(UK 1951 86m) DVD1/2
Aka. A Christmas Carol
Are there no prisons, are there no workhouses?
p Brian Desmond Hurst d Brian Desmond Hurst w Noel Langley story “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens ph C.Pennington Richards ed Clive Donner m Richard Addinsell art Ralph Brinton, Stanley Couzins cos Doris Lee, Constance da Pinna
Alastair Sim (Ebenezer Scrooge), Mervyn Johns (Bob Cratchitt), Hermione Baddeley (Mrs Cratchitt), Kathleen Harrison (Mrs Dilber), Michael Hordern (Jacob Marley), Carol Marsh (Fan), George Cole (Young Ebenezer), Roddy Hughes (Mr Fezziwig), Hattie Jacques (Mrs Fezziwig), Michael Dolan (Spirit of Christmas Past), Francis de Wolff (Spirit of Christmas Present), Eliot Makeham (Snedrig), Louise Hampton (Laundress), Jack Warner (Mr Jorkins), Miles Malleson (Old Joe), Brian Worth (Fred), Ernest Thesiger (Undertaker), Patrick MacNee (young Marley), Peter Bull (First businessman and Narrator), Rona Anderson, John Charlesworth, Glyn Dearman, Olga Edwardes,
In his distinguished career, the great Alastair Sim made several superb films – Green for Danger and The Happiest Days of Your Life for Launder and Gilliat to name two selected here – as well as achieving immortality in the inferior St Trinian’s films and in such parts as the eponymous inspector in An Inspector Calls. If asked to name the role for which he was most cherished, however, there would be only one winner. He’s hardly the only Ebenezer Scrooge in screen history; a delicious Seymour Hicks and a less happier Reginald Owen played him in the thirties, then there was the awful musical with Albert Finney and the muppet variation with Michael Caine. Small screen viewers might recall a celebrated TV version with Michael Hordern (who played Marley to Alastair Sim), a memorable performance from George C.Scott and a less satisfactory one from a too funereal Patrick Stewart – Dickens’ character was not funereal, simply miserable and miserly. Yet still, over half a century on, Sim towers over all and sundry.
The immortal tale of the miser who learns the error of his ways through the visitations of three – well, technically four – spirits on Christmas Eve it well enough known to pass over here. When you watch Hollywood’s versions of Dickens, such as David Copperfield, though they are masterly films in terms of narrative power and ensemble performance, they do not have the flavour of Dickensian London, but rather a sugar-coated saccharine version. As with David Lean’s imperishable masterpieces, this is very much the world of Dickens and, though the film may lack the incredible artistry and visual power of Lean’s two films, it’s still a true classic with a great deal of residual atmosphere. One can almost smell the musty books on o’erladen shelves in dank, gloomy, cold, candlelit offices. Backed up by a superbly ominous score from Richard Addinsell and stark, contrasting photography, Desmond-Hurst unobtrusively allows his story to almost tell itself, and the narration of Peter Bull is a massive help, capturing the tone from the first shot. He’s helped by a quite magnificent cast, from the supreme wet fish Carol Marsh perfectly cast as Scrooge’s doomed elder sister to Malleson’s fence, there’s cameos aplenty to cherish, Michael Dear and Francis de Wolff are simply beyond perfect as the first two spirits of Christmas, and then there’s Mervyn Johns who might, to use that oft-quoted phrase, truly have been born to play Bob Cratchit. He truly does personify the spirit of Christmas. As for Sim, the very term immortal seems somehow insufficient praise, as he dominates every scene; think of him refusing to pay ha’penny extra for more bread with his soup, the look of contempt when his door handle changes to the face of Jacob Marley like he’s examining a piece of vermin, his timidly entering his nephew’s for Christmas to the strains of ‘Barbara Allen’ and the nudging of a cherubic maid and, best of all, the sheer infectious genius of his waking up in the morning a changed man and later offering Bob a raise. A movie and a performance to cherish for all time, one agrees with Leonard Maltin, it’s far too good to just watch at Christmas.