A Christmas Carol (1951)
Sim's Ebenezer Good
There's more of gravy than grave about you - Ebenezer
Having started a mission to watch as many adaptations of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as I can it's a bit strange that until I started this the only authentic adaptation I had watched was the 1951 version "A Christmas Carol" or "Scrooge" as it is also known, and that was as a child. I say it's a bit strange as this version is widely appreciated as the best movie adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" and Alastair Sim delivers the best interpretation of everyone's favourite Christmas misery Ebenezer Scrooge. And to be honest it is very easy to see why it is held in such high esteem as Alastair Sim does deliver a truly magnificent interpretation of Scrooge but also the depth of story and its overall atmosphere is so much better than all the others.
It's that time of year when everyone is looking forward to Christmases, that is everyone accept Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim - Laughter in Paradise) who only sees it as a day where no one works. But having shut up shop for the one day he has off each year Scrooge finds himself first being visited by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern - The Wildcats of St. Trinian's) and then 3 more ghosts who set about showing him not only the mistakes he had made in the past but also what he is missing out on in the now and what lies ahead. But will Ebenezer change or will he for ever be a Christmas misery.
Now I've mentioned this before but there have been so many adaptations of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" that unless you've read Dickens' tale it can be hard to know what has been added and what has been left out in each adaptation. As such whilst the overall storyline of Ebenezer being visited by Marley and the three spirits is unchanged there are episodes in this 1951 version that I don't remember seeing in other versions. But in a way it is these differences which is the reason why you watch any adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" as the storyline of Ebenezer being shown the error of his ways is familiar and rarely changes.
What stands out about "A Christmas Carol" is not so much those episodes in the story which feel unfamiliar but the atmosphere it creates from beginning to end. During the first quarter there is a real darkness to it and almost an atmosphere of gothic horror as we enter Ebenezer's dark world of misery. This horror aspect is especially prevalent when he gets the initial visit from Marley and we hear the heavy chains being dragged along the floor before he enters the room. Yet whilst delivering an atmosphere of horror there is also a lightness almost comedy to it as Ebenezer blames what he's eaten for the apparition.
But whilst "A Christmas Carol" starts of in this dark, horror style the mood and atmosphere changes in tune with how Ebenezer changes over the course of the movie. And as such whilst there is still an aspect of horror and darkness during each of the visits the balance shifts as we watch Ebenezer realise the mistakes he has made and what he has lost by becoming an old misery guts. Plus of course when Ebenezer wakes up and realises it's not too late there is a humorous delirium which takes over as Ebenezer becomes reinvigorated.
What in a way makes "A Christmas Carol" so good is that it makes Ebenezer's journey so interesting and unlike other versions really explains not only his transition from miser to Christmas joy giver but his initial transition into becoming a miser. As such almost half the movie is given over to Ebenezer being taken to his past and we not only see the usual elements of him falling in love and becoming obsessed with money making but we also see the death of his sister, learn of his issues with his father and see him joining forces with Marley. And all of this combines to allow us to understand that following the death of his sister Fan he became hard and cold to protect himself from more heartbreak. He threw himself into work and saw making money as a way of protecting himself from the world, becoming emotionless out of self preservation rather than just being mean. But we also see how that self preservation transforms into an almost sadistic nastiness giving him pleasure from being curmudgeonly.
But of course we do get to see his transformation back as he is shown the error of his ways and it is just as solid when it comes to reasoning. We watch as he sees his mistakes from the past and sees what he is missing out on in the present but we also appreciate that fear of being hurt still controls him, stopping him from changing his ways. That is until he sees what the future holds and what people think of him. It's because "A Christmas Carol" allows us to fully understand what made Scrooge the man he was and why it was hard for him to change is why along with the atmosphere makes this 1951 version so good.
The other reason is the casting and I am not just on about Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge as there is not a bad performance in the whole movie. Michael Hordern delivers horror and humour as Jacob Marley making him a fearful but amusing ghostly visitor and George Cole is solid as the young Scrooge bringing the character to life in those early scenes as he suffers the death of his beloved sister. And even minor characters such as the Undertaker and Laundry woman are just as solid and everyone delivers a confident performance rather than just one which feels like it's making up the numbers.
But of course it is Alastair Sim who everyone remembers for this 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol" and I have to agree he plays the definitive Ebenezer. It's partly down to just the way Sim looks because he can do the dark and mean so easily but then that smile appears, the eye light up and he skips around like a fool and we have the full blown transition. But it is also the way he takes us from the darkness to the light incorporating minor changes in his character to make it so fascinating so whilst you still have the miser as he visits his past there is the start of a smile which begins to show.
What this all boils down to is that "A Christmas Carol" from 1951 is for me and many the best version of Dickens "A Christmas Carol". It basically does it all taking us from darkness to light, horror to comedy and does so in a gradual and fascinating way. It also gives depth to the transition of Scrooge allowing us to understand not only what made him such a cold man but why he feared change. And making all this work is a collection of confident performances none more so than Alastair Sim who delivers the definitive characterisation of are favourite Christmas misery Ebenezer Scrooge.
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