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Stingy businessman Ebenezer Scrooge is known as the meanest miser in Victorian London. He overworks and underpays his humble clerk, Bob Cratchit, whose little son, Tiny Tim, is crippled and may soon die. He also has nothing to do with his nephew, Fred, because his birth cost the life of his beloved sister. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge has a haunting nightmare from being visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley. He is visited by three ghosts and is given one last chance to change his ways and save himself from the grim fate that befell Marley. Written by
Dickens' finest hour? Transformation and redemption have never been better described
I do love Charles Dickens, critics of his might say that he went for the emotional jugular and that he even might be sentimental or even worse manipulative, but really, he had a consistent message to get out: that the plight of the poor and unfortunate is everyone's concern, and this story tells it best - against the backdrop of the Christmas season, the time to celebrate, give gifts and welcome friends and family into warm homes to share festivity and generosity. I think that a Christmas Carol is not so much a tale for the family as it is Dickens trying again to pierce hardened hearts of the - during that time - men in society. The men who had trained their eyes not to look down at the gutter or the darkened doorways where society's less than fortunates were cowering for mercy, help, a hand up or a hand out. I think this story speaks directly to those men in Dickens' day who could do the most to rectify the wrongs described in this tale. Those less fortunates were there in Dickens' day just as they are with us now, and just as there are influential, prosperous and greedy men and women Scrooges among us today who coolly and easily stare straight ahead past those less fortunates instead of choosing to extend a helping hand. I never could appreciate what this story was really about until I became an adult and witnessed the great divide in our society between the Have's and Have-not's and the amazingly steeled resolve of those among the Have's to enjoy the Christmas season while not really being concerned at all with those poor souls in the ranks of the Have-not's. "At this time of year, Mr. Scrooge, when want is most keenly felt...".
Dickens largely devoted himself to the plight of the less fortunate - and we should all be so generous to show even a trifle of such concern for our fellows in need. Many Britons would probably agree that after Churchill, Dickens is one of England's great men, greatest men perhaps, one of England's greatest people ever. A real humanitarian dedicated to social change.
And so, to the role of Scrooge in this edition of this great story - the role every mature actor hopes he'll get a chance to play - comes Alistair Sims and he certainly does the role of Scrooge no disservice. I'll agree with one of my fellow reviewers in saying that I'm not sure if he owns the role outright, but surely, no one yet has emerged to lay a better claim to it. Certainly not one-note and pompous little Patrick Stewart. George C. Scott acquits himself admirably, but certainly cannot claim to own this role.
So many of the other reviews here have stated well the praise that Mr. Sims deserves for his portrayal of Scrooge, and many have made mention of their own favorite and classic lines from the movie. I'll not try to restate what has already been written so well before me, but instead, I'll point out for others some of my favorite little details of this great story and specifically of this particular version.
I think some of the greatest lines of all are reserved for the ghost of old Jacob Marley, dead for seven years, who comes to call late on Christmas Eve and warn Scrooge to change his ways. His indignation at Scrooge for referring to him as "a good man of business" by screaming that "mankind was my business!" was a perfect retort to the old miser. Marley disparages how he had lived
and how Scrooge was presently living - and further, reduces their
life's work to no more than bald faced greed with the disdainful line "my concern never roved beyond the confines of our money changing hole!". His description of the chain he "forged in life, link by link" that was now choking and weighing him down in the after-life and the warning to Scrooge of how "your own coil was as full and long as mine these seven years ago and you have been laboring on it since. It is a ponderous chain!" In a way, I think that the Marley character might be the juiciest role, rarely have I seen it given the appropriate weight to show the full measure of remorse for a life misspent and the ominous warning for a friend heading down the same path of damnation for all eternity. The degree to which this role is played gives Scrooge that much more of a contemptible and hardened crust to be cracked by the spirits to come because of Scrooge's self-righteous and indignant dismissal of Marley's ghost. Marley, being the closest thing to what Scrooge could describe as a friend, is a tortured soul condemned to torment in perpetuity. Marley only seeks to warn his old friend to turn back before it is too late, but his friend is already too far gone to heed his warning.
After the chilling visit of Marley and the bitter revisiting of Scrooge's past, the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Present is a welcome and wonderful respite. He embodies the goodness of how we all wish Christmas to be: merry, abundant, good through and through for all, no matter their station in life. His exit, when he is abruptly changed from ruddy faced and jolly to serious, old and grey has always struck me. Particularly, I never understood until I was much older the two miserable, hollow-eyed and gaunt children that clung to his robe - the boy and the girl, "Ignorance" and "Want" and the ghost's warning to watch out for the boy in particular. I still find that moment chilling and still relevant today.
Most moving of all to me is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be's stop at the Cratchit family's house in the future. The heavy air, everyone trying to buck up and keep a stiff upper lip while under a heavy pall and poor Bob Cratchit's brave but feeble attempt at putting a positive spin on things for his family by talking cheerily of the lovely gravesite they picked out until he loses his composure, sobbing "my poor little child" in debilitating grief. The Bob Cratchit part is a good one, not a big part, but a very important one that reveals what harm Scrooge has wrought through his miserly and cheap existence. Without Bob Cratchit and his poor family's real suffering under Scrooge, we don't get to fully appreciate how bad Scrooge's dastardly handiwork is and just how dramatic his ultimate salvation really is.
The other character that reflects directly on Scrooge and in this case as a perfect mirror of what Scrooge has not become is dear old Fezziwig. Oh, would that every business owner and capitalist today were as decent and altruistic as he!
Watch this film, taste every morsel and savor every bite! It is a feast for the heart. Where "It's a Wonderful Life" transforms a truly good man who already thinks only of others by showing him what he could not see about himself and thus saves him from bitterness, despair and suicide, "A Christmas Carol" in contrast gives us as hateful and diabolical a man as we could ever hope not to meet. A man who smugly has no regrets, no remorse, and feels no guilt for his absolutely selfish ways and it is only when he is finally forced to see what he has caused does he realize that in order to ultimately save himself - and all those his life touches - from himself he must embrace goodness. His transformation into a man that is good and that is concerned for others is at the end truly a cause for joy and celebration. Both films - while now canonized as family classics - I believe, are targeted specifically at adults.
Either to warn and prod the selfishly immobile into benevolent action, as in "A Christmas Carol", or to show what surely every adult with heaping responsibilities must feel at some time: feelings of uselessness, disappointment and discouragement that have wrongly overshadowed the good acts in one's life, as in "It's a Wonderful Life". In either film you get a joyous transformation of the soul by the end. There is no shortage of reminders these days to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" but please! don't ever let a Christmas go by without watching Alistair Sims in his masterful portrayal of Scrooge - along with all the other fine performances - in "A Christmas Carol".
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