Christmas Comes But Once a Year (And It's Tomorrow. Finally.)

on December 23, 2009 by Steve Simels


alastair sim scrooge.jpgOkay, we mentioned this last year at this time, but it behooves repeating: Although there have been seemingly innumerable films based on Charles Dickens' holiday evergreen A Christmas Carol, we are pleased to report that the best of them is still available on a truly spectacular restored double disc DVD.

We refer, of course, to the 1951 British-made version starring Alastair Sim, which has been spruced up to a fare-the-well (from the original film elements) by VCI Entertainment.

The Sim version, a/k/a Scrooge, is extremely well mounted, with black-and-white cinematography that looks like a Doré engraving in this new restoration. It also benefits, immensely, from a screenplay (by Wizard of Oz co-writer Noel Langley) that gets just the right balance between spooky and sentimental, and a rather amazing supporting cast, including Avengers star Patrick MacNee as the young Jacob Marley, Hammer rep comparny vets Miles Malleson and Francis De Wolff, and the spectacularly epicene Ernest Thesiger (the other mad doctor in Bride of Frankenstein). But the real reason this is the definitive Carol is Sim himself; his Scooge is probably the most tightly wound portrayal ever, and as a result his post-Ghosts conversion is quite screamingly funny -- you've never seen anybody take such eccentric delight in feeling good about himself. VCI's package has the original B&W film, restored, in both full screen and 16X9 enhanced versions; disc two has a more than serviceable colorized version, plus a good looking print of the lesser known but historically interesting 1935 adaptation starring Seymour Hicks. There's also lots of bonus features, including interviews with one of the films exec producers and the original trailer; Patrick MacNee himself provides a video intro to the colorized version. In short, this is one to get on every level -- you can, and should, order it here.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn't also give a tip of the Simels chapeau to my second favorite version of A Christmas Carol, which I'd frankly forgotten about until stumbling across it on the web recently. I refer, of course, the 1956 Alcoa Hour production The Stingiest Man in Town. A musical version, natch, broadcast on live TV as was the custom in those days, and starring the redoubtable Basil Rathbone as a singing (in the Rex Harrison sense of the word) Scrooge.


basil rathbone stingiest II.jpg


TSMIT is actually better known from the Rankin/Bass animated remake from 1978, with Walter Matthau voicing a not completely believable Brit version of the title character...


stingiest toon.jpg


..but IMHO the original is still the greatest. Have a listen to Rathbone and perhaps his signature number from the show -- "Humbug!"


stingest man in town, the (LP) - A.JPG


A pretty cute song, I think, and the whole score is surprisingly strong. Equally surprising, the soundtrack -- I actually owned a copy of the above LP as a kid (hey, I was a geek) -- is out on CD and can be ordered here.

No video document of the Alcoa Hour broadcast seems to be available anywhere that I can find, but the Rankin/Bass cartoon can be had on a two-disc set from Warner Home Video (along with some other animated holiday faves including the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas). You can also watch pretty much the whole thing on YouTube if you click on the link here.

Have a Happy, everybody!


Tags: Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Alastair Sim, Scrooge, Patrick MacNee, Miles Malleson, Francis De Wolff, Bride of Frankenstein, Basil Rathbone

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