directed by Ronald Neame
(Cinema Center, 1970)
I've seen movie Scrooges. I've seen animated Scrooges. I've seen theater Scrooges. But no one has ever given me a better Scrooge than Albert Finney.
And no Christmas movie or television special has ever left me with the feelings of joyful Christmas spirit that Scrooge has. The musical masterpiece is the screen adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic work, A Christmas Carol.
Finney, in the title role, is unbelievably good in his impersonation of an old man. It took quite some time for me to believe that the scenes of young Scrooge are the real Albert Finney; the old, decrepit man seen through the rest of the film owes his amazingly realistic appearance to the wonders of cinematic makeovers. But makeup can only do so much, and Finney deserves a ton of credit for carrying the character the rest of the way. His walk, his posture and particularly his facial expressions are perfect.
Of course, Scrooge is a musical, so we can't overlook the music. Written by Leslie Bricusse, bits of it are simply adequate, serving only to carry the scene further along. But there are several spots of brilliance on the way, beginning with Scrooge's first solo, "I Hate People." Sung while sneering and glaring his way through the festive Christmas Eve crowds, it's a wonderfully witty insight into Scrooge's mean-spirited character.
Alec Guinness is marvelously otherworldly in both speech and gesture as Jacob Marley's Ghost. I can remember being genuinely frightened as a child of the hellish phantoms Marley revealed to a terrified Scrooge. Soon enough, the first of the famous spirits appears -- Edith Evans plays the Ghost of Christmas Past with social elegance to spare. Scrooge's childhood passes by swiftly, allowing plenty of time to linger over Mr. Fezziwig's jubilant Christmas celebration. Fezziwig (Laurence Naismith) and his wife (Kay Walsh) lead their guests through a lively party dance, "Dec. the 25th -- Correct," which can tire you out just by watching.
And then there's Isabel (Suzanne Neve), Scrooge's young fiancee. Although her screen time is brief, Neve makes the most of it, brimming with simple happiness for the love she shared, and standing calm, concealing quiet misery, when she leaves him.
There's a lot an actor can do with the Spirit of Christmas Present, and Kenneth More fills the role with massive personality and a booming voice. His song, "I Like Life," should be a daily mantra for a lot of people in the world, and his wine goblet should overflow more often.
We see the unflagging holiday cheer of Bob Cratchit (David Collings) and the whole Cratchit clan. Scrooge even manages to give us a Tiny Tim (Richard Beaumont) who's actually cute, not overly pitiful as he's usually portrayed. OK, so he's a little annoying when he gets up to sing his "Beautiful Winter's Morning" song, but I'll let that slide -- it's still fun watching Cratchit's grand Christmas preparations, roaming the city with his two youngest children and stretching his 15 shillings as far as he can, and making their tiny feast and fixings seem like the most opulent of spreads.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (a never-seen Paddy Stone) reveals the necessary fact of Tim's and Scrooge's deaths before sending Scrooge through his grave and into a fiery-red Hell. The scenes, usually cut from the television version of the film, are a bit silly and overdone, but it's worth it to see Marley's smug return to taunt his damned partner.
Anton Rodgers makes only a few brief appearances as Tom Jenkins, the hot-soup man, but he has the honor of singing and dancing his way through the film's most delightful, most memorable number -- twice. "Thank You Very Much" first appears during Scrooge's visit to the future, and Jenkins belts it out while dancing his joy atop Scrooge's casket. The song resounds again at the end, when the miser's reformation has led to the happiness and gratitude of what must be Camden Town's entire population.
The collision between Scrooge's merry parade and a somber crowd of church-goers is a great moment among great moments.
The post-reformation scenes are pure holiday delight, a large-scale song and dance which is everything a musical should aspire to be. Scrooge is a masterful accomplishment, and it should be a permanent part of every family's Christmas season.
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