Movie Review: Scrooge (1951)

Posted: December 24, 2009 in Holiday, Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Scrooge (1951 Dir. Brian Desmond Hurst)


The laxatives just started working, huh?

This is the Alastair Sim version. You know, I could almost just end the review right there and walk away from the computer. However, if I did that this would be a very short review. If you’ve never seen the movie, you won’t know why I say I can just walk away saying only the actor playing Scrooge in it. You might think it was lousy and that would be a darn shame. Because this is possibly the single best version of the story ever done, which is funny for some reasons I’ll go into in a minute. Most people who are fans of the story put this version as either their number one or number two favorite versions.


Does Marley hafta smack a bitch?

This if often sighted as the most accurate version of the book out there, even though it isn’t. There are several additions to the story, particularly in the Christmas Past section that don’t appear in the book, but they feel so true to Dickens’s work that we forgive them. I have had conversations with people who would swear that all that stuff is in there, but it’s not. It’s one of the few places where an addition in a movie actually feels welcome. When we meet Scrooge we see one of the first additions. He has a brief scene in the London Exchange where he explains that Christmas is a humbug to a couple of acquaintances. Side note: Does he mean the hard mint candies or that it’s a fraud? Then we see him on the steps cruelly telling a man he won’t give him an extension on his loan and to take his wife to the poor house. Right there we see exactly what kind of business Scrooge is in and what it entails, he’s a moneylender. It’s never really said in the book that I remember, but here it spoken exactly. A few other versions went with this explanation, but others came up with alternate businesses for him.


See? I totally wrecked my car over there.

The two charitable gentlemen are the first ones we see in Scrooge’s office, and then followed by Fred. Scrooge comes off as less cruel and nasty than most versions. I always thought this was the most important thing about the character, that he be depicted as someone who thinks he’s doing things right. He believes that the world needs a hard man making hard choices. In this version, instead of being wantonly cruel or anything, he is merely disinterested in all this Christmas folderol and more interested in conducting his business. He’s not a bad guy, just misguided or perhaps too wrapped up in himself too see the world around him. He’s the man who cut himself off from society, because he judged his fellow man to be an idiot, and that constricted his monkey sphere to the point where he could no longer empathize. Then he’s shown that the world he cut himself off from has value, and meaning, and that in fact HE was the idiot for cutting himself off from it. I think this helps greatly in making him more believable later. This makes his transformation more realistic to me, he doesn’t completely change personalities. He just acts like someone whose eyes have been opened.


So… do you like gladiator movies?

On a side note, this is one of the very few Fred’s that I don’t want to hit with a shovel and bury behind the coal shed. I regularly find Fred an irritating twit who just sort of skips stupidly through life without understanding anything. I know that Fred is supposed to be the eye rolling, good natured younger relative, cheerfully dealing with his elder’s casual bigotry, but it always makes him seem a bit of an empty suit. I think perhaps its Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge that helps. When Scrooge isn’t evil, just blinded by greed and the stupidity of those around him, the idea that Fred sees the good in him is more realistic. Bob in this one is not my favorite, but he’s likeable enough, I think he’s a little weaker than some of the other Bobs. I’ve never really loved Bob Cratchit though, even though he’s probably the Cratchit I like best. Hard to explain that one, but I love this version so much that I might be blinded by it.


You ever just find you’ve run out of snarky things to say?

We get all regular points for our check list though. The ‘whole day’ conversation is had when Scrooge leaves for the day. I do love the way that Scrooge dismisses Bob in this version though. He tells Bob that he can have the whole day but to be back all the earlier the next morning, Bob responds that it’s very generous of him and scrooge replies “Yes I know it is. You don’t have to tell me.” I love that line. It sort of exemplifies what I was saying earlier. Think Scrooge is probably a genius, and like many geniuses he’s easily annoyed by those who don’t seem to think as much as he does. He’s not a bad guy per say, but a distracted one who gets annoyed by the idiocy around him. We also get a bit from the book’s description of Scrooge happening right after that where a blind man’s dog pulls him from Scrooge’s path because even the dogs know him.


Wow, Scrooge has a hottie for a sister. A… dead sister.

Marley is what you want him to be, or at least what I want him to be. He shows up on the doorknocker, he rings all the bells, and he rattles his chains as he comes to the door. He’s transparent, sorrowful for himself and hopeful for the chance he’s giving his only friend. Jacob Marley is, after Scrooge, my favorite character in this tale. So I notice a lot of small details about him. Marley merely tugs the cloth from his head, instead up untying it like some versions. We get one of the only times that Scrooge picks up the toothpick ad challenges the ghost to see it and notes he doesn’t look at it. This Marley is the best out of all of them in my feeling. His sorrow is constant, his agony and despair at how lost he is comes across perfectly. This is a Marley who has seen things you wouldn’t believe and has to now continue with the constant knowledge that nothing can be changed for him, not ever. He is doomed, completely and totally doomed, and he knows it.


Get down with your bad self Scrooge!

We also get one of the bits that I’ve always found chilling. When Marley leaves, he draws Scrooge’s attention to the other spirits of rich and greedy men like himself. I always like to fact that we get to see that Marley is in no way an isolated case. Dozens of ghosts stand around throwing ghostly coins at a mother and baby on the street outside of Scrooge’s window but they have lost the power to help forever. Surely a sign that we should all do good while we can. It manages to be sad, but not quite as poignant as it is in the Patrick Stewart version, which had significant help from advanced graphic technology.


When you asked if I wanted to enter a business relationship, I had no idea you meant that!

Christmas Past is right out of the book. He’s an old man dressed in a white robe with flowers about his neck and waist. The only part missing is the large candle snuffer. Christmas Past is transparent in this version, which means the actors probably didn’t perform together. What you probably had was Sim on set, doing his lines while the actor shouted just off camera and then the actor shot against black and double exposed in. Still, they don’t behave as if they can’t see each other, both actors do a wonderful job of making us believe they’re really face to face. Scrooge looks less frightened and more bewildered and a little worried in this version. Again, he’s different than most any other version of the story.


One of the saddest bits of the movie. I mean, the hottie dies.

It’s here that we start having the additions. Christmas Past is expanded greatly in this version. Scrooge’s mother being dead when he was a child is brought up for the first time in this version as is the idea that Fan is the only person Scrooge ever felt truly loved him. His later coldness might be understood by this paranoia. It’s also the first time we ever learn that Fan died in childbirth, and that Scrooge’s mother died giving him life. This is not to the book as Scrooge was the older sibling there. This adds and extra layer of hypocrisy of Scrooge’s coldness to Fred, since he’s cutting him off for the same reason his father cut him off. It’s completely a creation of the filmmakers and yet it feels so true to this tale that people swear it’s in the book. I’ve got a copy right next to me though and it’s not there, not a word or a suggestion of it.


Dude. Pimping? Not easy. Nor is inserting this stupid joke over and over again.

One of the things I genuinely love is how the part of Fezziwig is expanded. After the party, we see how Scrooge leaves Fezziwig’s employee to work for another businessman. He falls in love with a girl named Alice instead of Belle here, but names aren’t that big a deal. We also get to see one of the things that will change Scrooge forever in this version. Fan’s death is shown to have happened on Christmas, which could be another thing that turned him against both the holiday and his nephew. In a tragic turn it’s seen that Fan begs Scrooge to take care of Fred, but she only manages to get it out after he’s left the room. Old Scrooge hears it for the first time when on this trip down memory lane. We are shown the first time that Scrooge breaks down weeping here as well and with everything else, it is completely believable.


Sometimes, you’ve just got to be a smug S.O.B.

Then Scrooge goes and works at the new business. It’s at that new office that we get to see him meet his long time partner Marley (played by John Steed himself Patrick Macnee) and then how he ends up buying old Fezziwig’s business. I feel Alice dumps Scrooge more for his paranoia and fear of the world more than his greed in this version. Scrooge also dismisses Alice and is the one to leave her in this version instead of her walking away from him. I think this may be the only time he doesn’t watch her walk away and convey a moment of wanting to chase after her. It all increases the feeling of coldness about the character.


We had no idea you were into that!

We get to see even more of Scrooge and Marley doing business, and see Alastair Sim playing Scrooge in the past as a middle aged man for the only time I can remember in any version. It seems that Scrooge and Marley got control of the company they worked for by buying the company out of a hole they were in. It seems that this company was run by the Bernie Madoff of his day and they bailed the company out. The company then goes on to take the money in the form of bonuses and evicts hundreds of people from their homes while telling everyone that it’s Carter and Clinton’s faults that the economy is collapsing. We then finally get to see the event of seven Christmas Eves ago when Marley passed away. Yeah, it’s because the insurance company cancelled Marley’s Policy the second he got sick. I’ll stop now. In this scene we see that that Scrooge has some sympathy for Marley, or at least that wishes Marley to go without too much worry. While Marley is lying on his deathbed, realizing that they’ve acted badly at the last moment, he tries to warn Scrooge to save himself. In this scene we also see Scrooge’s washerwoman and the undertaker that make an appearance during Christmas Future.


Some day I’m going to get a robe like that. It’s just… perfect!

So much time is spent in the past that a full half the run time is spent before we ever see the ghost of the present. Instead of causing trouble for the story though, it expands the characters greatly and makes this a far more real movie. There is a real rise and decent in the narrative. The character arcs are far more complete in this version than any other I know of. Alice’s normal fate of being the mother of 27 children is deleted here, but we will see her again. I’ll mention it when we get to her.


LOOK! Another cutie to help save the movie’s hotness factor!

The Ghost of Christmas Present is all he should be. A huge man with a great fest surrounding him and his voice is looped through an echo machine. The first place we see with Present is the miners, then we follow Bob Cratchit from the road and into his section of the story. All the normal things from almost all versions are here, from Martha hiding to Present telling Scrooge that Tim will die and throwing the surplus population line at him. The Ghost of the Present is more kindly about that here than in some versions and I must admit I like him. I like it when Present snaps the line at him and looks like he’s contemplating just smashing Scrooge’s head open with the fire irons and leaving it at that. However, somehow when the lines are delivered flat, without judgment to this Scrooge, we sort of feel that the Ghost doesn’t need to judge. Scrooge condemns himself by this point. We get the Bob announcing that Peter’s got a job, which is another rarity, and the toast to Scrooge and Mrs. Cratchit giving the unseen Scrooge both barrels.


A man can only take smugness so far.

We are then transported to Fred’s house and they have the conversation about how Fred feels sorry for Scrooge. As much as I don’t hate Fred in this version, it strangely extends to his friends because I don’t want to napalm them either. Perhaps it’s because the scene is so short. I never got into this scene because this was where my accusation of Dicken’s being an upper middle class liberal jerk comes from. He is, in no uncertain terms, dictating to each group how they should celebrate Christmas, because he knows better than you do. The poor should spend time with family, eating humble food and being grateful for having nothing, the upper class should spend time with friends and play games and drink, and the rich should support everyone below them and stop using street urchins as fire lighters. There is all the worst of the liberal “I know better than you and will tell you how to do it” thing that everyone hates. He all but suggested the wine you should be drinking based on your social standing. There is a balance between explaining someone is being a complete cockbite and dictating how everyone should live, and Dicken’s dropped the ball on Christmas Present. ANYWAY! We are almost immediately taken to some kind of shelter for the poor and sick, and there we see what has become of Alice. She’s playing nurse to the poor people. It is then that we get to see the scene with Ignorance and Want.


OMG! Don’t you ever wash?

The Christmas Present does the great job of throwing Scrooge’s words back at him when he tries to reach out for the kids. While the words “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” Echo in Scrooge’s ear he runs away from the spirit and nearly bangs right into the Ghost of the Future, represented for the only time really properly in my view. Future isn’t 9 feet tall here, but rather human sized and dressed all in black. There is a tendency to make the hand of The Ghost of The Future skeletal and to show the skull face. I don’t like that, it hammers away at an idea that doesn’t need hammered. I think Future should be shown as it is here, a black draped mummer whose only signs are the pointing of a naked hand.


Chamber of Commerce this ain’t.

We are first given the post Tim Cratchit family and Bob’s description of the place where Tim is to be buried before breaking down crying. Future is done quickly, as Present was, because the movie it running out of time. We are treated to the full version of Old Joe’s with the same housekeeper and undertaker as before with the addition of the laundress as well. We then see the two fellows that we saw at the very beginning in the exchange. Sadly, we don’t get the whole ‘who were they talking about’ bit that the book demands, but as it’s never much of a surprise I guess we can let them off the hook. Sim doesn’t completely break down, and instead of wishing that he not be the one they were talking about begs to be told he’s not already dead and that he can still change things. He begs forgiveness and a chance to set things right.


I’ve uh, never done this before.

The last few minutes of the movie provide us with the greatest Scrooge transformation of them all. We get to see him scare the living daylights out of the housekeeper by dancing, singing and standing on his head. She runs out of the room, screaming and throwing her apron over her face. It’s amazingly funny watching her loose it like this. He then raises her pay and gives her some money for a present. He then gets the boy to buy the prize turkey like always. We get a short scene where we see Bob & Family receiving the turkey followed by another short scene where Scrooge comes to Fred’s house to beg forgiveness. The nervousness displayed here is made all the more priceless by Fred’s maid giving Scrooge an encouraging nod before he goes through the door to greet his nephew. I love the scene in this version, which I normally hate. Something about the fear of the transformed Scrooge here before he’s accepted always rings true.


Comedy gold!

There is a slight problem with Scrooge teasing Bob though in the almost last scene, or maybe there isn’t. Scrooge seems to be on the verge of grinning and laughing the whole time and then he starts laughing after telling Bob that he’s going to raise his salary. In someway it seems like Bob shouldn’t be as worried as he is, but then again I suppose he really should be. The movie then ends with the same narration that almost every version ends with. I don’t think its Scrooge’s nephew, as it often is, in fact it sounds like Alastair Sim doing the voice over but I can’t be sure.


In here? Not late am I?

Yeah, it’s cool, the orgy doesn’t start for half an hour.

My version of the DVD is an old one. There is a new version out this year, but it’s not out at the time I’m writing this. My version has an interesting added attraction. In 1989, Patrick Macnee did some bumpers* for the movie to be shown on WGN Chicago. The introduction and closing is presented on this version as part of the program. There is a copy of the Rudolph cartoon, and a descriptive audio track for the blind which is interesting. All in all, I fully suggest you buy this movie. It’s my favorite version out of all of them, with tomorrow’s entry coming in as my second favorite.
*It only just occurred to me you might not know this term. Bumpers are the bits before and after a commercial, but aren’t actually part of the program. Any host bits for a movie shown on TV are bumpers.


This man has just discovered “Happy Go Time” vibrating butt plugs.

Addendum: I don’t want to re-write that last paragraph, but I am going to correct it slightly. I have since bought the new DVD of this movie which you can find here. This is a stacked pair of discs. There is a newly restored version of the movie (I haven’t viewed the movie yet or done any comparisons so I can’t say how it looks) an new 16×9 version of the film (don’t bother, it’s the 4×3 version only cropped to look 16×9 and it’s not great) a colorized version with Macnee’s introduction (that’s actually kind of cool, I don’t agree colorization is the great Satan) and a copy of the 1935 version of the movie (which they must have just had lying around or discovered it was public domain or something) and all the features from the old disc remain apart from the cartoon. There are also some new featurettes and a commentary track.

Official Score:
87 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.
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Comments
  1. mrtaurus says:

    I’m a clinical psychologist in England – my last post I put Scrooge on the couch even then Jungian archetypes appeared, mainly from his Ghosts (Therapists of Christmas Present, Past Future!) http://mrtaurus.wordpress.com/

    The id ego and superego are more triads of personality, and the self and archetypes, patterns within these. The Sleep paralysis probably inspired these visions!

    I’m writing a book on it – it’s facinating!

    Really interesting read. You should read An Interpretation Of Murder (It’s based on Freuds visit to america and has Jung as a charachter too!)

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