Combustible Celluloid
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With: Alastair Sim, Mervyn Johns, Michael Hordern, Kathleen Harrison, Michael Dolan, Francis De Wolff, Glyn Dearman, Hermione Baddeley
Written by: Noel Langley, based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Directed by: Brian Desmond Hurst
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 87
Date: 03/18/2013

A Christmas Carol (1951)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Of the three superclassic Christmas movies, It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and A Christmas Carol (1951), the latter gets the spotlight this year on account of this being its 50th anniversary.

I can't say why, but though I love all three movies, I swing back and forth as to which one I prefer during any given holiday season. Last year I was really into It's a Wonderful Life, and the year before I savored my new Miracle on 34th Street DVD. But this year I wanted Scrooge, and I got him.

VCI Home Entertainment has already released this great British film directed by Brian Desmond Hurst on DVD, and it's still available in its $29.95 version that includes an introduction by Patrick Macnee (also in TV's "The Avengers") and a vintage 1944 Max and Dave Fleischer "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" cartoon. But the company has also released a new 50th Anniversary edition with a more appealing price tag, $14.95 for the movie only.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Charles Dickens' famous novel has been filmed more than 40 times over the years, but this one, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge, remains definitive. Sim brings a brilliant bug-eyed raggedness to the role, with a sour grimace that dribbles acid on every word he speaks. Under Hurst's direction, the story unfolds in a breezy 86 minutes -- still keeping all the juicy dialogue ("there's more of gravy than of grave about you") and the many great scenes.

The transfer comes from the best available source print, which contains the British title, Scrooge. Though the picture is sharp, the print is far from pristine and the sound is a bit muddy. But for a fun trick, be sure to look carefully in Scrooge's mirror just after he wakes up on Christmas morning. A clueless crew member can be clearly seen chatting with someone in the background.

DVD Details: VCI Entertainment has once again re-released their classic for the 2004 holiday season. While the transfer is the same, VCI has improved upon their previous release with new animated menus, two optional sound mixes, a cast list and production notes, optional subtitles, and optional colorized or black-and-white versions. It also includes the old introduction by Patrick MacNee (who plays young Marley in the film), and Max Fleischer's classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon.

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