Celebrating Dickens: The 25 Days of A Christmas Carol Challenge


The goal was simple – honor Charles Dickens’ classic 1843 holiday tale by watching a different version of A Christmas Carol every day between December 1 and December 25, 2018. The only other stipulation? Just watch those films and TV productions of A Christmas Carol that I could find on Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube (thereby excluding certain versions such as The Muppet Christmas Carol, which there was no way in hell I was going to shell out money to watch again!). Here is my ongoing A Christmas Carol “research” in all its glory:

December 1, 2018: The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
A fairly entertaining biographical drama with touches of fantasy, The Man Who Invented Christmas was directed by Bharat Nalluri and based on a 2008 book of the same name by Les Standiford. The Man Who Invented Christmas depicts how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) found inspiration from his own life to create his timeless holiday tale, the 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. Christopher Plummer absolutely shines as Ebenezer Scrooge. The cast also features Jonathan Pryce, Anna Murphy and Morfydd Clark. It was the perfect film to kickstart the 25 Days of A Christmas Carol Challenge!

December 2, 2018: A Christmas Carol (1954)

A fascinating and somewhat weird television adaptation of A Christmas Carol, this musical version first appeared as part of a CBS TV variety series called Shower of Stars. It features a solid performance by Fredric March (ridiculous fake nose notwithstanding!) as Ebenezer Scrooge. Basil Rathbone makes an appearance as a rather sedate Marley’s Ghost. Also look for Bonnie Franklin (One Day at a Time) as Susan Cratchit. Believe it or not, the adaptation and lyrics were compliments of Maxwell Anderson and the music by Bernard Herrmann. The version is somewhat marred by cheap production values (for example, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is replaced by a mynah bird!). In addition, the actor who portrays Belle (Sally Frazer) also plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, while the actor who portrays Fred (Ray Middleton) also plays the Ghost of Christmas Present. Believe it or not, Scrooge also breaks out into song in this version during a duet with Belle at Fezziwig’s party! Another unusual aspect is that Scrooge not only views his own tombstone in the cemetery, but also Tiny Tim’s tombstone. Although the first version was in color, only the black-and-white print has survived. March was nominated for an Emmy Award for his performance, but lost out to Robert Cummings as Juror #8 in the Studio One episode, Twelve Angry Men. By the way, Rathbone would go on to portray Scrooge in The Stingiest Man in Town (1956).

December 3, 2018: A Christmas Carol (1971)

My favorite animated version of A Christmas Carol, this one actually features the voices of Alastair Sim as Scrooge and Michael Hordern as Marley’s Ghost – both reprising their roles from the definitive filmed version of A Christmas Carol in 1951. Directed by Richard Williams and first broadcast on ABC on December 21, 1971, A Christmas Carol deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The innovative animation is simply outstanding (reportedly due to “Master Animator” Ken Harris) and a pleasure to watch! A Christmas Carol also features narration by Michael Redgrave and veteran animator Chuck Jones served as executive producer. This amazing version of A Christmas Carol makes the most of its abbreviated, 25-minute running time, although I wish it had been given the full feature-length treatment!

December 4, 2018: A Christmas Carol (1977)
I found the extended version of this BBC production on YouTube (the shorter, one-hour version was originally broadcast on Christmas Eve 1977) and was curious to see Michael Hordern’s interpretation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Hordern did an amazing job as Marley’s Ghost in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol (AKA Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim). I was not disappointed! Hordern turns in a nice performance and is surrounded by a solid cast, including John Le Mesurier as Marley’s Ghost, Patricia Quinn as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Bernard Lee as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Bottom line: This commendable version of A Christmas Carol stays true to Charles Dickens’ original story, manages to make the most of its limited budget and is worth seeking out!

December 5, 2018: Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
What else is there left to say about this perennial animated classic first aired on NBC on December 18, 1962? In addition to Jim Backus providing the voice of Magoo/Scrooge, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, which was directed by Abe Levitow, features the talents of Morey Amsterdam, Paul Frees, Joan Gardner, Royal Dano and Jack Cassidy. The entire production is framed by Magoo appearing in a Broadway musical production of A Christmas Carol. Believe it or not, this was the first animated holiday program ever produced specifically for TV (predating Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by two years). Musical numbers include “It’s Great to Be Back on Broadway,” “Ringle, Ringle,” “The Lord’s Bright Blessing,” “Alone in the World,” “Winter Was Warm” and “We’re Despicable.”

Dcember 6, 2018: An American Christmas Carol (1979)
Henry Winkler stars as Benedict Slade, a stingy landlord during the Great Depression in New England, in this rather bleak American made-for-TV variation on the Dickens classic. I once compared Winkler’s rather haphazard makeup and wild hair to the old fart that Tim Conway played to perfection on The Carol Burnett Show! It’s a somewhat interesting American take on the classic tale, so I would recommend watching it at least once. Remember that Winkler was trying hard to break out of the “Fonz” persona at the time and also appeared in some other diverse roles in such movies as Heroes (1977) and The One and Only (1978). Look for Dorian Harewood as the Ghost of Christmas Future decked out in a leisure suit and looking like a refugee from Studio 54! At one point, the Ghost of Christmas Present offers Slade some good advice: “If? That word can be found on dry river beds and trails overgrown by weeds. What’s more important are the paths we follow now …”

December 7, 2018: Scrooge (1935)
I’m not a big fan of the first feature-length sound adaptation of A Christmas Carol directed by Henry Edwards and starring legendary stage actor Sir Seymour Hicks (who does an admirable job, but does not come anywhere close to Alastair Sim’s masterful performance in the 1951 version of Scrooge). It’s somewhat creepy and much grittier than the polished (but just as mediocre) Reginald Owen version of A Christmas Carol released by MGM in 1938. To top it off, the Spirits of Christmas Past and Future do not even appear on camera! Fortunately, the running time is approximately 78 minutes, so it’s not too painful. By the way, Hicks, who was knighted in 1934, had previously starred in a 1913 silent version of Scrooge, as well as performing the role onstage literally thousands of times.

December 8, 2018: The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)
Walter Matthau provides the voice of Ebenezer Scrooge in this animated TV remake of a 1956 live-action musical special of the same name that starred Basil Rathbone in the title role. Nothing too special here, but it passed the time. The worst thing about this version is the presence of an annoying insect mascot modeled after Jiminy Cricket called “B.A.H. Humbug” (voiced by Tom Bosley from Happy Days). Theodore Bikel does an admirable job voicing the part of Marley’s Ghost, while Robert Morse voices the young Scrooge. By the way, The Stingiest Man in Town was a Rankin/Bass Production, the legendary company behind such stop-motion holiday classics as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.

December 9, 2018: A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004)
Can you imagine spending $18 million on a musical version of A Christmas Carol and discovering that the actor you hired to play Ebenezer Scrooge has decided to impersonate Mr. Magoo? Five minutes into this insipid TV version of A Christmas Carol, I realized that star Kelsey Grammer was indeed imitating none other than Jim Backus in the classic animated film, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)! And then I read an article where Grammer actually admitted that Magoo’s performance as Scrooge was his favorite! However, as bad as Grammer was, the worst performance of the night had to be Jason Alexander as the ghost of Jacob Marley. Believe it or not, Alexander plays Marley as a cross between George Costanza and Edward Scissorhands with long, stringy hair and white makeup caked on his face. After informing Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits, Marley starts doing this inexplicable, ridiculous dance and is soon joined by a variety of assorted ghouls in a wretched musical number (“Link by Link”) straight out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m sure Charles Dickens was doing backflips in his grave at this point. Don’t even get me started talking about the Ghost of Christmas Past (Jane Krakowski), who looked like she was auditioning to be a Playboy Playmate; the Ghost of Christmas Present (Jesse L. Martin), who was a dead-ringer for Rick James; and the Ghost of Christmas Future (Geraldine Chaplin), who appears like she’s dressed in a roll of toilet paper! All that said, I thought “God Bless Us, Everyone” was a damn good number …

December 10, 2018: The Christmas Carol (1949)
This is by far the worst version of A Christmas Carol I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying a lot!). Originally aired as a syndicated television special on Christmas Day 1949, it features terrible acting all around, extremely cheap sets and pointless narration by none other than the late, great Vincent Price! Taylor Holmes overacts shamelessly as Ebenezer Scrooge (even the name Ebenezer is misspelled as “Ebeneezer” in the opening credits). Look for a nine-year-old Jill St. John as Missie Cratchit. Luckily, this thing has a running time of just 25 minutes (but even that feels like an eternity). Not that much else to say about this one.

December 11, 2018: The Stingiest Man in Town (1956)
Best known for his role as Sherlock Holmes in 14 Hollywood films between 1939 and 1946, Basil Rathbone turns in a fine performance as Ebenezer Scrooge in this live-action musical special that first appeared on NBC as part of the The Alcoa Hour, an American anthology TV series that aired between 1955 and 1957. In fact, this particular version of A Christmas Carol was long considered lost until a copy recently turned up in the basement of a former Alcoa executive. Unfortunately, I had to watch this film in bits and pieces on YouTube since I couldn’t find the full version anywhere (without buying it on Amazon that is). The Stingiest Man in Town was remade as an animated TV special in 1978 starring Walter Matthau in the title role (see December 8, 2018, entry).

December 12, 2018: Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901)
Yes, the date above is correct: A British short produced by R. W. Paul and directed by Walter R. Booth, it’s the earliest known film adaptation of A Christmas Carol. In fact, although the original film ran approximately five minutes, only 3 minutes and 26 seconds actually survives as preserved by the British Film Institute. In this version, Marley’s Ghost fills in for the ghosts of past, present and yet to come. The surviving footage ends with Scrooge being shown his own grave, so there is nothing left depicting his redemption! It’s amazing how much is packed into the few minutes of film, even though it is predictably stagy and the sets look like cheap cardboard. One of the coolest (and funniest!) special effects is how they superimpose the face of Marley’s Ghost over the door knocker (which must have shocked and amused viewers of the film in 1901!). Bottom line: Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost is worth viewing once on YouTube for its historical value.

December 13, 2018: A Christmas Carol (2015)
I found this low-budget Canadian musical version of A Christmas Carol to be rather odd. Firstly, the actor (Anthony D.P. Mann) portraying Scrooge is a young guy with a weird haircut (Mann also directed this thing, so it is quite the vanity project to say the least!). Secondly, pretty much all the action happens at Scrooge’s place of business and in an alley – we never even get a glimpse of his home! Thirdly, characters break out into song at various inopportune times. Lastly (spoiler alert!), Bob Cratchit becomes Scrooge’s partner in the firm at the end! Colin Baker does a fine job narrating the action as Charles Dickens.

December 14, 2018: Ebenezer (1998)
If I told you that this is a Canadian made-for-TV version of A Christmas Carol set in the Wild West with Jack Palance as Ebenezer Scrooge and Rick(y) Schroder as a young cowboy named Sam Benson, you probably already have a pretty good idea what to expect, don’t you? And you would be totally correct – it’s nothing more or less than the bland description I just gave you (so I’m happy to save you the effort of having to watch the damn thing at all). The Western Scrooge as portrayed by Palance is a ruthless gunfighter, land baron and saloon owner who goes around ripping everyone off and making snide remarks such as “I’ll give you some good advice, be selfish, be greedy and trust no one.” It seems like someone in a film production meeting suggested, “let’s do A Christmas Carol as a Western” and this forgettable thing instantly plopped out. Watch at your own risk!

December 15, 2018: Scrooge (1970)
“What the dickens have they done to Scrooge? … They’ve put him in a big, big musical.” For years I have dismissed this British musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol as an overblown spectacle, but I must have mellowed with age because I thoroughly enjoyed my latest viewing (to confess, it was the first time I actually watched the film in its entirety). Albert Finney, who was only 33 years old at the time, turns in a stellar performance as the decrepit miser (reportedly he had to sit for three hours of makeup each morning!). In addition, Sir Alec Guinness totally shines as Marley’s Ghost (there’s a great sequence near the end where Marley introduces Scrooge to Hell and has him fitted with chains!). The film boasts an excellent score by Leslie Bricusse. I particularly enjoyed “I Hate People,” “Happiness” and “I Like Life.” Finney deservedly won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy. Spoiler: Don’t miss the chance to see him dancing around the London streets madly in a Santa Claus suit! I’ll retire to Bedlam!

 

 

 

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