Ok, so I could just do a standard review of each version of "A Christmas Carol" that I find worthy of mention.

Sure, I could...

But why?

C'mon, face it - if you've waded this far into this website, you're interested enough in the holiday and all that surrounds it to already know the story.

Scrooge, Cratchit, Marley, Ghosts, Tiny Tim, "Bah! Humbug!", "God Bless Us Every One", yadda yadda yadda...

Face it, it doesn't significantly change from one version to the next.  Granted, some characters are omitted, emphasis on others vary from one telling to the next.  Some other cosmetic changes are added to brand a project as the producer's own (and very likely to insure that their version is uniquely copyrightable...).

Still, they're all pretty much the same story.

So, why don't we take a look at four versions here and see how they stack up against each other.  (Be warned, this page is going to be LONG, and it may take some time to fully load...)

Then at the end, I'll share with you which characters from each make up my "Dream Cast", as it were.  (Be warned again, I'm going to shock you with at least one pick...)

As they say, if you're going to go, go big.  So let's start with arguably the definitive 1951 version starring Alastair Sim...


Fred Johnston, Noel Howlett, Alastair Sim and Mervyn Johns
Ah, what a perfect Son Of A, er, Grinch, Sim gave us.  This Scrooge is so bereft of actual human feeling, he doesn't even realize he all but died emotionally soon after taking over Fezziwig's business.  If it weren't for money, he'd have absolutely nothing to care about.

 
What is really outstanding about this film is that it actually improves on Dickens' original story, in that it posits that the true root of Scrooge's emptiness is based in the loss of his beloved sister, Fan, and the parallel of that death to the passing of Scrooge's mother. Carol Marsh as Fan, George Cole as Young Scrooge
George Cole, with Rona Anderson as Alice
Scrooge certainly began to love money more than a human should before Fan died.  Indeed, the loss of his betrothed, which other tellings point to as the beginning of his descent into miserdom, occurred well before Fan passed.

 
Fan's deathbed
No, here it is Fan's death that ties it all together.  Fan is noticably older here than in other tellings.  Perhaps only a year or two older than Ebeneezer, but still a sort of mother figure to young Scrooge.  This becomes significant when we are told, almost in passing, that Scrooge's mother died giving birth to him.

Scrooge's father, we are told, blamed Scrooge for his wife's death and turned against him.  The only loving relationship the boy ever had, so we may believe, was with his sister.  Thus, when she died, Scrooge's better feelings died with her.  Much as his father blamed him, Scrooge then held his infant nephew Fred accountable for Fan's death; effectively cutting himself off from literally the last person on Earth with whom he might otherwise have shared a familial relationship.

Very rare indeed, for a film to improve on a classic novel.


 

Gene Lockhart and Reginald Owen
Up next, the 1938 MGM version starring Reginald Owen.  This is quite possibly the only telling where Scrooge wasn't front and center of the action.  Instead, this film begins with a chance meeting between Scrooge's nephew, Fred, and Tiny Tim.  Indeed, Scrooge doesn't appear until after we've met Fred, Tim, Peter Cratchit and Bob Cratchit.

Truthfully, it's just as well that Scrooge is basically just a part of an ensemble cast here.  Owen plays him just a bit too much over the top, even to the point of camp.


 
Reginald Owen and Ann Rutherford
Mind you, this interpretation does fit in with the tone of the production, as it has more of a stage feel than that of a motion picture.  Still, this Scrooge is more a crank than a dark, tortured soul.  This is best demonstrated in how fast he turns toward Christmas after all those years railing against it - he folds after visits by only two Spirits of Christmas.

 
The surrounding cast more than makes up for Scrooge's excessive portrayal, making this a pretty darn good flick despite itself.  Gene Lockhart is a suitably put-upon Bob Cratchit, exceedingly earnest, but not the type you'd think would be able to break out of his dead-end job.

The Cratchit family seems like a real family, and in no small way, they truly are. 

Lockhart's real-life wife, Kathleen, plays Mrs. Cratchit. 

And making her screen debut as a Cratchit daughter, their real-life daughter, June Lockhart, now revered as one of television's classic moms ("Lassie", "Lost in Space", among others).

The Cratchit Family - with a few Lockharts thrown in...
Unfortunately, as Scrooge misses the mark, Tiny Tim (Terry Kilburn) is too much a stereotypical Central Casting kid to elicit much sympathy.

Making up for this short-coming is Barry MacKay's Fred, who is such a bundle of joy and goodwill that one can't help but wish him well...even though he obviously hit the jackpot in landing such a babe-a-licious fiancee as Bess (Lynne Carver).

Next up, from 1962, "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol".

Yes, it's a cartoon.  Yes, the running time is under an hour.  Yes, the animation is severely limited.  (I believe the scant style was termed "animated radio".)

So what.  It worked.  And it worked pretty damned well.


Here's the premise: Magoo is a Broadway actor playing the part of Scrooge.  This works beautifully in two ways:  We get to see classic Magoo antics in the prologue and epilogue, while the tale itself is played as straight as the form allows.
Magoo and castmates
It strikes me that Magoo is a perfect choice to play Scrooge, in that both characters are myopic in their own way.  Quincy Magoo, of course, literally can't see past the end of his nose.  Ebeneezer Scrooge can't see past the pages of his ledger.  Quite appropriate indeed...

As I've said, the animation is extremely limited, yet it complements the story well as presented by the vocal cast.    And a fine cast it is; led, of course, by Magoo himself, Jim Backus.

Coins when they jingle...

As I've said, the animation is extremely limited, yet it complements the story well as presented by the vocal cast.    And a fine cast it is; led, of course, by Magoo himself, Jim Backus.

I wonder, as beloved as this show is, if Backus really gets enough credit for his performance here.  Consider the tightrope he was forced to dance on as the lead; he had to - and did - portray a convincing Scrooge while remaining in the confines of the Magoo persona.  Seems to me that playing Scrooge is enough of a challenge without playing a completely different character playing Scrooge.  (If that last sentence made your head spin half as much as mine did typing it, then you have some idea of what Backus may have been up against in this role.)

If that might be challenging in a simple spoken-word production, consider also that this was a musical.  Thus, Backus had to portray Magoo playing and singing Scrooge.  Mind you, these songs weren't thrown together by some advertising jingle hack trying to make his mark as a full-fledged composer.  No, the composers were Jule Styne and Bob Merrill - two men described on the DVD box as "Broadway legends".  No puffery in that phrase whatsoever.  Their biggest collaboration together was a little thing called "Funny Girl"...separately, they had too many hits to list here.


The animated Cratchit Family
Dividing the loot...
There were a few other heavy hitters in this production.  Start with Broadway veteran Jack Cassidy as Bob Cratchit, the distinctive voices of talents such as Morey Amsterdam and Les Tremayne, and anchoring the whole shebang, animation legends Paul Frees and June Foray.

As I said earlier, it's under an hour in running time, but I honestly don't consider it an abbreviated presentation.  "Distilled" would seem more accurate a description; distilled down to the pure essence of Dickens' story.

And then we come to Patrick Stewart's turn, as presented originally on TNT in December 1999.

Oy, vey...this should've been such a terrific movie.  Instead, it was terrifically, horribly, illogically overproduced, over the top and overdone.

Where to start...???

Suppose we could start on a high note.  Performance-wise, anyway.


A sparse holiday feast
Here we have a truly Dickensian Cratchit family.  Unlike other versions, where only lip service is paid to how poor the Cratchits are, these Cratchits would need a raise to get to dirt-poor.
If Richard E. Grant's Bob Cratchit has even a spark of hope left in his body, it's no thanks to Scrooge.  Indeed, it's as if Bob were a hound dog nearing his last days, but still loyal to a cruel master, just out of need for the scant security of the few scraps the master might scatter in front of him.

A sad man, this Bob Cratchit.  Still a reasonably young man, but aging before his time...

Bob at home
The anchor of the Cratchit family
The only saving grace in Bob's life is his family.  Mrs. Cratchit, played by Saskia Reeves, still has a bit of spunk left in her - but then again, she doesn't stare into the belly of the Scrooge-beast daily...

Scrooge.  Suppose there's no getting around discussing him here.  Oh well...

I had such high expectations before I saw this movie.  After all, Patrick Stewart was and is a marvelous actor.  Shakespearean training and all that.  Performed a one-man show of "A Christmas Carol" on Broadway for years.

To be truthful, much of Stewart's performance was good.  Much of what was bad was poor writing; mixing contemporary phrasing with the original dialogue.  Not a good mix.


Laugh and the world laughs with you...?
That said, a couple of acting choices do stand out...like a sore thumb.  For example, after Scrooge invites Marley's Ghost to sit down, Stewart seems to fall back into Jean-Luc Picard interrogating his 500th new life form.  Hardly the fear and awe Scrooge should be feeling at this particular moment.

Even worse was Scrooge's first laugh in years, following his final visitation.  So forced, it sounded more like the onset of tuberculosis than a heartfelt expression of the joy of living.

I could go on, but why?  Especially when there's "special" effects that need to be trashed...


Please, please, please...somebody please tell me where in the novel Scrooge travels by TORNADO???  Talk about over-produced...and for no good purpose whatsoever...
Not the most special of effects...

 
What's up with this? While we're at it, somebody explain this Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come design, please.  I certainly can't...

Now, I'll grant you, perhaps the obviously dark-robed, anonymous humanoid GOCYTC (aren't acronyms fun?) is a cliche after so many years.  The only significant deviation from that form was in the comedy "Scrooged".  Which did seem to inspire this version - except they completely disregarded the concept of proportion.

Here, we have a huge body - probably eleven or twelve feet high, double the size of a normal human.  Glowing eyes - ok, that's a little cliche in itself, but we can let that slide.  The important thing is, the eyes are located right where we'd expect them to be on a creature that tall, when interpolating human proportions.  (Which, given the human features of the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, seems a reasonable standard to apply to the Spirits.)

But what creature has its shoulders fully halfway down it's body?  Wait, I know; The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is a freakin' giraffe!!!  So where's the plug by Toys 'R' Us???

Ridiculous.  Too ridiculous in too many ways to make this a "must-see" in my book.

What a shame...

In conclusion, I now present my "Dream Cast".  The actors in these presentations who absolutely nailed their respective roles, elevating them above all others.  Thus far...


As Scrooge:  Who else but Alastair Sim? 

(With Honorable Mention to George Cole as  Young Scrooge)

As Fred:  Barry MacKay Barry MacKay
As Mr. and Mrs. Bob Cratchit:  Richard E. Grant and Saskia Reeves Richard E. Grant and Saskia Reeves
Finally, as Tiny Tim:  Gerald McBoingBoing
(Hey, I told you upfront one of these would shock you...)
Gerald McBoingBoing

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