A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 297 – A Christmas Carol (1984)

A Christmas Carol (1984) – December 22nd, 2010

There are ever so many versions of this story out there. We’ve already reviewed the Muppet version for our project, and while the Blackadder version is far too short for us to include, we still watched it this year. It’s been adapted many times over the years, with various well known and lesser known actors playing the lead role. And while I know that Patrick Stewart has done Scrooge, and I do love Patrick Stewart, this will always be my very favorite version. There’s something about it that just makes it work in every way I want. Maybe it’s that it’s the version I’ve seen the most. Maybe it’s the music, or George C. Scott’s Scrooge. I’m not sure. But I love it.

My mother and I tend to quote from this version during the Christmas season. It’s not so much the words that are important as the delivery. Specifically we have a habit of telling each other every dessert we make is “a triumph!” as Bob Cratchit tells his wife about her pudding. It’s one of those movies that has embedded itself into my family’s lexicon, and I’ve passed that on to Andy. I love sharing my family’s Christmas favorites.

Given that this is a classic story that’s been told and retold, I don’t think I need to spend too long going over the plot, really. Ebenezer Scrooge is a stingy grouch of a man who says nasty things and treats other people abominably and sees Christmas as a pointless waste of time and money. After being met by three spirits of Christmas on the night of Christmas Eve, however, he learns what the spirit of the day truly is and repents of his ways, changing course to avoid a lonely death with mockery his only remembrance. It’s a good story, with plenty of emotional weight to it, even if it is a little heavy handed in places. Scrooge is shown his childhood – an unhappy time spent alone at a boarding school thanks to a father who blames him for his mother’s death. He sees the love of his youth and how he lost her. He sees the lives of Bob Cratchit’s family, his nephew, Fred. He sees strangers, out of work and desperate. And he sees a bleak future, with death a certainty for both himself and Tiny Tim Cratchit.

It’s the same story no matter how you look at it. Except the Blackadder version, but that’s parody anyhow. So what are the best bits here? I’ve got to say, George C. Scott’s Scrooge is truly fantastic. He’s gruff and blustery and when he walks he leads with his chest. He has a presence and gravitas, with his deep scratchy voice and truly excellent scowl. He takes obvious delight in flustering others and causing them discomfort and Scott plays him with such conviction, it’s easy to see how he has everyone around him cowed. And then when he’s seeing the various Christmases his transformation is fantastic, both dramatic and subtle, with outbursts and little asides and facial expressions. He still enjoys discomfiting people after his transformation, but not in a negative way. It’s a character trait I find fascinating and he keeps it throughout the movie, but it’s not really written in there. It’s all in his body language and grins.

I also love the overall look and feel to this version. It truly looks cold and bitter in many of the scenes and the characters, from the main to the small, are all either dressed appropriately or clearly cold because they don’t have the means. And the costumes are gorgeous. Scrooge is fully dressed for most of the movie, as opposed to being in his pajamas and dressing gown, but somehow it works. That he would still want to be formal and present himself as a well-off man, even when traveling invisible with a spirit of Christmas. There’s a really nice feeling for the period here, even if some of the instruments shown are a bit anachronistic. The clothing, the houses, the hairstyles, the whole community. It feels right. It feels full and festive with the season, which is perfect in contrast with Scrooge’s offices and home, so devoid of anything but business.

I would like to take the space to point out a couple of actors in this version. Mark Strickson, perhaps better known as Turlough from Doctor Who, plays a young Ebenezer Scrooge, and does so quite well. He’s awkward and hopeful, then just plain awkward. It’s painful, seeing Scrooge so young and lost. The ubiquitous David Warner plays Bob Cratchit with a very nice sense of warmth and good cheer regardless of his troubles and crotchety boss. And Roger Rees, who also seems to pop up more frequently than I’d otherwise realized before this project, plays Fred, Scrooge’s nephew. He also does all of the narration, and I have to say he does have a fantastic voice and delivery for the role as well as doing a good job with Fred. They’re all actors I knew from elsewhere, and when I was younger I hadn’t made the connections. As I got older I started to realize where I knew them all from and it’s a treat to see actors like this doing some classic roles.

As I said, I realize there are many adaptations and renditions of this story. It’s been parodied, modernized and done faithfully on film, television and stage. And that’s not even touching the various print editions. But this one holds a place in my heart. It’s George C. Scott and the rest of the excellent cast. It’s the costumes and the set dressing and the fantastic Ghost of Christmas Present, played by Edward Woodward. It’s the music and everything. I love this movie and I saved it for closer to Christmas for a reason. It needs to be watched close to the holiday, with its message of giving and sharing and compassion. It really feels like Christmas to me now, and it gets more so with every movie we watch.

December 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Christmas Carol (1984)

December 22, 2010

A Christmas Carol (1984)

I often jokingly refer to this movie as “George C Scott in: Man Getting Hit By Football” but the truth of the matter is that this is by far my favorite adaptation of the classic Dickens Christmas morality play. There are a great many interpretations of this subject matter, from the Disney cartoon (origin of Scrooge McDuck,) to the musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney, to Scrooged – the comical Bill Murray take on the subject, to the wonderful Blackadder Christmas Carol, to the Muppet version we’ve already reviewed for our project. I have not watched Bob Zemeckis’ 3-D CGI version (indeed I somewhat dread it.) Of course there are countless serious dramatic versions of the story as well. Patrick Stewart. Alastair Sim. Picking a favorite is largely a matter of personal taste, but this is the one that stands out in my mind.

As with The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Treasure Island this story is one that I have fond memories of my father reading to me and my sister. It was a fondly anticipated Christmas tradition that we would sit beside him on the sofa beneath our vast Christmas tree in our pajamas and bathrobes with our feet tucked up under us as he read out the original Dickens. I liked the story because it was slightly sinister. Not many Christmas stories involve death and ghosts. There are unsettling moments in the story such as Scrooge snuffing out the ghost of Christmas past or the hollow eyed children beneath the cloak of the ghost of Christmas present. In a way it’s a horror story as much as it is a Christmas story – something which is largely glossed over in most versions that I have seen.

As a character Ebenezer Scrooge must be one of the greatest roles an actor can get. Not only do you get to play an almost irredeemably nasty man – always a fun and cathartic thing – but you then get to show him slowly realizing the error of his ways and ultimately becoming the giddy, jovial very spirit of Christmas. Talk about a character arc. George C. Scott attacks the role with relish and completely sells Scrooge at every stage of his story. At the start Scrooge clearly takes a perverse pleasure in his view of the world in this version. He is amused by the foolishness of all these people who squander their hard earned money on non-essential trivialities. Scott’s Scrooge is less mean-spirited than simply aloof and self righteous. It’s a fun interpretation that makes his eventual redemption believable. He doesn’t need to be a different person altogether, he just has to be shown that there’s more to the world than his narrow vision encompasses.

It should say something that I was somehow unaware until tonight that this version of the story was a made-for-TV adaptation. I was somewhat surprised when we put the DVD in tonight that it had no widescreen option – because it was broadcast in the early Eighties and therefore was filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The production values are so lush, so detailed, so marvelously alive that I had always assumed that it was a theatrical release. Nothing about this movie speaks of corners cut. The costumes are fantastic, the sets are wonderfully dressed to evoke a real sense of the time period, the lighting is fantastic. (I particularly like some of the supernatural lighting used on Scrooge during the visit of the ghost of Christmas yet to come – creepy and cool, managing to pull him out of the scenes he’s witnessing without any special effects whatsoever.) Remember that this movie was contemporary with things like the Ewok movies and Amazing Stories – the quality of television productions in that day was uneven at best.

I’ve always loved this story. It’s all caught up in the anticipation and wonder of Christmas from my childhood. And this production of the story perfectly captures the images I had in my young mind as my father read to me all those years ago. Every time I watch it I’m a child all over again, enjoying the wonderful anticipation of the Christmas season. Only three more days now ‘till Christmas, and I just can’t wait!

December 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment