With the holidays upon us, it’s the time to celebrate family traditions. One of mine includes watching some of the more than 50 movie, TV and animated versions of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” that I own.
I’ve always loved the Dickens’ 1843 novella, and as a young kid I was drawn to the black and white versions that were shown on TV. I enjoyed analyzing the different approaches to the original script and eventually started collecting them. Now, it’s a bit of an obsession.
Some of my favorite versions of “A Christmas Carol” are the early theatrical films. Seymour Hicks plays the title character in the 1935 British picture “Scrooge,” which is quite good, but beware of very poor quality versions released on DVD.
In 1938, MGM hoped to capitalize on the popularity of Lionel Barrymore’s annual radio rendition of the holiday classic by casting him as the miserable miser, but Reginald Owen had to step in at the last minute when Barrymore had to withdraw due to health reasons.
Though it was a made-for-TV movie, the beautiful 1984 production featuring George C. Scott is also one of the best. Scott’s faithful portrayal of Scrooge has just the right level of meanness, which is absolutely necessary for the redemption tale to work. It also features one of the creepier portrayals of Tiny Tim.
However, I agree with a number of critics who feel the best overall movie version is the 1951 film featuring Alistair Sim.
Want a female Scrooge? No problem. This year the Hallmark Channel debuted “It’s Christmas, Carol!” which is pretty unremarkable, but there’s also “A Diva’s Christmas Carol,” “A Carol Christmas” with Tori Spelling and William Shatner (you’ve been warned) and “Ebbie” starring Susan Lucci. My top choice in this category is “Mrs. Scrooge,” a 1997 TV movie featuring Cicely Tyson.
If musicals are your thing, there are plenty of options to uplift your spirit.
In 1970, Albert Finney starred in “Scrooge,” a big screen musical that includes a score by Leslie Bricusse. Kelsey Grammar played the lead character in “A Christmas Carol: The Musical,” a 2004 Hallmark production featuring music by Alan Menken. Even Rankin-Bass, known for classic stop-motion Christmas specials such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” released a musical version. 1978’s “The Stingiest Man in Town” stars Walter Matthau as the voice of Scrooge.
But in my opinion, the best musical version is actually the first animated Christmas special ever made. “Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol” first aired on NBC in December of 1962 and features delightful music by the Broadway team of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. The shortsighted Mr. Magoo, voiced by the great Jim Backus, is Scrooge in this clever retelling.
To mark the special’s 50th anniversary, NBC is airing Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” later this month for the first time since 1967. If you missed Mark Dawidziak’s recent Plain Dealer article on the beloved show, you can check it out here. Razzleberry dressing anyone?
Of course, animated versions abound, including everything from short cartoons to recent major motion pictures starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.
My collection includes productions featuring the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Bugs Bunny, to more contemporary releases starring Dora the Explorer, Barbie and the Smurfs. Plus I’ve tracked down unusual animated offerings starring Hallmark greeting card character Maxine and Little Orphan Annie.
Though several early film versions are lost forever, I do have silent versions from 1910, 1922, 1923 and 1926. Reportedly there is even an adult version of Dickens tale, but I don’t own a copy. Really!
Adaptations that utilize a modern day setting are pretty hit-and-miss, but one that endures is “Scrooged” with Bill Murray. The sheer number and variety of “A Christmas Carol” adaptations show the durability of the Dickens tale. Everyone loves second chances.
Whatever your holiday traditions are, I urge you to embrace them and keep them alive with your family, friends and loved ones. And as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, everyone!”