A Christmas Carol (1951)

Of all the classic movie versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this is our favorite.  More than any other, it seems to capture the spirit of the poverty of the Cratchits, the bitter greed of Scrooge, and the Victorian setting.  The script adds a number of scenes that do not appear in the short story, but unlike the 1938 MGM version it doesn’t add ridiculous elements.  The new scenes actually clarify and expand upon some points in Dickens’ characterizations.  In this re-telling, we learn that Scrooge’s father blamed him for the death of his mother while giving birth to him, which is why young Ebenezer was banished to a poor private school.  Scrooge similarly blames his nephew, Fred, for the death of his beloved sister, Fan.  The Spirit of Christmas Past allows Scrooge to hear his sister’s dying words asking him, after he has left the room, to take care of her son, and this newly realized irony seems to begin Scrooge’s reclamation.  Unlike the book, where Scrooge sees his former love Alice married with many children, in this version the Spirit of Christmas Present allows Scrooge to see her alone working in a poor charity hospital.  Two brief scenes usually omitted from other versions of the film are among the most serious: Marley’s ghost showing Scrooge the countless doomed souls frustrated in their attempts to intervene in human affairs and the children Ignorance and Want hiding under the robe of the Spirit of Christmas Present.  Other versions of the story eliminate these didactic Dickensian elements.

PLOT SUMMARY

Does it need summarizing?

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

This, too, goes without saying.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Most of the actors in this version of A Christmas Carol worked primarily in British films before and after World War II, so there are only a few with roles from the classic Hollywood films and none that connect to others on our Christmas watch list.

Alastair Sim (Scrooge) had many British film credits, including An Inspector Calls (1954) and Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950).

Kathleen Harrison (Mrs. Dilber) appeared in the suspenseful Night Must Fall (1937) and in Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve (1942).

Mervyn Johns (Bob Cratchit) appeared in the frightening Dead of Night (1945) and in Errol Flynn’s weakest swashbuckler, The Master of Ballantrae (1953).

Miles Malleson (Old Joe) appeared in Trent’s Last Case (1952), two Hitchcock classics — The 39 Steps (1935) and Stage Fright (1950) — and two delightful Ealing Studio comedies with Alec Guinness — Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Man in the White Suit (1951).

Ernest Thesiger (the undertaker) appeared most famously as  Doctor Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), with Laurence Olivier in Henry V (1944) and with Alec Guinness in The Man in the White Suit (1951).

Peter Bull (plump businessman and the film’s narrator) appeared with Alec Guinness in The Lavender Hill Mob (191) and with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in  The African Queen (1951) where Bull played the German ship captain.  He also played the Russian ambassador in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964).

Patrick MacNee (young Jacob Marley) is best known for playing the dapper John Steed in the classic British TV series The Avengers.

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

This is the biggest stretch for an Astaire connection in our whole Christmas watch list: Patrick MacNee and Fred Astaire appeared in the TV series Battlestar Galactica in 1979, but not in the same episode.  MacNee also narrated the intro to many episodes of the series.

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

One of the nicest small touches is the musical theme of the folk song “Barbara Allen” used to connect the scenes with Scrooge and his sister, Fan, and later his coming to the Christmas party with his nephew, Fred. This scene in Fred’s home is among the most touching in the film.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classic Movies always shows this film several times during December.

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