Combustible Celluloid

A Christmas Carol: Ultimate Collector's Edition (1951)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Turn of the Scrooge

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Buy A Christmas Carol: Ultimate Collector's Edition on DVD

Of all the direct adaptations of Charles Dickens' slim 1843 novel, this one has earned the near unanimous distinction of being the best. Part of the reason is the perfect pacing from director Brian Desmond Hurst. Many versions of A Christmas Carol are too truncated while others drag on far too long. This one moves through a brisk 86 minutes with just enough time to linger on poignant moments. Another factor is the superb performance by Alastair Sim (Stage Fright, The Ruling Class), whose Ebenezer Scrooge never shows a hint of villainy. His miserliness comes from anger, loss, hatred and sadness, but never evil. When he heads home for Christmas Eve, he stops for dinner at a pub. He orders more bread, but upon learning that it will cost him extra, he cancels the order. He looks annoyed, but also unbearably sad, as if that bread could somehow have brought him great happiness. His eventual transformation, under the guidance of the three ghosts, happens gradually and in uneven chunks, as it should, and the screenplay by Noel Langley (The Wizard of Oz) gets just the right balance of Dickens dialogue. Only the visualization of the ghosts leaves a little to be desired. The Ghost of Christmas Past in particular has virtually no personality, and the visual effects have dated badly. Otherwise, A Christmas Carol -- which was released in England as Scrooge -- definitely deserves its place among the trio of live-action Christmas classics (along with It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street).

DVD Details: VCI Entertainment has released this film several times on DVD, but this 2007 edition is by far the most impressive. This is the first time that the company has had access to original materials rather than copies, so it has been newly restored. It also includes captions for the first time (though, for some reason, they're red instead of white or yellow). The two-disc set includes both the black-and-white and colorized versions, plus a commentary track by film expert Marcus Hearn and actor George Cole. Patrick MacNee, who played young Marley and went on to fame as the star of TV's "The Avengers," provides an introduction for the colorized version. There are several featurettes in which surviving cast and crew members talk about their experiences on the film, and a very short featurette on Dickens himself. The film also comes with a narration track for the blind. But the most interesting bonus is Henry Edwards' Scrooge (1935), starring Seymour Hicks. This is the edited version, running only 63 minutes, and while it's not as good overall, it has a fascinating noir quality, and an amazing use of shadows and angles that add a sense of dread to the story. (Moreover, the ghosts are far more interesting). In any case, if you already own the old version, I'd supplant it with this new one, especially if, like me, you screen it almost every year. Also available on Blu-Ray.

Starring: Alastair Sim, Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley, Michael Hordern, George Cole, John Charlesworth, Francis De Wolff, Rona Anderson, Carol Marsh, Brian Worth, Miles Malleson, Ernest Thesiger, Glyn Dearman, Michael Dolan, Olga Edwardes, Roddy Hughes, Hattie Jacques, Eleanor Summerfield, Louise Hampton, C. Konarski, Eliot Makeham, Peter Bull, Douglas Muir, Noel Howlett, Fred Johnson, Henry Hewitt, Hugh Dempster, Maire O'Neill, Richard Pearson, Patrick Macnee, Clifford Mollison, Jack Warner
Written by: Noel Langley, based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Directed by: Brian Desmond Hurst
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 86 minutes
Date: December 14, 2007

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