Movie Review: A Christmas Carol (1984)

Posted: December 19, 2009 in Holiday, Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A Christmas Carol (1984 Dir. Clive Donner)


Street musicians, pre-hippy days.

So here we are at the George C. Scott version, which is my second favorite of them all. You won’t get any arguments from me though if you were to tell me it was your over all favorite. This is perhaps the most cinematic version of the story ever shot, using a larger scope than most versions have. It’s odd because this was made for TV and yet it comes off larger than almost any other version I can think of. If you lived in Europe, you might remember seeing this in theaters actually. While it played on CBS in America, it was shown theatrically abroad. I understand it was shot entirely in Shrewsbury, England using only a few sets and mostly utilizing the buildings on hand.


Okay… um… somthing funny… Huh? I’m on? I’m not ready yet!

Let’s begin shall we? We begin with a narration, and as usual it’s the actor who plays Fred doing the narration. I’ve never understood why it’s always Fred doing the narration, but almost every time there is a narration it’s the actor playing Fred that does it. The performance in the opening credits is properly done to the book. A heavy fog was supposed to have blanketed London and right here we have the fog. Looks great seeing people as half concealed shadows moving through the mist. It makes finding good screen caps a little tough though. The lighting inside is often done with the light sources through windows and such which helps the feeling that something bigger than a movie of the week for TV is going on here.


You know, what that man really needs is a Raido Flyer to carry that stuff in.

Scrooge starts the movie with a wonderful bit of business about how clothes are better than coal since they can be used indefinitely and coal burns. It’s a short piece but it manages to convey everything we need to know about this Scrooge in a few seconds. He’s not mean for meanness’s sake. Rather he considers himself a logical thinking man who is irritated by the illogicalness around him. Christmas is just another illogical thing that people engage in without really thinking. This of course makes him unfeeling and the argument made by the ghosts in the end is that cutting off the feeling part wasn’t logical and didn’t result in good ends for him. His logic is therefore refuted by other logic.


Marley gonna hafta smack a bitch!

Fred is the first one to come, and Scrooge delivers the boiled in pudding with a steak of holly through his heart, is delivered with a laugh. We’re given to understand that this is a Scrooge long since annoyed and now entertaining himself with a good idea. This is another of the Fred’s I want to hit with a shovel, but I only want to hit him once, not kill him. Sadly the impassioned speech about how Christmas has done him good and will do him good is delivered too calmly and doesn’t make him the powerful speaker his uncle claims him to be. This Fred is just too calm, and too sterile to come off properly. Sadly, David Warner is too intelligent to come off as Bob Cratchit I’m afraid. Bob is supposed to be sort of a stupid fellow and David Warner is clearly too intelligent a man. The whole day conversation is had and then Scrooge leaves for the exchange. Scrooge meets Tiny Tim in the street, who is at least played by a boy both tiny and sickly looking. Too many Tims look perfectly healthy to me.


If David Bowie refuses to reprise his roll in Labrynth 2, we know where to get his replacement.

In the exchange, Scrooge is shown to be the shrewd business man he’s supposed to be. It’s here that we see the two charitable gentlemen, where Scrooge does come off as being a bit more nasty and uncaring than normal. Clearly there is more than a bit of the 80s business man as Scrooge seems to be amused at his insulting of the idiots he perceives around him. We get to see some time with Bob and Tim watching children playing in the streets before we go back to watching Scrooge.


Throw your hands in the air, and wave ’em like you just don’t care!

Marley shows up in the door knocker, right on cue, even if he’s a little hard to see in it. Marley calls to scrooge several times before showing up and his face appears in the tiles like it’s supposed to. The bells ring, chains rattle and Marley shows up properly taking the cloth from his head before speaking. The cloth you see was a device in those days to prevent the mouth from dropping open at the funeral. Marley is supposed to be dressed as he was buried. Marley isn’t transparent in this version though. He’s clothed in grey and made up all in grey, but the actor is right there in the room. He arrives transparent, but becomes solid as he enters the room. Besides that one detail, this is the Marley I like best. He seems to be the most accurate to the description in the book.


Just stand still, wait in the background, don’t let anyone know you jsut smoked a splif with Christmas Past.

Marley’s performance is just about perfect. He carries the sorrow and self pity, mixed with the hope that he can help his oldest and only friend. He knows it’s too late for him, but there is the faint hope that he can save Scrooge. He doesn’t tell Scrooge that he’s going to have to spend three nights with the ghosts but rather that he will spend just the one night amongst the ghosts. We hear the wailing of other ghosts when Marley leaves, but we don’t get to see them.


So… like, if everyone could just stop fighting ya know? Then, if everyone would jsut not have wars, then we’d totally have world peace man. I got the munchies.

The Ghost of the Past is played by a woman again, and she looks like she might have stepped out of an 80s rock video. She does carry the big candle snuffer though which makes her a rarity among Spirits of the past. The Spirit is dressed properly though, and I find no problem with any of the ghosts being played by women. I find it slightly odd that it’s the Past that most often gets played by women. If there is a woman to play as one of the spirits, then she’ll get to be the past. They go through the rarity of having the conversation about the reality of Robinson Crusoe before Fan arrives. His joy at seeing Fan is short lived because his father actually makes an appearance in this version to tell him that he’s been apprenticed to Fezziwig’s. I like that the father (named Silas Scrooge in the credits) is played by an actor that bears a resemblance to George C. Scott. You can almost see a familial resemblance when they’re facing each other.


That is a man with an eye towards eating!

Fezziwig is as he should be as is the entire party at the Fezziwig establishment. We get the usual Belle breaking up with Scrooge, where the young man playing Scrooge is out acted both by the young woman playing Belle and the snow on the ground. What I very much enjoy is that this leads to a conversation with the Spirit where Scrooge justifies his actions and points out that what he has done in life has brought him a great fortune. This segues wonderfully into the Spirit showing him what he’s lost after he explains what he has gained. Belle ends with only about 14 children instead of the normal 86 they give her. Scrooge then turns and kills the spirit, which is always a fairly chilling moment, which then turns into him strangling a rug.


You know, from that look, you’d never know he murdered the entire town of Sussex.

This Spirit of Christmas Present is the best in my view. He has just the right mixture of joviality and menace. He’s properly joyful over the day and correctly nasty to Scrooge when the moment calls for it. I think the actor must be wearing some kind of device, because when seen in the wide shots he towers over everyone, making him the giant he’s supposed to be in the book. This is one of the only times that the walk through the market really looks right. They don’t flinch from the unsanitary nature of the local markets of the day, showing us the butchers working outside with meat that’s only been refrigerated by the cold. The Cratchits don’t seem to be doing as badly as some versions, but they aren’t in the upper middle class bracket like some versions. We have the bit where Fred has offered to give Bob’s soon Peter a job which turns up once in a while.


Is Christmas Present gonna hafta smack a bitch?

I love that every time Scrooge make a comment about how things are going like that the goose is quite small, the Ghost is right there to growl “It’s all Bob Cratchit can afford!” which is awesome. I get the impression that the Ghost of the Present wants to just take Scrooge out to the Thames and drop him in it at some points, but is willing to try for the sake of the story. I’ve always felt that Christmas Present should be about three seconds from smacking Scrooge like a bitch, which I probably got from watching this as a child. We go from the Cratchit house to Fred’s house, where games are played and Scrooge is teased behind his back during the games. It’s interesting the mixture of people who know Scrooge and don’t in the stories. What I find most interesting is that during Christmas Present Scrooge is talked about by everyone he knows.


I’ve got a headache this big, and it’s got product placement written all over it.

The final scene involved a poor family that’s near starving, having to live in a sewer or something. The homeless problem was something of an issue when this was made, and if you look carefully you can see shades of issues from the 80s again. We then end Christmas Present with the showing of ignorance and want. The ghost becomes so disgusted with Scrooge that he seems to enjoy deliberately leaving him in the streets alone in the dark. Scrooge then talks to himself for a while, facing the fact that he’s been abandoned.


Say hello to my little friends!

We are then shown the ghost of the future, who is properly robed in black as he or she or it is supposed to. Each movement of the ghost is accompanied by some sort of screech from a string instrument of some kind, or possibly a rust hinge or something. The ghost doesn’t talk, but nods its head with this sound. It’s quite a creepy little sound. We see the men in the exchange again, discussing the man who died recently. Scrooge properly doesn’t understand that it’s his death that everyone in the future is discussing, even though the hand is tipped for those who are observant. I always find it interesting that Scrooge is able to tell the Spirit where to conduct him while the others made him follow along with them.


Suzy! Your date is here!

Old Joe is as wonderful as ever, but only has Mrs. Dilber to trade with. Interesting point, Liz Smith who played Mrs. Dilber in this production would reprise the role 15 years later in the Patrick Stewart version. Scrooge recognizes the objects as his this time, he also goes through denial stating that they look similar. We are then taken to the Cratchit house to be shown the effects of Tim’s death on the family. I note also that the ghost holds back from all the encounters, standing far back as Scrooge walks into the situations on his own. It’s an effective trick because it puts Scrooge that much more alone and isolated in the situations. We then finally get Scrooge asking about the dead man and the ghost showing him the tombstone. I really like Scrooge’s breakdown in this version, he really cries and begs.


Little known fact, Victorian England had helicopters with search lights.

Then we are treated to the end scene. Scrooge sends the boy to buy the prize turkey, is glad to have been given a second chance, tells everyone Merry Christmas, performs some charity, meets up with the charitable gentlemen, the turkey gets delivered, and Scrooge goes to his nephew’s house from dinner. Actually he goes to apologies and arrange to arrive for dinner as he doesn’t actually show up during dinner. Sadly, the clear attack of nerves that Scrooge is having at this time doesn’t come across in the screen caps. Scott’s performance requires moving pictures and sound because he’s such a complete actor that uses all his talents together.


Look kids! It’s a model shot!

I greatly enjoy the sense of menace that Scrooge manages when he growls out “Therefore I’m going to… double your salary!” only laughing after he’s tossed a small bag of coins towards Cratchit. We then get the narration from Fred, and the movie closes with Scrooge and Tim walking off into a city that looks like it’s got a big matte painting hanging over half of it. I think it must be a glass painting because this camera set up appears three times during this movie and it’s the exact same shot with the exact same angle and the exact same shading on the buildings each time. Not that it’s really important, I just notice matte paintings a lot.


I can has turkey?

This is a beautifully shot, well directed and well scored effort. This is only one of two Christmas Carol movies that I think has anything like remarkable music. The other one involves Muppets and much more music, but this one has very good music. There are recurring themes and good uses of sound design that work in harmony with the chose score. I would argue in many ways that the only thing that makes this second to the Alastair Sim version is that the Sim version has just that tiny bit more heart in it’s performance, just enough to put it over the top. As I said before, I can fully understand if someone puts this version on top of the Sim version, it’s all a matter of taste.


And they walk of together into the matter painting.

Official Score:
68 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

Bookmark and Share

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s