Saturday, December 24, 2011

Movie Rant: Why I love the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol

While doing some holiday movie research for an article and slideshow I was putting together for work awhile back I came to the realization that Charles Dickens' classic short story, A Christmas Carol has been adapted at least 50 times since the invention of moving pictures. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to find another story that has been adapted more often into film and television specials than that!

I know plenty of people who love a wide range of adaptations, most notably A Muppet Christmas Carol and Bill Murray's Scrooged. While both films are fun holiday flicks in their own right, I prefer my Scrooge straight up mean and nasty -- all the better to make his conversion at the end have more of a meaningful impact.

Which brings me to the 1951 Brian Desmond Hurst adaptation starring Alastair Sim in the title role. Arguably the finest version of how the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge re-discovered his Christmas spirit and restored his reputation, a lot of credit is due to the performance of Sim. The man was born to play Scrooge -- the craggy-faced Scottish native perfectly captures all of the characters' multitude of emotions, from hardened and world weary to childlike wonder. Regardless of how many times I've seen this film, his jubilant Christmas morning jig towards the end always makes me smile.

When I was about eight years old, my mom introduced this classic adaptation to my sister and I. It was in black and white. It made cracking and popping sounds because of a poor VHS transfer. It had long lines down the screen from where the original film was scratched. And, from that young age of eight, I still managed to become hooked, despite everything going against it. It soon became a Christmas Eve tradition -- the night before Christmas, we'd sit around the TV and watch Scrooge transform into a caring and compassionate human being who learned "how to keep Christmas well." 

Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge
I can't think of another version (and I've seen many) that so accurately captures the true holiday spirit of Dickens' story. It's dark, it's sad, it's charming and it's ultimately what Christmas is all about -- putting differences aside and spending time with loved ones.

There's something to be said for a story that has endured for so many generations -- it's clear that Dickens hit a nerve when he first published his novella. I even wrote about the phenomenon for last years holiday issue of History Magazine ("How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas"). Every great piece of fiction deserves a worthy film adaptation should people decide to translate it onto the silver screen and the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol is just that.

So, later on tonight, once my family and I have returned from our Christmas Eve dinner with one side of our extended family, we'll curl up on the couch and watch A Christmas Carol once again. Twenty years after watching it for the first time, it's still my favourite way to unwind on Christmas Eve before the hustle and bustle of the big day.

Merry Christmas!