too late. It makes the appearance of his ghost more poignant when it becomes clear he has been trying to save his only friend from that fate for some time now.

In his travels with the Spirit of Christmas Present, my favorite scene is always the visit to the Cratchit house. Though he protests to both Past and Present that it is too late to change his ways, we see that change truly begin when he sees Tiny Tim and dares to ask if the child will live.

It is his short time with the Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come that thrills me least in this version. The faceless, sinister spirit is also the one with the least screen time of the three, and that in itself bothers me for some reason. Then again, there is only one Christmas to show him, so that may be part of what plays into it. (As a note here, I have always interpreted it that if Scrooge had not changed his ways, he and Tim would have died within a few days of one another.)

But above all else, it's Mr. Scrooge's time with Mrs. Dilber after he returns from the spirit world that makes this movie shine for me. We don't realize just how very bitter he has become, until we finally see the man he could have been all along. In his sitting room, his little song:
"I don't know anything/I never did know anything/But now I know/That I don't know/All on a Christmas morning."
It's just so cheery, and sums up the lesson he has learned so beautifully. That followed by his very serious conviction, "I must stand on my head!" She flees the room screaming, with an apron thrown up over her face, and in turn he raises her salary from two shillings a week to ten. Perfect logic for a man given a new lease on life.

I may not have gotten to see my family today thanks to the weather, but at least I got a little Christmas spirit of my own to make up for it. It's not exactly a 500% raise, but it will do.

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