A Christmas Carol-1951
Director-Brian Desmond Hurst
Scott’s Review #871
Reviewed February 26, 2019
A Christmas Carol (1951), released as the American title, or Scrooge in Great Britain, is yet another film incarnation of the world-famous 1843 novel by Charles Dickens. This version seems to be the winning popular favorite, historically shown on television around the holidays. Alastair Sim is perfectly cast as the curmudgeonly Scrooge with the eventual endearing qualities in this earnest and wonderful seasonal effort.
Set in bustling London, a fabulous setting for any Christmas film, the story gets off to a resounding start with Dickens’ words being narrated subsequently presenting a faithful tribute to the book. The brooding Ebenezer Scrooge (Sim) angrily leaves the London Exchange on Christmas Eve eager for a quiet night at home. He begrudgingly gives his clerk Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns) the day off to spend with his poor family and bemoans the holidays as humbug to fellow wealthy businessmen that he encounters.
Scrooge embarks on a strange journey during the night as he is visited by his deceased business partner Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern), shackled in chains and doomed to walk the earth clad in chains to represent his greed during his living years. He warns Scrooge to repent or suffer the same fate as he is visited by three ghosts representing chapters of his life: The Spirit of Christmas Past, the Spirit of Christmas Present, and the Spirit of Christmas Yet to come. The first two ghosts more benevolent, the third ghost is mysterious and frightening and takes Scrooge down a dim journey of what will be after he dies.
The centerpiece that makes A Christmas Carol work so well is its star, Alastair Sims. Hardly handsome, the actor is perfect in the role offering relish with his irritated facial expressions and untamed white locks. As he dismisses a waiter at the realization that he will be charged extra for more bread the penny-pinching Scrooge is in fine form as only Sims can be. Later, his cleaning lady assumes Scrooge has lost his marbles as he frolics about gleefully in his bedclothes raising her salary beyond comprehension, clearly a changed and jolly man. Sims plays this range of emotions with relish and truthfulness.
The cinematographers work wonders creating a magical London set drizzling with celebratory facets. With eons of pure white falling snow and streets filled with young Christmas carolers and city people, the film offers a great feel. With the Cratchit household modest yet filled with holiday cheer, the film doses the audience with the right blend of sentimentality and spirit never turning into schmaltz. The result is a richly produced film with a small budget proving that a robust budget does not equal greatness.
Rated G, the film has a few dark moments but is largely tailor-made for an all-ages audience. This undoubtedly is a testament to its success and staying power. Neither a musical nor too heavy in the drama field, the pacing is perfect, and the story builds throughout the running time. After many decades most viewers will be familiar with the conclusion, an enchanting character turn that is always wonderful to witness with joyful glee.
A Christmas Carol (1951) is a legendary film with crackle and spark and an effective atmosphere leaving adoring fans to look forward to more each season. For an interesting contrast, a suggested companion piece is the aptly titled Scrooge (1970) starring Albert Finney, a musical version of the same story. Watched in tandem or even traded off, these two similar yet different creations offer interesting perspectives both enchanting and celebrating the human spirit.