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Scrooge U: Part XV -- Great Scott!

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Scrooge U: Part XV -- Great Scott!

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When you've seen as many versions of "A Christmas Carol" as I have recently, you begin to notice that there's this pattern to the way a lot of actors portray Ebenezer Scrooge. That they tend to employ the same sorts of acting tricks in order to keep their performances entertaining & emotionally effective.

What am I talking about? Well, for the first third of the movie / TV show, your average performer will typically keep their body in a hunched-over posture. They'll also wear their hair long & unkept and keep their faces in this perpetual frown.

Why do they do this? So that -- when it finally comes time for Scrooge to undergo his miraculous transformation -- all these actors have to do is stand up straight, run a comb through their hair and smile ... And Presto! Ebenezer appears to be an entirely different person. This literally upright citizen who's now ready to rejoin the human race.

I only bring up these tricks that actors use while portraying Scrooge because that's what so extraordinary about the 1984 TV movie version of "A Christmas Carol."

Copyright 1999 20th Century Fox

Here -- finally -- is a totally trick-free version of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. I mean, the way that George C. Scott chose to portray Ebenezer Scrooge is nothing short of a revelation.

His Ebenezer isn't some feeble old miser with one foot already in the grave. Scott's Scrooge is this strong, confident businessman who's still operating at the top of his game. This version of Dickens' miser strides powerfully through the streets of London as he makes his way to the Exchange. And this Ebenezer smiles smugly as he forces several businessmen to pay a much higher price than they initially negotiated for the grain that Scrooge is selling.

Copyright 1999 20th Century Fox

Scott's version of Scrooge is tough -- both mentally & physically. More to the point, he is certain -- absolutely certain -- that his is the only way to go through life. That only the strong will survive in this world. Which is why Ebenezer has no time or sympathy for the poor and the weak.

Obviously, given that this version of Scrooge believes that the way that he's been treating the people around him is just and fair, it's going to take one hell of a jolt in order to get him to even begin reconsidering his behavior. And that jolt comes by way of Frank Finlay's Jacob Marley. Who may be the most miserable & tortured version of Ebenezer's long-dead partner to ever appear on the screen.

Copyright 1999 20th Century Fox

Finlay firmly establishes the template for all the spirits to follow in this version of "A Christmas Carol." If you're looking for whimsical & cute Ghosts of Christmas Past & Present, this is not the TV movie for you. These spirits ... They're already on edge when they arrive. Given that they know it's going to take an awful lot of effort to ever get this version of Ebenezer to see the error of his ways.

And certainly -- right from Scrooge's very first stop in the past -- this miser's in denial. When he sees a vision of himself as a school boy, alone in a classroom because his father refuses to allow Ebenezer to come home for the holidays, the Ghost of Christmas Past (played by Angela Pleasence) starts to talk about about how sad the lad looks.

But Scott's version of Scrooge ... He won't allow this spirit to feel any sympathy for the boy. Ebenezer points to the book in the lad's hand. "See, he's not alone," Scrooge explains. "He's got Ali Baba and Long John Silver to keep him company."

Copyright 1999 20th Century Fox

The Ghost of Christmas Past then moves Ebenezer ahead in time to the years when he worked at Fezziwig's, with the hope that a glimpse of the beautiful Belle (Lucy Gutteridge) might then soften this miser's heart. But Scott's version of Scrooge ... He still doesn't crack when he sees his old fiancee.

So this spirit ups the ante and then shows Ebenezer the huge & loving family that Belle and her husband have had. The family that Scrooge could have had. If he's only shown some kindness & compassion and not made acquiring wealth & position his top priority. This causes Scott's version of the miser to suddenly lash out in anger. Literally snuffing out the lights of the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Copyright 1999 20th Century Fox

Next up is the Ghost of Christmas Present. And -- as played by Edward Woodward of "The Equalizer" fame -- this is not a spirit who is going to put up with any of Ebenezer's guff. This ghost often makes a point of getting right in Scrooge's face. And while the Ghost of Christmas Present is supposed to be this jolly old fellow that's loaded with holiday cheer, Woodward's version of this spirit clearly has some trouble when it comes to concealing his contempt for Ebenezer.

Anyway ... These two make the now-to-be-expected trip to the Crachit family home on Christmas Day. And Scrooge softens somewhat here. Which is easy to understand, given that he's confronted with the feeblest looking version of Tiny Tim to ever appear on the screen (Played by Anthony Walters).

Copyright 1999 20th Century Fox

Ironically, Ebenezer has already run into young Mr. Crachit earlier in this TV movie. As he exiting his counting house to go see some gentlemen at the Exchange, Scrooge spies Tiny Tim waiting across the street and says "You can't beg there, boy." Again, showing how blind & indifferent Ebenezer was to the suffering of those around him.

But those spirits that Jacob Marley sent to deal with Scrooge ... They won't allow him to remain blind. They continually force this miser to look at things that frighten him (like his own grave) or make him aware of the true nature of the world that surrounds him (Like when the Ghost of Christmas Present rips open his robe and reveals Ignorance & Want).

Copyright 1999 20th Cnetury Fox

And George C. Scott ... His portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge as a real man, someone who only gradually becomes aware that the way that he views the world is wrong, is extraordinary. There's not a single false step in his entire performance.

Which is why -- perhaps -- the last 15 minutes of this version of "A Christmas Carol" seems oddly muted. You see, in this portion of "A Christmas Carol," the newly reformed Ebenezer Scrooge is supposed to be " ... as giddy as a school boy." And George C. Scott -- while he is capable of delivering a performance of great subtlety as well as those where he chews the scenery -- evidently doesn't do giddy all that well.

Happy to be alive? Sure. Eager to make amends with his nephew Fred (Roger Rees) and his lovely wife, Janet (Caroline Langrishe). Absolutely. But " ... giddy as a school boy"? Not so much.

Copyright 1999 20th Century Fox

Still, thanks to Clive Donner's skilled direction, Roger O. Hirson's thoughtful & intelligent teleplay as well as a brilliant & talented supporting cast that matched George C. Scott measure for measure ... This TV movie version of Dickens' classic holiday tale may be the very best of the modern "Christmas Carol" movies. Mind you, it's still not as sublime as the Alastair Sim version. But -- that said -- this 1984 version is still pretty incredible. Sp be sure and check it out this holiday season if you get the chance.

Anyway ... Tomorrow we go from the sublime to the ridiculous when we discuss the "Jetsons Christmas Carol."

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  • >>"Scott's Scrooge is this strong, confident businessman who's still operating at the top of his game. More to the point, he is certain -- absolutely certain -- that his is the only way to go through life."<<

    To wit:  What other Scrooge would actually -chuckle at his own cleverness-, over his joke about Christmas revelers in their own plum pudding?  0_0

    And I'll second Woodward's acidic Present as a reason this's tied for best (the book's Present is supposed to be lecturing Scrooge like a school principal, but Woodward's is -enjoying- his payback), but I have to give extra points to Roger Rees as Nephew Fred, fresh off the Broadway "Nicholas Nickelby":  Most just play Fred as the book's cheery twit, but Rees plays him as if the virtuously idealistic Nickelby had wandered into the wrong Dickens story...You've heard the office scene a hundred times, but Rees delivers "Christmas a humbug, Uncle?" as earnest moral principle instead of Scrooge-annoying jolliness.

  • Ahh, yes. Another family tradition, this.

    After watching both the Mickey version and the still delightful Muppet version, the kids (including for a while, me) would go to bed, and my Dad and our guests would pop in this for a darker version of the story.

    I would hear the wonderfully eerie Jacob Marley section through the floor and be scared even without seeing the thing.

    Then I started watching it. I have great respect for Scott's Scrooge, though I think the whole production runs a little long, taking a few missteps here and there. It's still one of the finest versions around.

  • George C Scott's Scrooge is undoubtedly a strong character. Unfortunately, its also a completely false portrayal in every sense.It falls back on the total transformation of the miser at the graveyard scene - hardly a subtle approach even if its good for TV. All of the background you so admired in the Sim version is missing. This is a cold, calculated,  pantomimic portrayal rather than that drawn with the delicacy that Dickens embued him with - one who is so world-weary he has fallen into bad ways almost accidentally. It would have been better as a cartoon for children.

    Incidentally, in Shrewsbury,England, where the outside locations were shot, there is a photo of George and Edward Woodward in a shop window marking the spot where they stand in the film to begin the journey through Christmas Present. I wonder how many other Scrooge memorials there are around ?

  • Mickey's Christmas Carol is the first on this list that I remember seeing. I don't mean it's the first I ever saw (I think that honor goes to Bill Murray's "Scrooged"), I just mean that, up until today, Mickey's is the only one I recognized.

    But I was very fortunate to have this one fall on my lap some years ago. I'm a translator, and I got George C. Scott's version as a task a while back, and had a great time subtitling it. Since I can't really pick my assignments, it's great when a hidden gem like this can be found.

    Now I make a point of watching it every year, and not only is it a great Holiday classic, but my wife can enjoy it with my subtitles on it, to boot! ;)

  • And wait, not one mention of David Warner's Bob Cratchit?...Who plays a perfectly sympathetic beaten lower-middle-class family man without a note of wimpy or comic, AND makes you completely forget seeing him in "Tron"?  :)

  • Oh Man!  The Jetsons Christmas Carol!  I had blocked that one from my mind!  yes, I remember the George C. Scott version and it scared me a lot.  Then I got into horror movies and it didn't scare me so much.  I had a weird childhood.  = P

  • As I said in my post for the Sim article, the Scott version has slowly inched its way ahead of the Sim version to become my favorite. I like the fact that it takes a page from the Sim version to flesh out Scrooge's background, again making explicit what was buried between the lines in the original book.

    I never thought about that before...that Scott plays Scrooge as a vigorous man rather than an old geezer tottering on the edge of the grave. No doubt it makes his vision of his possible death that much more unsettling for him.

    I also like the fact that we see Scrooge's gradual transformation, his almost reluctant softening, his automatic "Amen" to the Cratchits' prayer (which Christmas Present teases him on), his memory of Fan during Fred's party.

    But there's one scene that just sums up the whole character for me. Just after Christmas Present leaves Scrooge behind in a desolate place, to wait for the next spirit, Scrooge sputters out, "Spirit...don't leave me here...Perhaps we can come to some agreement, some give and take..." slipping into the language of business, the only thing he has to fall back on. "DON'T LEAVE ME HERE!" he shouts. Then, forlornly, "What have I done to be abandoned like this?"

    In just a few short lines of dialogue, the facade of the tough businessman is stripped away and we see the frightened abandoned boy of years ago.

    The supporting characters are also marvelous...I don't think I've ever seen a better Christmas Present than Edward Woodward, you're spot-on about Roger Rees, and David Warner's Bob Cratchit is the best of all (but then again, I just plain like David Warner). When Warner's Bob asks Scrooge for Christmas day off, stating that "it's only once a year, sir," he isn't meekly pleading but patiently asserting a right.

    All in all...just incredible!

  • Ever since Jim wrote his first installment in this series I have been waiting for him to get to this film.  Ever since he said, in his last installment, that the next one would cover the Scott film, I've been dashing to the computer and checking for it to arrive.

    George C. Scott & Clive Donner's 1984 film of Dickens' "A CHRISTMAS CAROL" is THE VERY BEST adaptation of the book ever made.  Period.

    Traditionally, Scrooge is a one-dimensional character, a grim miser who makes a miraculous last-minute transition to "Father Christmas."  But with Scott you can see him going through the changes slowly, scene by scene, throughout the entire film.  When he arrives at his graveside the alteration in his character is already complete.  In no other version is Scrooge a real person, with understandable motives for both his miserly nature and his conversion.

    The sequence during Christmas Past wherein we meet Young Scrooge and his father puts the entire tragedy of the character into perfect clarity.  And Donner's shot of Young Ebenezer, Old Ebenezer, and Ebenezer's father, all in close-up nose-to-nose, is breathtaking.  A dare you to watch it without at least a little of your heart breaking!

    Every character in this film was perfectly cast.  Imagine, a Tiny Tim that is really a small child, not a child actor overemoting his lines!  The music is wonderful and evocative of the era, and the emotions are all real instead of artifically telegraphed.

    I taped this movie in 1984 and on two subsequent airings (for backups), bought it on VHS when it was released, and then again on DVD.  It has become my family's unbroken tradition to watch it every year (1984-2006).  And I cannot recommend it enough.  Even if you think you've seen "A Christmas Carol" one too many times, trust me - if you haven't seen this version you haven't seen "A Christmas Carol."

    And that isn't hyperbole!

  • I, too, agree that this is possibly THE BEST adaptation of "A Christmas Carol".  Dark, frightening, heartwrenching.  And finally, enlightening and hopeful for all of us.  George C. Scott portrays Scrooge the most realistically. In fact, I'm sure that we've all met similar types of people in all of our lives.  That's how REAL his character is!  I also agree that the supporting cast is superb, especially  Edward Woodward, David Warner, and Anthony Walters as "Tiny Tim".  I can't imagine a more chilling and faithful version as this one.

  • I find it interesting that so many comments believe that this version is an accurate or correct portrayal of Scrooge. To borrow a quote "Traditionally, Scrooge is a one-dimensional character, a grim miser who makes a miraculous last-minute transition to "Father Christmas." Of course, strictly speaking, that isn't Scrooge at all, only the way he has been portrayed over the years by versions like the Sim one.The book itself, portrays an old man, fallen into bad ways and temper by the grind of years and this, for me, is its strength.When you read it, you can believe that this man could be any one of us making wrong decisions at crucial times that lead to an isolated and solitary end to his life. Throughout the story, he re-connects with his past and sees the error of his ways. It is a gradual transformation rather than the unrepentant businessman who sees the grave and is scared into change.The Scott version does have some of that in it but he's still too bullish for me.Apologies to all but this is a monumental failure for me.

  • Addressing Jess Porlock's comment above, which quoted my earlier post:

    I agree completely, except for your final analysis of the Scott film.  When I said "Traditionally, Scrooge is a one-dimensional character..." I was referring to the various film adaptations.  Dickens' original is a beautiful three-dimensional portrait, and another of my traditions is to reread the book each December.  Where we disagree, however, is on George C. Scott's interpretation of the role.  I believe he captures the gradual transformation perfectly, and in a way no other screen Scrooge has ever done.  As he watches Fezziwig's party and admits to Christmas Past that it is "the little things" that make the difference... as he realizes how much his nephew Fred does indeed look like his lost sister... as he recognizes the plight of the poor family eating potatoes found in the road, the poor he has so studiously ignored... Scott shows these alterations to his character, not only in the lines he speaks but in his face, in the carriage of his body, in the weight he bears.  The unseen chains that Marley tells him he already bears become visible - but only through Scott's acting - as the film progresses.  A brilliant performance by a brilliant actor, and the greatest adaptation of Dicken's story to date.

  • Well, in the end I guess it comes down to opinion. Yes Scott is a great actor but I don't think this is the best version. I actually watched it the other night on the strength of these postings and Scrooge redefined as a hard-nosed calculating businessman just doesn't work for me. For a start, I can't believe he'd have his office so large and airy and scrupulously clean but he wouldn't heat it.In the book, he isn't making any stand as a tough dealer in anything. He has just slid into a kind of petty facetiousness that is the result of years of wrong decsions and neglect and his house and office reflect that.This is the greatness about 'Carol'. One or two wrong decisions, too little attention to life and this could be any one of us. All the ghosts do is haul him back by showing him where he went wrong. There is great subtlety in that.Cinema has tended to jump on the final scene because obviously its the final denouement and I do agree that Scott has more of a change than others before that scene.However, he's still doing business when he implores the Ghost of Christmas Present not to leave him and that, for me, is just the wrong portrayal. I don't particularly like Tim Warners character either - far too sincere and not genuine enough. Sorry but for me, this is not the greatest adaptation. Its quite lavish but no better than a standard, incorrectly interpreted made for TV version.

  • Ah, my personal favourite. Unfortuneately, I can't think of anything you haven't already said....

  • I think most people who get to know Dickens eventually conclude that this version of A Christmas Carol is among the finest -- or at least the most faithful. I've certainly grown to love it over the last few years as I've gotten to know the book. For me, the only weak point is Fred (Roger Rees) -- far too morose.

  • scary

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