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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A CHRISTMAS CAROL / SCROOGE (1935; 1938; 1951)

M-G-M hoped to continue their winning ways with Dickens adaptations following DAVID COPPERFIELD/’35 and A TALE OF TWO CITIES/’35) with this Christmas classic. Initially planned for Lionel Barrymore who was under contract & already established on radio as America’s Scrooge, his severe arthritis put him out of the running. (Of course, he played a ‘near’ Scrooge for Frank Capra in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE/’46. But try to hear one of his annual outings of the real thing on radio, especially the ones he did with Orson Welles & the Mercury Players on the Campbell Playhouse.) Reginald Owen wound up playing Ebenezer, and he’s perfectly fine, but the project was demoted to a glorified ‘programmer,’ with all departments going thru the motions under hack megger Edwin Marin. With the storyline already squeezed to fit on a measly six reels, the half dozen ‘improvements’ are particularly wasteful and unfortunate. And where are Ignorance & Want; the kids who hide by the feet of Christmas Present? It is kind of fun to see Gene, Kathleen & young June Lockhart as Crachets, and Leo G Carroll hollers splendidly as Jacob Marley, but everything else is bland, bland, bland. The best reason to watch this may be as a comparison with the marvelously efficient story construction of the much-loved 1951 British version. Alastair Sims’ stupendously effective, perfectly judged Scrooge has always been its calling-card, but a recent restoration from VCI (on a 2007 two-disc edition) makes it easier to appreciate the craftsmanship of Noel Langley’s script & Brian Desmond-Hurst’s helming. Moving, funny, and damned scary at times, it’s only two reels longer than the M-G-M film, yet manages nearly twice the story. And the cleaner visuals show how well the lensing & art design serve Dickens’ tricky mix of exaggeration, sentiment & toughness, keeping everything in balance. It’s also the only version to include a devastating (and motivationally important) deathbed scene for Scrooge’s sister. (A fine addition Dickens missed.) And there's a worthy EXTRA on the deluxe VCI edition, an interesting, if occasionally crude, British version from 1935 that shows, even thru a poor print and some savage story editing, some nice visual style. Those willing to squint, will find some neat moments, including a nice bit when the shadow of Christmas Future seems to drape itself over Scrooge’s face. Very creepy! (The Recommendation below is just for the 1951 film.)

DOUBLE-BILL: Clive Donner who edited the Sims pic directed a notable tv version (in color) with George C. Scott in excellent form/’84; and don’t forget the sui generis magic of MISTER MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL/’62 with a score by Jule Styne who repurposed a discarded song for use in FUNNY GIRL. You know the tune as 'People.’

1 comment:

Celestial Elf said...

To share a slightly different outlook on the Christmas Festival I wrote a short song modeled after Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol,
so heres another Scrooge for your list, 2011.