Saturday Night Cinema: A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)


Of course,  it’s holiday fare for our Christmas eve Saturday Night Cinema feature. Tonight’s film is the Dicken’s classic, “A Christmas Carol,” starring the formidable George C. Scott. And while I have always been partial to Alastair Sim’s Scrooge, the marvelously gruff Scott is terrific here. This bleak British production is excellent. The John Leech illustrations in Dicken’s 1843 book are the “inspiration for many of the visual details in this television production.”

The superb cast includes  Susannah York, Frank Finlay, Angela Pleasence, and David Warner.

“If I had my way, every fool who goes around with “Merry Christmas” on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly in his heart!”  Ebenezer Scrooge:

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Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale of one man learning the true meaning of Christmas is brought to the screen once again in this made-for-TV movie. Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott) is a cynical old man whose greatest concern is money, and who regards compassion as a luxury he can’t afford. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley (Frank Finlay), his former business partner, who arranges for Scrooge to be visited by three spirits in an attempt to show him the error of his ways — the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Angela Pleasence), Christmas Present (Edward Woodward), and Christmas Yet to Come (Michael Carter). The spirits force Scrooge to examine the failings of his own life, as well as the bravery and optimism of his loyal but ill-treated employee Bob Crachit (David Warner). A Christmas Carol also features Susannah York as Mrs. Crachit, Anthony Walters as Tiny Tim, and Joanne Whalley as Fan. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

By John J. O’Connor, NY Times
Published: December 17, 1984

The very first scenes of the new adaptation of ”A Christmas Carol,” on CBS at 8 this evening, are reassuring for those of us who love and treasure the Charles Dickens classic. Filmed in the English town of Shrewsbury, on the Welsh border, the production beautifully evokes a sense of period and place, washed in misty pastel colorings. Care has obviously been taken. The story is clearly in good hands.

George C. Scott stars as Ebenezer Scrooge and, not surprisingly, the rather forbidding character of the miser dominates the production. Glowering and growling, Mr. Scott turns the old fellow into a formidable misanthrope who firmly believes that he is in the right while the rest of the world is out of step. Roger O. Hirson’s teleplay underlines the fact that there are mitigating reasons for Scrooge’s single-minded devotion to the pursuit of money. He was scarred in childhood when his mother’s death turned his father against him, and again later when his beloved fiancee ended their engagement. This Scrooge is a tough old codger, not undergoing a transformation until the final moments of the tale.

Written 1n 1843, ”A Christmas Carol” was published by Dickens himself – his editors were not enthusiastic about the story’s prospects – with the subtitle ”A Ghost Story of Christmas.” The illustrations were done by John Leech, and they provide the inspiration for many of the visual details in this television production, which was designed by Roger Murray-Leach with costumes by Evangeline Harrison. Mr. Scott’s Scrooge does not traipse about in the familiar nightshirt and sleeping cap of the pictures, but many of the other characters are striking Leech look-alikes. Edward Woodward’s Ghost of Christmas Present, in particular, is the very image of the book’s rather bacchanalian figure in flowing royal robes and crown.

Employing what might be called a mid-Atlantic accent, neither here nor there in its mildly clipped cadences, Mr. Scott is the only American in the otherwise British cast. Needless to say, Mr. Scott gets impeccable support. The gentle Bob Cratchit is played with the most reasonable sympathy by David Warner, and Mrs. Cratchit by Susannah York. Tiny Tim is brought to heartbreaking life by one of those adorable English children, this one named Anthony Walters. And consider some of the other talent: Nigel Davenport, recently of ”Barchester Towers,” as Scrooge’s father; Lucy Gutteridge, once of ”Little Gloria: Happy at Last,” as the lost fiancee; Roger Rees, a Tony- Award winner for ”Nicholas Nickleby,” as Scrooge’s kind nephew; Frank Finlay as Marley’s Ghost, and Angela Pleasance as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

In a previous television foray into Dickens territory, Mr. Scott took an embarrassing flop on a curiously perverse interpretation of Fagin in ”Oliver Twist.” In trying to make the nasty old moneylender sympathetic, Mr. Scott ended up queasily with something of a dirty old man. His dissecting of Scrooge makes far more sense. He uses no special makeup. The hair and whiskers are his own. The face, except for a cold right eye that suggests malevolence, is frozen into a mask of disapproval and suspicion of the world around him. A simple twitch of the shoulder speaks chillingly. The voice is used to sure effect, managing to inject new life even into ”Bah, humbug!” with a reading that includes a tired laugh. In short, the Scott method and mannerisms have found a most rewarding subject to explore.

Finally, of course, there is the Dickens story, still enduring, still transcending the stickiness of its ”God bless us, everyone” sentiment. The book grew out of the author’s concern for the human misery he saw about him. He was always pleading for education for the poor as the wisest investment in the future. One of the most striking images in the book, and in this television adaptation, occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to see the homeless masses living on the streets and suddenly reveals two scrawny waifs huddled in a fear that is both pathetic and menacing. Their names are Ignorance and Want. This crucial aspect of the always heartwarming ”Christmas Carol” has been preserved eloquently for television. Clive Donner is the director and Tony Imi the director of photography.

Photo of George C. Scott as Scrooge



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