Monday, January 31, 2011
CHRISTMAS CAROL, A (1938)
(December 1938, U.S.)
Timing and the alphabet's structure are interesting factors, aren't they? Sure, it would have been much nicer if I could have posted the next three Christmas movie titles back when it actually WAS Christmas, right? Well, I'm just going to have to ask you all to take your imagination, heart and spirit back about five weeks.
Charles Dickens' immortal Christmas tale of A CHRISTMAS CAROL has been adapted as a motion picture so many times, I can't even count them anymore. It seems its beloved characters have been portrayed by everyone from Alastair Sim, to Henry Winkler, to George C. Scott, to Bill Murray, to Patrick Stewart, to Jim Carrey, to Mickey Mouse, to Bugs Bunny, to the Muppets, for crying out loud. With so many versions out there and also taking into consideration what little tolerrance I have for constant recycled movie material, I took it upon myself to painstakingly choose ONE version that I could call my favorite and potentially live with the rest of my life. I'm happy to say that I chose the 1938 American version with Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge. In this film version, some of the grimmer aspects of the story go completely unmentioned or unseen, in order to make this more of a "family film" in the style of other MGM literary adaptations of the time. Although Jacob Marley's Ghost does appear, the phantoms wailing outside Scrooge's window are not shown. Scrooge's fiancee, who eventually leaves him because of his miserly ways, is completely dropped from film version, as are the two starving children "Want" and "Ignorance", who hide within the folds of the Ghost-of-Christmas-Present's robe. Also gone are the thieves who ransack Scrooge's belongings after he "dies" in the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-to-Come segment. While actor Gene Lockhart's performance as Bob Cratchit is greatly admired, he's often been criticized for looking too "well-fed" for the role of Bob Cratchit. Maybe that't true, but who can resist that boyish-looking smile on his face?
I first saw this version on television in the 1980s on WNEW-TV Channel 5 on Chirstmas Eve (of course!). I've been hooked on it ever since and no other version seems to have the same enjoyment for my tastes, the strongest reason being that it has always felt like a film that should been in black and white only; something to watch in the dark when the snow is (hopefully) falling outside in the night (what else would a Jewish person being doing on Christmas Eve?).
Ebenezer Scrooge: "Fred! My dear nephew! How are you?"
Fred: "Well, who is this?"
Scrooge: "It's me! Your uncle Scrooge! Smile makes a difference, doesn't it?"