A Christmas Carol
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Christmas elicits nothing more than "Bah, humbug!" from Ebenezer Scrooge (Scott), a miser whose sole pursuit of financial success has left him a bitter and lonely old man. But a Christmas Eve visit from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future ultimately teaches him to open his heart to the spirit of Christmas and to the joys of friends and family.
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This timeless tale works extremely well on its own, but the unsurpassed acting skills of Scott make it almost more than real. The change wrought in him during the course of the night, as he changes from a man of crass materialism and unkindness to a repentant soul pleading for a chance to change his ways, is powerfully presented and really touches the viewer emotionally. The simple happiness revealed in the lives of Bob Cratchit and others are as heart-warming as the forgotten mistakes and pains of a younger Scrooge are agonizing. If there is any heart out there that is not touched by the goodness and courage of Tiny Tim, I don't even want to know about it. No matter how many times you watch this movie, it proves itself capable of bringing a tear to your eye, a lump in your throat, and ultimately the very spirit of true holiday cheer and Christian charity that Dickens intended it to convey.
I cannot say I have seen every adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but I really cannot believe any other version could exceed the quality and emotional impact of this one. No matter how many times I read the story or watch the movie, it remains a source of eternal joy to me. This is more than a movie for me; it is an important and necessary part of each and every Christmas holiday season.
It's a tall order to improve upon a story powerful enough to intrigue scores of children even from non-English speaking countries, but Scott and Co. do this with aplomb. What's to add to the grumpy old man, Jacob Marley and the three spirits, the playback of a life and prophecy of impending doom, and the regeneration that follows? George got it right: Scrooge shouldn't be just a grumpy old man - there are scores of grumpy old men all around us; what makes old Ebenezer worthy of this supernatural intervention? - he should be downright evil.
The mote of a problem with Dickens' novel is, quite simply, that Scrooge caves in too quickly. Some memories Christmas Past throws back in his face turn him back into clay most pliant, and we see his road to repentance a little too clearly and a little too quickly. One-hundred forty one years later a film's cast and crew show undeniable evidence - not to mention courage - of seeing this problem clearly and correcting it, while still relaying the calculated sentimentality so palpable in the novel.
Here, Scrooge isn't just cantankerous; he is icy and utterly immovable, and just plain mean. Most of the extra-biblical dialogue works to the betterment of the story. There's a scene early on when Scrooge visits the `change, and gouges some buyers into buying corn at an exorbitant price. Coming on the heels of his departure from his office where he complained to his employee of having to pay him "so handsomely," the message here seems to be that there's a little bit of hypocrisy lurking not just in Scrooge, but in all of us.
This new approach to Scrooge required alterations in the other roles also, most notably the spirits, who must be rougher than we've seen before. Edward Woodward as Christmas Present is grandiose, overwrought, and brilliant. The famous speech about ignorance and want, instead of a well-worded but faintly mealy-mouthed entreaty, scans as a death sentence, which is exactly how Dickens intended it to be.
To say the least, the happy denouement is as convincing as Scrooge in his most errant state. The transformation wrought upon Scrooge is completely rewarding to the viewer, due to the many good choices made throughout the film. The acting is good all around, but this is clearly Scott's film. May "The George C. Scott Version" haunt you pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, and Alastair Sim are my favorites, but there's just something about Christmas that helps us enjoy all of various Christmas Carols. Now, in blu-ray, it's even better. (I may one day Google the meaning of the different coins in merry old England: shilling, half a crown, and the like.)