A Chradvent Carolendar #7: Scrooge (1970)

Who here likes fun? Yesterday’s entry was as bleak and depressing as a book by Charles Dickens so for day seven we’re jumping straight into a musical. A real musical, not this tepid bullshit.

Albert Finney stars as Scrooge in Scrooge with music by Leslie Bricusse, a man whose musical prowess sits at the intersection of Willy Wonka and Goldfinger. Directed by the Poseidon Adventure guy. Ok.

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Will admit that I groaned when I saw the length. I’ve already sunk over seven hours of film watching time into this fucking project. Lucky, most of that extra length comes from musical numbers and not bloated storytelling. (I then checked the length for some of the upcoming adaptations and they are not so kind.)

Who needs an entire film to tell us what Han Solo got up to before Star Wars?

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Rob by name rob by nature (smuggling joke).

The title cards for this film are all really beautifully drawn by Ronald Searle and MUST be appreciated. Take some time to appreciate them now, please.

Thank you. 

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We’re now in colour! We’re also now in cockney accents, the first I’ve heard all December. People actually look grimy and Victorian and no-one more so than our Ebenezer Scrooge.

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This Scrooge is a pantomime Scrooge; a true miser who walks around with a crooked  spine and an old man voice. He leaves his house undusted, he keeps a purse of money around his neck at all times and keeps keys for safes inside other safes (saves? – Ed). Contrast him to the well-dressed, city boy Alastair Sim Scrooge. I think they’re good examples of how far in either direction you can go with naturalism and still deliver a good performance. There’s nothing realistic about Albert Finney’s performance nor does there need to be. It is campy and fun and right for a musical.

Odd moment as he reproaches Fred for marrying “that idiot lovesick female”. Either he’s a misogynist, he’s envious of Fred’s romantic success or he’s gay. I shall bare these in mind as I proceed.

We spend some time with Bob Cratchit going about doing Christmas business and when he bursts into this song I suddenly sat up, something was weird. Then I realised I hadn’t heard a proper song all the way through since starting this project a week ago. That was a big moment. (This project takes about 5 hours every day in watching/ writing/ editing.)

Roy Kinnear is one of the chuggers! Fun little play on the scene that is usually really boring to watch.

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This is one of those Christmas Carols where Scrooge hates the poor and wants them to die. I’ll give him that – it’s a non political family movie, he’s allowed to be the villain. It’s exemplified in the next musical number:

And it’s during this number that I realise: this is a proper musical. Oh it’s a proper musical! With choreography and talent involved! Praise the fucking lord.

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Fight me or die, coward.

There’s lots of faff and ghost stuff then Alec Guinness waltzes in (literally).

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“If I’m going to play a fucking ghost I may as well have fun with it.”

Funny little moment when Scrooge asks him to sit.

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Another version where we skip the grave/ gravy line. Odd because the tone’s campy enough for it to fit.

Cute moment where we can see the strings holding up Alec Guinness.

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The arrow wasn’t in the blu-ray release by the way, I did that in MS Paint. It would’ve been even more obvious had they added it though, so I can understand why they didn’t.

Only the second film (after 1951) to show the wandering phantoms. Cool little visual effects and Alec Guinness even gets his own beat poem.

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Dirty, dirty, DIRTY fingernails. I guess this was Scrooge’s Manus Horriblus. 

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Then, as quickly as Alec Guinness danced in, Alec Guinness dances out.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past, who is played by Lady Bracknell and is an insanely uninteresting characterisation, takes us back to Scrooge’s childhood fairly promptly. We see children leaving the school dressed in their Traditional Christmas Costumes (?) such as Statue of Liberty, Indian Sikh and Carrot.

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Scrooge’s sister Fanny is in this version, a lesson well learned from 1951, but she doesn’t appear beyond a couple of scenes early on in Christmas past to establish that their father was neglectful to Scrooge. We do not see how he was neglectful and we do not know if Scrooge staying at school over Christmas was his decision. The ghost mentions that Fan “died a woman” (odd, not sure what they meant) and that Fred was her son but we do not go into the maternal mortality territory of the Alastair Sim version. I can understand why but committing to go halfway seems a bit pointless.

To Fezziwig then. Scrooge was apprenticed alongside a man called Dick. We are treated to the following homosexual outburst from Scrooge:

“My word I am a good looking chap. Strong too; I used to carry sacks around all day. That’s Dick Wilkins. Nice young fellow. Very attached to me, was he.”

Was he now, Ebenezer.

Young Scrooge is later asked to dance, says no and, when asked why, old Scrooge replies “Because I couldn’t do it”. 

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I DON’T BLAME YOU.

At this point I stopped to marvel at how much young Scrooge looked like Albert Finney. Two seconds of research revealed to me, the idiot, that young Scrooge was Albert Finney. he was then aged up for the rest of the film. Comparison shot:

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42 years earlier and still better looking than Peter Weyland.

The scene that shot is from is the scene where Belle (revealed to be Fezziwig’s daughter) leaves Scrooge because he bloody loves his money so much. It’s broadly the same scene as the 1951 version but lacks the same emotional resonance because Scrooge has not been shown to have the ideological investment in capitalism that Alastair Sim did; he just bloody loves money. There’s a lot of focus on Belle in this segment and the two even get one of these.

Scrooge cries after the visitation.

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Then it is time for the of Christmas Present.

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I feel like this is probably the most visually faithful depiction of the spirit yet and Kenneth More does a great job. However, this spirit has an odd way of talking and is insanely rude to Scrooge; he invites him to “come up here, you weird little man”, calls him a “funny looking little creature” and then says Earth is a “puny little planet”. What is he, a fucking alien? 

They fly like that bit in Superman over to the Cratchit house. Mrs Cratchit is played by the Grandma from Friday Night Dinner and, upon the controversial toast to Mr Scrooge, they have a short Marxist exchange.

We don’t get an “empty crutch” line and Present leaves us on: “My time upon this little planet is very brief. I must leave you now.” Back to fucking Mars probably.

We then meet the Ghost of Christmas Present. I’m sorry, but I can’t not look at him and see Cool Guy.

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An extremely positive change: almost all of the Future scenes have been completely reworked and turned into this one musical number, which is also the best number in the entire film:

It’s a nice alternative to the awful, obvious stuff in the original. Here, the coffin is revealed to the audience but not to Scrooge. It is just as convenient for the story without being lame and boring. But then, learning about the death of Tiny Tim he says “Spirit, you have shown me a Christmas yet to come that mingles great happiness with great sadnesss”. The true nature of the parade is forever left unknown to Scrooge. He identifies his gravestone but doesn’t appear to make a conscious connection to the parade at all. I feel like we missed out on a potentially tragic moment there.

In the graveyard then, we pan over a series of gravestones, some with amazing faux-Dickensian names, to meet Bob.

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Bob says goodbye to Tiny Tim, we get Scrooge’s gravestone reveal and he promises to reform.

But no! That is not the end! The Future Ghost takes off his cloak to reveal a skull and Scrooge, in shock, falls backward into the now bottomless grave. We get the following scene that looks and sounds like a cross between 2001: A Space Oddyssey and the opening minute of the 1989 version of the BFG.

Scrooge is now in Hell because this is the 1970s, baby. The Beatles are dead and so is God. The following shots look more like something from Dune than from A Christmas Carol.

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Oh yeah, Alec Guinness is back! He shows Scrooge his future room in Hell and says that Lucifer has made Scrooge his personal clerk. Scrooge begs him, saying “that’s unfair” but I dunno man, sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. I doubt Satan has much in the way of deductables.

Scrooge is then bound in chains by who I can only describe as four huge hot sweaty men.

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A literally frigid prisoner of his own repressed homosexuality.

Scrooge wakes up, he’s light as a feather, happy as a schoolboy, buys a turkey yada yada yada. He diverts to the toy shop and enlists – quote – “the services of several boys” to help him deliver presents to the Cratchit’s house (sure, whatever). He also puts on a Father Christmas outfit on the way. He gives the Cratchit girls some dolls, Peter Cratchit an entire armful of miscellaneous weapons (0.26 in the clip below) while Tiny Tim gets a toy carousel and some free surgery.

With the reprise of the following song, Scrooge’s arc is completed:

The Thank You Very Much song comes full circle and Scrooge’s fantasy interpretation is realised (not that he ever thought otherwise).

Was hugely disappointed when the newly adorned Alec Guinness-knocker didn’t wink.

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This is the first truly family friendly adaptation of A Christmas Carol and it ends on a true musical finale. It’s joyous. Scrooge is a caricature yes, but the specific aims of this version have to be appreciated – it is a huge success in what it sets out to accomplish and should be measured by those goals and not simply comparing it to the original Dickens.

7 1/2 huge hot sweaty men out of 10


I wish I could give this higher, I wish I could. I’m trying to keep my ratings objective – after all, we’re here to identify which adaptation is Superior – but even joy, wonder and musical magic can’t make up for the fact that this Scrooge is underdeveloped and overacted.

 

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