We're continuing a holiday tradition on Never Fully Dressed by sharing some classic holiday films. Some might be institutions in your home this time of year; others might be delightful new friends, but they're all sure to impart some the season's spirit and sense of fun. Consider it my way of wishing you and yours nothing but the very merriest.
A Christmas Carol for the big screen alone, but one of the best might be considered the 1951 version of the timeless tale. This is perhaps, thanks in no small part to Alastair Sim, the actor who played Ebenezer Scrooge. He tows the line just right through the entire film- we believe him as a horrible curmudgeon and miser, yet he stays away from cartoonish villainy, making it equally believable that the he undergo the character transformations that lie at the heart of the story. His acting builds, so that his character's gleeful, almost maniacal gestures of goodwill- accompanied by hysterical laughter- at the finale see very much motivated in equal parts by regret and fear of what he has seen that fantastical night.
A Christmas Carol, of course, retells Charles Dickens' iconic story of a miserly man who is visited by ghosts. Scrooge is taught the true meaning of Christmas- and how to carry that essential generosity of spirit through out the year- as The Ghost of Christmas Past forces him to confront what events molded him; as The Ghost of Christmas Present shows how he affects those around him in everyday life; and, most ominously, as the Ghost of Christmas Future points where his life's actions could lead. There are some surprises even in this very familiar tale though, as the script does take some liberties. It could have been folly to gainsay one of the English languages most treasured authors, but in fact, the additional scenes added weight to the tale. Kathleen Harrison takes second billing for her role of Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge's charwoman, a part that didn't even merit the character a name in the novel. Her turn as Mrs. Dilber quite rightly, won her great acclaim. The script also shows Scrooge's sister's death, which in turn echoes through to his relationship with Nephew Freddy too. But perhaps most notably of all, we see more about how Scrooge and Marley rise in the business world, for the messages inherent in this subplot ring just a true today as they did 150 year ago.
Of interest to any film buffs may be that Michael Hordern and Alastair Sim reprised their respective roles of Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge in a 1970s, animated version, but neither in that version, nor the 1951 one did they ever act against each other in person. Horden's Jacob Marley, as well as Michael Dolan's Spirit of Christmas Past, were filmed separately from Scrooge, and were both added to the scenes in post-production with an optical printer to achieve a more ghostly quality.
Though many Christmas films seek to warm your heart, A Christmas Carol works to never become too schmalzy. The dialogue avoids being stiff- and can be even funny, if caustic. Tiny Tim's line "God bless us, everyone one," is subdued, and further then that, there are downright haunting elements (beyond just spirits who visit at night) in this movie. Lurking beneath the Ghost of Christmas Present's robes are Want and Ignorance, personified as blind, grasping, possibly diseased, street waifs. The obscene poverty of London's poor comes through again in the scenes where a dead man's belongings were pilfered so as to be sold for a few shillings. Not to mention that clues hint that Tiny Tim, bum leg aside, suffered from only from scurvy, and having the coin to buy some fruit or vegetables every now and again was all that was really needed.
A Christmas Carol can be in turns a joyful and dark excursion with a deeper message that goes beyond just the holiday season. It may be an old, familiar tale at times, perhaps some might argue too familiar to be re-watched each year. But you could just as easily say, that re-examining "the scary ghost stories, and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago" bring us a-new each year to the movie's message. Will watching A Christmas Carol become a season tradition for you?