Scrooge is deservedly a beloved Christmas movie. Like the not dissimilar It’s a Wonderful Life, it came by its standing as a beloved film democratically: Long after it was released generations of people fell in love with it on television. And with very good reason.
The heart of this film is Alastair Sim, whose lack of a 1951 best actor Oscar nomination should make the Academy hang its head in perdurable shame. More than any other movie adaptation of Dickens’ novella, screenwriter Noel Langley’s treatment gives Scrooge a backstory that explains his nature and outlook, making him a more fully developed character. Sim must therefore portray powerful moments of grief, cruelty, pity, parsimony, regret, remorse and manic joy, and he does so in a profoundly effective way. He was so damn good in everything he did (e.g., Green for Danger, another of my recommendations) that it’s hard to say which is his greatest film performance, but this may well be it.
The cast is packed with highly professional British character actors including Peter Bull as the narrator and as one of Scrooge’s business colleagues, the ever-endearing Hermione Baddely as Mrs. Cratchit, Michael Hordern as the mournful Jacob Marley, George Cole as a young Scrooge and Carol Marsh (just as saintly as in Brighton Rock, recommended here) as Scrooge’s beloved sister, and many, many more. They were all part of the army of stage-trained actors who helped make the British film industry the powerhouse it was in the decade after the war.
The sets and the photography are all spot-on. The editing is by Clive Donner, who decades later would direct his own fine version of the story starring George C. Scott.
The other person who deserves credit of course is Charles Dickens himself. It’s sentimental to be sure: The Cratchit family is so idyllic that the Brady Bunch looks like the Manson Family in comparison. But the social conscience of the story, the condemnation of materialism and selfishness, and the emotional power of redemption are just as effective today as they were in Victorian England. When I look at the rising level of inequality in the U.S. today, I think we badly need another author of Dickens’ talent, humanity and mass appeal.
God Bless Us, Everyone.
p.s. For a visually stunning animated version of the same story featuring Sim and Hordren, see my recommendation here.
p.p.s. USA title “A Christmas Carol”. BEWARE THE COLOURIZED VERSION!