Scrooge 5: Scrooge 1951 (Alistair Sim)

1951posterBefore beginning this project I asked around social media and my friends what their favorite version of Christmas Carol is.  Some mentioned Muppets, Scrooged or other alternative versions but as far as traditional tellings Alistair Sim’s 1951 version came up the most.  It is without a doubt the most critically lauded and with good cause.  I would certainly rank it in my top 5.

Trailer:

Cast:

Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge
Kathleen Harrison as Mrs. Dilber
Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit
Hermione Baddeley as Mrs. Cratchit
Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley/Marley’s Ghost
George Cole as Young Ebenezer Scrooge
John Charlesworth as Peter Cratchit
Michael Dolan as The Ghost of Christmas Past
Francis de Wolff as The Ghost of Christmas Present
C. Konarski as Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
Rona Anderson as Alice (Belle)
Carol Marsh as Fan
Brian Worth as Fred
Miles Malleson as Old Joe
Ernest Thesiger as the Undertaker
Glyn Dearman as Tiny Tim
Roddy Hughes as Fezziwig
Hattie Jacques as Mrs. Fezziwig
Louise Hampton as Laundress
Peter Bull as First Businessman, Narrator
Eliot Makeham as Mr. Snedrig
Hugh Dempster as Mr. Groper
Richard Pearson as Mr. Tupper
Jack Warner as Mr. Jorkin

Before beginning the review I wanted to speak out against the colorized version I saw at my local library.  Those colorized versions of classic black and white films are an absolute atrocity.  It looks terrible, like a pastel crayon was put to the film and ruin the gorgeous lighting and shadows we only get with black and white.  I’d rather you not watch the movie at all than watch a colorized version.

Moving on.

alistair

Scrooge- As I said Alistair Sim is Scrooge in this version.  He was a comedic British actor and evidently at the time Dickens films were all the rage.  Leonard Maltin does a fascinating introduction to the version I watched where he said David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Old Curiosity Shop and more had all been done and are considered masterpieces.  I will definitely be looking up those films because the shots looked gorgeous.

A comedic, yet still serious, actor like Sim is perfect for Scrooge because it creates a subtle performance that is hard to get when it is just anger, no wit behind the barbs and attacks. He is excellent at resisting yet being moved by the visits all the way till Future.  He feels he is too old to change and should just be done away with rather than try. That felt like a very human response.

Differences-

Now we have to remember that the original text is a novella and so when taken to the big screen it is going to need some fleshing out in certain sections.  Each version adds to it in different ways and so far I haven’t seen a version that felt outrageous or so off keeping with the story that it angered me.

VARIOUS-CHRISTMAS-FILM-ST-007

In this version we spend a lot of time with Past played by Michael Dolan.  We see Fan who is older than Scrooge in this version.  Scrooge’s Mother died in childbirth, which is why his father hates the sight of him.  There is a moment when Scrooge realizes he has done this same thing to Fan’s son and it is devastating.  We see Fan rescue Scrooge and then on her deathbed Scrooge storms out before he can hear her pleading with him to watch over her boy.  Again, another devastating moment very well portrayed by Sim.

We also get the Fezziwig’s and the girlfriend this time named Alice.  Some do not care for a man named Mr Jorkin played by Jack Warner.  He woes Scrooge away from Fezziwig and then embezzles money from the company, only to have Scrooge and Marley rescue the business and claim 51% of ownership as a result making ‘Scrooge and Marley.

The reason I do not have a problem with this is because the book does not tell you how Scrooge went from Fezziwig to losing Belle and being consumed with money.  We just know a new love has captured his heart and that he ‘fears the world too much’.  Something had to happen to have made him fearful.

He was a businessman so it is natural to assume he did business with all kinds of unsavory characters, especially the further down the line he got.  In fact, he compromises his judgement working with Jorkin once and as is often the case once leads to another, to another.  He alone is still responsible for becoming the man he becomes.  There are after all other men including Fezziwig who chose to not take the Jorkin bait.

So no that doesn’t bother me.  In fact, I found it an interesting take on the story. Like I said something has to have happened to have made him grow cold to the world.

The rest of the tale is pretty standard.  They do make a bigger deal of Mrs Dilber who is his charmwoman (servant).  She is one of the women who sells his things in the pawn shop scene and was played by a well known actress Kathleen Harrison who is very funny in the crazy scrooge segments (and so is Sim).

1951scrooge and cratchit

Strengths- All the acting is wonderful . Sim is great.  I love Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit, and Michael Hordem is my favorite Marley.  The scene of Marley’s ghost is so well done.  The music by Richard Addinsell is perfectly paced to build momentum towards our reveal.  The special effects of the era still look good and I love the way Marley looks tired and worn down.  It’s like every word is an effort.

marley1951

This version also remembers the Christian element to the novella.  To Dickens, Scrooge just hasn’t ignored a pleasant holiday but he has ignored Jesus Christ and His gift.  At least to me, the book is so clear that Tiny Tim remembers who died on the cross and his foil Scrooge does not.

alistair and present

Present tells Scrooge “‘the child born in bethlehem. He does not live in men’s heart one  day a year but in all the days . You have chosen not to seek him in your heart; therefore, you shall come with me and seek him in the hearts of men of goodwill”.  That’s a message so often forgotten in most versions.

Because of the religious themes there is a real sense of repentance not just remorse at the end. As a Christian I find the ending very moving and definitely puts this version at the top of my watch list every season.

Like look at this shot where we see just Future's hand and then the look of horror on Scrooge's face.  It is stunning.
Like look at this shot where we see just Future’s hand and then the look of horror on Scrooge’s face. It is stunning.

The cinematography is uniformly strong with gorgeous shadows ,lighting and atmosphere.  They never go for the easy angle or uninteresting shot.  It reminds me of watching a Hitchcock film, that rich in cinematography and direction.   The acting is great all around and like I said the music is one of the best with carols coming at just the right moments (to emphasize the religious themes of repentance and atonement of Christ using carols).

Weaknesses- There aren’t that many.  But if I had to nitpick the past section maybe goes on a bit too long but it’s only an 86 minute movie so not really.  The Cratchit’s are great.  Tiny Tim is great.  The scene with Alice as an adult at the poorhouse is very moving.

I guess it is not the most kid friendly version with a lot of dialogue and definite scares but I don’t see that as a weakness because there are so many that are kid friendly (as my recent entries have shown!)

All in all a definite holiday classic that is a favorite of most film lovers and casual holiday moviewatchers alike and for good reason.

16 thoughts on “Scrooge 5: Scrooge 1951 (Alistair Sim)

  1. I respect this movie, and I think that this is one of the best Scrooge performances…but count me in as not liking the addition of Jorkins.
    The reason I have a problem with it is that the movie kind of creates a “villain”, someone who lead Scrooge to the wrong path…and I don’t think that it is needed. Scrooge became obsessed with money because he had his priorities wrong, because after a childhood of emotional loneliness, he started to put money over everything else, to a point that he lost everything else. And that was his decision. Other than the cold father, there were people in his life who showed him kindness…even up to old age there is still his nephew reaching out for him, there is still Cratchit drinking on him every year.

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      1. I thought it was a moving scene. it was a different day and age after all and waiting all that time for Scrooge she may have missed her opportunity to get married and back then things were rough for poor old maids.

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      2. Maybe, but I like the idea that Belle found happiness, a happiness Scrooge could have shared if he hadn’t left her, way better. It says “Belle was smart that she escaped what would have been a unhappy marriage in time because she was strong enough to do”, which I think is an important message.

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      3. Maybe but isn’t she also crying because she is helping the sick men at the shelter? I thought this was her job but it was so brief I could be wrong. To me both endings have validity and I liked the performance of Sim when he see’s her. It’s a very short scene so I liked it but not a big factor for me either way

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    1. I can see that perspective. For me it made sense that as a businessman he would have interacted and been influenced by people like Jorkin. Even modern businessman are asked to compromise their standards and you give in once and it is all the easier to go down that path. To me it didn’t create a new villain but a plausible explanation of why he became so bitter. He is lonely but a lot of lonely people aren’t cold and ruthless. To me something had to have happened that made him the businessman he turned out to be. He could have been a Silas Marner type just quiet and aloof but he chose to focus on his career and avoiding poverty at all cost. Like I said he would have likely done buisness with people like Jorkin so it was more an example of how you descend bit by bit to hell.
      But that’s just my take. Thanks for sharing yours!

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