Don’t laugh, but one of my annual Xmas traditions is working my way through my stack of favorite holiday movies. I suppose my list is my list due to the fact that my brother and I used to watch these with our dad every year. We didn’t watch a lot of “Miracle on 34th Street” or “Elf.” We did watch “Christmas Vacation,” “A Christmas Story,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the latter of which we moaned and groaned through until reaching a sufficient age to recognize that black and white movie ≠ “square.”
The movie or group of movies that dominated our childhoods, however, was the classic “A Christmas Carol.” There were 3 versions, in particular, that we watched each and every year. As an adult, I purchased them on DVD and now they’re part of my annual rotation. Typically, I have watched these alone at night, sipping wine with only my Xmas tree for illumination; historically Will has been in retail and therefore I was a Xmas widow. Furthermore, I think he might have suffered from a touch of the black and white movie bias (as well as a generalized Xmas malaise due to his retail servitude). This year, I have company; Crispi is staying with us through the holidays, so she has become a participant in my holiday movie blast whether she wants to or not. Will also has been participating since Crispi is staying in his man-cave and he’s forced out into the main part of the house.
It has been fun, not only having company to watch these with for a change, but to watch them 3 nights in a row. I offer my comparisons/contrasts on the 3:
A Christmas Carol – 1938 Starring Reginald Owen: Reginald does a good job, especially considering he was pretty young. If you look really hard, you can see some serious makeup seams. That being said, this version is solid. Tiny Tim is satisfactory, The Ghost of Christmas Past played by Ann Rutherford is a dish, and they don’t linger over some of the more boring, to me, subplots regarding Scrooge’s descent into greed.
Watching the movie, it feels surprisingly modern. Other than the makeup issue, I can really take no exception to it. I mean sure, the London snow is awfully white, but that seems to be pretty common in all of these movies. It’s also pretty cool that the couple playing the Cratchits were married in real life (Gene and Kathleen Lockhart).
A Christmas Carol – 1951 starring Alastair Sim: The most immediate noticeable thing to this one is that it seems older than the ’38 version. Or maybe I just have a crappy version on DVD. You can see the imperfections from the film strip in mine, the audio is rough, and it just seems darker. It’s also a fairly scary version. Scrooge is ghoulish, Marley wails like a real ghost, and the music adds to the whole suspenseful mood. And the scene where Tiny Tim and his sister look into the toy shop window? Holy shit. This window must’ve been designed by Stephen King, complete with terrifying laughing clowns. We’ve agreed it will be several years at least before the kids are allowed to watch this one.
They use some “interesting” effects, including this hourglass through a tunnel to show that we are flashing back in time. It gets to be a bit much. I compared it to a Victorian wormhole.
By far the most jarring thing about this particular cast is “Tiny” Tim (played by Glyn Dearman). He’s giant. This kid is only about 6” shorter than Mrs. Cratchit (Hermione Baddeley). He is truly the Baby Huey of Tiny Tims. They might as well have gotten Andre the Giant to play the part. It’s kind of ridiculous.
Scrooge- 1970 starring Albert Finney: No one ever talks about this one. And it’s pretty damn good. I will warn you up front: it is a musical. Normally, that’s enough to make me skip a movie. People in my life don’t just spontaneously burst into song and dance. If they did, I’d probably club them like a seal. But this one has some catchy tunes, including the one where Scrooge sings “I hate people.” My mother compared it to Mary Poppins, and it’s an accurate comparison. The very end medley of “Father Christmas,” “Thank You Very Much,” and “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” does kind of remind me of “It’s a Jolly Holiday.” Will was mesmerized by the dancing, particularly the fellow who danced rather acrobatically on top of a coffin on top of a wagon being pulled by horses. It’s like a festive Cirque du Soleil set in Victorian England.
And who is Marley? Obi Wan Kenobi himself – Alec Guinness. That alone is almost enough to justify at least one viewing, and to help overlook the odd psychedelic scene where Scrooge goes to hell.
So which is my favorite? All of them. And I’m sure I’m pissing off folks by not mentioning/watching the versions played by Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammar, and George C. Scott. Like I said in the beginning, this is about nostalgia for me.
Speaking of, I hope that all of you are nostalgic – in a good way – and have experiences to add to your own collective Xmas memories. Happy Christmas, everyone.