God bless us, every one. Four ‘Christmas Carols’

By on December 24, 2021

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Where to watch some classic Christmas movies

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” (Isiah 39:21)

Bah! Humbug! (Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol)

Charles Dickens published his novella A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas in 1843 and it went viral before things that weren’t viruses went viral. Three stage productions opened in February of 1844, one sanctioned by Dickens and running for more than 40 nights. And we’re still at it; the oldest surviving film adaptation is Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901); the most recent is Carol’s Christmas (2021), A modern version of the story set in Los Angeles with a black businesswoman representing Scrooge who drives an impoverished woman to suicide and later comes to a bad end after encountering three ghosts.

SCROOGE

/Amazon.com /Prime Video /Streaming /Trailer /1951

My habitual favorite version, known as A Christmas Carol in the US. On Christmas Eve 1843, penurious businessman Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim, who absolutely disappears into the role) has no intention of celebrating Christmas. That night he has dreams—or visions—of his own squandered past of turning away from society to commerce and the acquisition of wealth for its own sake; of how ill-regarded he is by his peers (save his habitually optimistic employee Bob Cratchit); and a bleak future, made no better by Scrooge, in which he sees his staff pawning his things—after his death. He is so moved that on Christmas he astonishes his neighbors and family with goodwill in a transformation worthy of Fredric March in 1931’s Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This is Alastair Sim’s film, but he’s helped by fine direction and supporting cast, and wonderful black-and-white cinematography that looks like it might actually have been shot in 1943, full of inky dark spaces and brilliant lights. The few special effects are subtle enough to not attract attention. A beautiful movie (in b/w—I see it’s available colorized, but I wouldn’t recommend it).


A CHRISTMAS CAROL

/Amazon.com /Prime Video /Streaming /Trailer /1984

My choice for the next-best Ebeneezer Scrooge is George C. Scott in this British-American made-for-television film from Clive Donner, who had been an editor of the 1951 film. Also great is Frank Finlay as Marley’s Ghost, who lustily chews on the scenery while howling at Scrooge in another faithful adaptation of Dickens’ story, a story long susceptible to all manner of fanciful interpretations including musicals, cartoons and videogames. Still, the 1980’s TV look and feel is no match for the beautiful black-and-white of Scrooge.


IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

/Amazon.com /Prime Video /Streaming /Trailer /1946

Although this film is not normally listed among versions of Dicken’s book, it was an adaptation of Philip Van Doren Stern’s 1943 short story “The Greatest Gift,” which was a unique inversion of A Christmas Carol.

George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), more Bob Cratchit than Ebenezer Scrooge, is a happy child. He prevents his grief-stricken boss, a druggist, from killing a patient by mistake, saves his brother’s life, and by the time he’s a young man, is well-liked by everyone in his small hometown. Postponing college, George is able to keep his late father’s bank afloat in the face of a run engineered by an unscrupulous Scrooge-like competitor, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). But his scatterbrained uncle makes a blunder that threatens to take down the bank, and George contemplates suicide after snapping at his hapless uncle and threatening Potter, who calls the police.

Which is when a quirky angel, Clarence (Henry Travers, Shadow of a Doubt), is sent down from Heaven to show George what his beloved town would’ve been like had he never been born. Director Frank Capra, an Italian immigrant who found great success in and fell in love with America, effortlessly invokes the fragile optimism of post-WWII American small-town life. The film is like an animated Norman Rockwell painting, cheesy, corny (”So long; see you in the funny pages”), and very emotional.

I saw it colorized and in the original black-and-white. The colorization is fine here, and as the story brings us to 1946, might help modern audiences relate to a still very dated mise-en-scène.

The time is coming when It’s a Wonderful Life may no longer be comprehensible to a faithless society that avoids responsibility like … a plague, but it still packs a punch. Let’s hope it continues relevant in a post-Pottersville world. (It’s still rated 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.)


THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL

/Amazon.com /Prime Video /Streaming /Trailer /1992

This film made me briefly reconsider my favorite choice of A Christmas Carol adaptations; Scrooge still won out, but The Muppet Christmas Carol is in a close second place. It’s remarkably very faithful to the book and is related as an anecdote told by Charles Dickens.

But Charles Dickens is played by The Great Gonzo (Dave Goelz)! He’s telling the story to Rizzo the Rat (Steve Whitmire)! And these aren’t even the best reasons to check it out. Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire, taking over from Jim Henson) plays Bob Cratchit, Mrs. Cratchit is played by Miss Piggy (Frank Oz), and Michael Caine, playing it straight as a human Scrooge, rounds out the top parts. The scenery, sets, cinematography and direction are top-rate, and humor and pathos are mixed together as deftly as the Muppet and non-Muppet characters. Special effects are another joy, especially the advent of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Jessica Fox).

The Muppet Christmas Carol was filmed on a budget of $12,000,000, and it shows. It has made $32,574,382 and still counting. Brian Henson, son of Muppets co-creator Jim Henson, who had died in 1990, directed. Snooty-pants critics and appreciative audiences might account for the film’s 76%-86% split on Rotten Tomatoes.


(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers


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The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

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See what people are saying:

  • Thinking About the Future

    Thanks so much! Alistair Sims is Ebenezer Scrooge for me. The whole cast and Victorian gothic flavor is wonderful.

    Friday, Dec 24 @ 12:31 pm