Saturday Night Cinema: A Christmas Carol (1951)

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In keeping with the holiday spirit, tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic is the 1951 film adaption of the Charles Dicken’s masterpiece,  A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim. This is undoubtedly  the best film ever made of the Dickens classic. And the one I think Dickins himself would have endorsed it.

Turner Classic Movies: When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, he struck a deal with his publishers to earn a percentage from its sales rather than an up-front lump sum. In the short term, the deal looked like a loser. Sales were good, in fact, very good, with the novella eventually going into 24 printings but the publication costs were extravagant and Dickens made little of what he’d hoped. But in the spirit of the story itself, his rewards were greater because he gave to the world one of the most powerfully uplifting and spiritual tales literature has ever produced. And while its adaptations to stage and screen are too numerous to count, one of them, the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim, has become almost as beloved as the novella itself.

The NY Times wrote:

Movie Review
A Christmas Carol (1951)
THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ With Alastair Sim Playing Scrooge, Unveiled Here
By Bosley Crowther
Published: November 29, 1951

A little ahead of the season but none the less welcome, withal, as a positive endorsement of Christmas and the sentiment of good will toward men, there arrived yesterday at the Guild Theatre—which is the newsreel house beside the Music Hall—the newest motion-picture rendition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Made in England, as was suitable and proper, considering the origin of the tale, it should prove a most popular entertainment throughout the approaching holidays.

For Brian Desmond Hurst, who produced it, has not only hewed to the line of Dickens’ classic fable of a spiritual regeneration on Christmas Eve, but he has got some arresting recreations of the story’s familiar characters. Old Scrooge, played by Britain’s distinguished and vastly beloved Alastair Sim, is precisely the dour and crabbed creature that he is in the memorable tale. Mervyn Johns’ benevolent Bob Cratchit is Dickens’ kindliest parent to a T and the Tiny Tim of Glyn Dearman is sweetness personified.

In the roles of the lesser characters, Brian Worth is jaunty as Fred, the cheerful nephew of the old misanthrope; Hermione Baddeley is Mrs. Cratchit in all her stew and Kathleen Harrison is wonderfully comic as Mrs. Dilber, the housekeeper for Scrooge. Michael Dolan, Francis De Wolff and C. Konarski are the Spirits of Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come, and Ernest Thesiger is the perfect figure for the melancholy undertaker role.

Take heed on one point, however: “A Christmas Carol” is mainly a story of ghosts—of nightmare conceits and shuddering horrors—and that’s what it is in this film. Where the last “Carol,” produced by Metro, was a ruddy and generally cheerful affair, this one is spooky and somber, for the most part, except toward the end.

When old Marley’s ghost comes clomping into Scrooge’s chambers in the dead of night, it is with a horrible rustling of cere-cloth and rattling of punitive chains. The visions of Scrooge’s life story are glimpses into depressing realms, and the aspects of poverty and ignorance in nineteenth-century England are made plain. To the credit of Mr. Hurst’s production, not to its disfavor, let it be said that it does not conceal Dickens’ intimations of human meanness with an artificial gloss.

The usual conceptions of Christmas in terms of puddings and flowing bowls are not visualized in this picture to any conspicuous degree. Even the gay board of the Cratchits is kept on a modest scale, and cheerfulness rather than foodstuffs is apparent in the home of nephew Fred. Snow there is in abundance, and the background music of Richard Addinsell is full of interpolations of familiar Christmas songs. But it is also full of heavy discords and harsh sounds of misery. And when ghostly apparitions enter, it is a bit on the overpowering side.

In short, what we have in this rendition of Dickens’ sometimes misunderstood “Carol” is an accurate comprehension of the agony of a shabby soul. And this is presented not only in the tortured aspects of Mr. Sim but in the phantasmagoric creation of a somber and chilly atmosphere. These, set against the exhibition of conventional manifests of love and cheer, do right by the moral of Dickens and round a trenchant and inspiring Christmas show.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, screen play by Noel Langley, from the story by Charles Dickens; directed and produced by Brian Desmond Hurst. A Renown Pictures Presentation released here through United Artists. At the Guild Newsreel Theatre.
Scrooge . . . . . Alastair Sim
Mrs. Dilber . . . . . Kathleen Harrison
Mr. Jorkins . . . . . Jack Warner
Jacob Marley . . . . . Michael Hordern
Bob Cratchit . . . . . Mervyn Johns
Mrs. Cratchit . . . . . Hermione Baddeley
Peter Cratchit . . . . . John Charlesworth
Tiny Tim . . . . . Glyn Dearman
Scrooge (as a young man) . . . . . George Cole
Alice . . . . . Rona Anderson
Fan . . . . . Carol Marsh
Fred . . . . . Brian Worth
Fred’s Wife . . . . . Olga Edwardes
Mr. Fezziwig . . . . . Roddy Hughes
Mr. Wilkins . . . . . Clifford Millison
The Spirit of the Past . . . . . Michael Dolan
The Spirit of the Present . . . . . Francis De Wolff
The Spirit of the Future . . . . . C. Konarski
Undertaker . . . . . Ernest Thesiger

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