A Chradvent Carolendar #1: Scrooge (1935)

The Rules of Chradvent:
#1: I must consume one adaptation of A Christmas Carol every day of Advent to finally identify which is Superior
#2: The adaptations must be evaluated in chronological order
#3: Nothing under 25 minutes
#4: No watching or writing up in advance. Each day. A new film.


I wanted to start in the silent era but the first feature length adaptation of A Christmas Carol, The Right to be Happy (1916), has been completely lost to time. Everything we know about it is from a review in the New York Dramatic Mirror which says that the Christmas scenes were “staged under a blazing California sky amid the luxuriant green foliage of Mid-Summer”. I’m as furious that I didn’t get to watch it as they were that they did.

Instead, we’re jumping straight into 1935’s Scrooge, produced by a man called Julius Hagen who went bankrupt two years later because he spent too much money on 1935’s Scrooge. By now we’re almost ten years into the sound era and people have pretty much got a grip on how to make movies. It is unfortunate, then, that the first thing you hear in the film is one of the oddest, most tuneless renditions of The First Noel I’ve ever heard. I’ve clipped it below.

I feel like I understand Scrooge a bit better now.

Straight into the credits.
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Don’t worry lads, Charlie’s on hair.

Within five minutes we have the “surplus population” line and by 13 minutes Scrooge is on his way home. The story then diverts, for FIFTEEN minutes to a banquet hosted by the Lord Mayor who we never see again. There then follows a FURTHER FIVE minutes of weird comedy vignettes. Here’s an exciting bit with some jellies.

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At one point during the banquet everyone stands and, facing in different directions, sings the first verse of the National Anthem. Even the kids outside stop being hungry and ask God to save the Queen. Nice of them.

We only see Marley once, when his face is superimposed onto Scrooge’s knocker. When he appears later he does so as a disembodied voice. He comes into the house,  immediately declares that only Scrooge can see him (thanks) then sits down in a chair. Ghosts get tired too, even conveniently invisible ones.

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I’ve been led to believe that, in original takes, Scrooge continued helpfully pointing at Marley as he got up from his chair and made increasingly wild movements around the room, backflipping between cabinets at max speed. The G forces involved nearly shattered Scrooge’s wrist. Sadly, the Dickens estate came down hard on this interpretation and Julius Hagen lost a cool 100k on reshoots.

We skips the “more of gravy than a grave” line then Marley says “Look to see me no more” and jumps out the window.
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This is all rather forgivable camp. No-one involved had any idea how to make ghosts look good on film. Why not excise them completely? (maybe “exorcise them completely”? – Ed)

I find it interesting that Claude Rains, the actor playing Marley, a tiny role with almost no screen time, is by and far the biggest name in this entire film. For an actor contemporaneously co-starring with Cary Grant I can only assume that he agreed to this dispassionate 2 minute voice over as terms of his own Scrooge-like rehabilitation.

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This is how they handle the Ghost of Christmas Past. Pretty neat effect and some good hair work from Charles here.

We don’t see much of Scrooge’s past. No schoolhouse, no Fezziwig, just a scene where an only slightly younger Scrooge refuses a loan extension. His fiancée threatens to leave him and in response Scrooge says “I’m ready to make allowances to your feelings as a woman” which is nice of him, that he’d make an allowance for those.

We cut to the ex-fiancée years later surrounded by an uncountably huge number of children. I’ve included the clip below and I challenge you to count for yourself – I think there are around twenty but past a dozen my eyes begin to cloud over. Scrooge gets sad because they’re not his kids but I don’t envy him. Or his wife. Or his wife’s pelvis.

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The ghost dies when Scrooge snuffs out the candle and we quickly meet the Ghost of Christmas Present.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is the only ghost the audience ever see and he delivers his lines in an awkward, stilted monotone that feels like he’s reading off cards. This version of the spirit isn’t especially jolly or conciliatory and, as he disappears, he mockingly laughs at Scrooge through flames.

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Curious, I looked up the actor and his name is Oscar Asche, one of the biggest stars of contemporary stage. He was most famous for an insanely racist musical called Chu Chin Chow which ran for over 2,200 performances, holding the record for over fifty years. He wasted nearly all of his money from the show on greyhounds. Here he is in costume.

Scrooge was one of the last things he ever did, as “in his final years, Asche became obese, poor, argumentative and violent”. Living the dream, my son.

We meet Tiny Tim here, and spend some time with the Cratchit family.
There was something annoying me about the actor playing Bob Cratchit and I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. Then I realised it was because he looked like the potara fusion of Marty Feldman and Ken Branagh as Isembard Kingdom Brunel. 1935e.png

The Ghost of Christmas Present says his bit about seeing a vacant seat in the chimney-corner and then we’re taken on a magnificent tour of the other sets that were set up in Twickenham Film Studios lot at the time. A lighthouse, a ship in a storm, the works.

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We also get a nice model shot of London where the only landmark is St Paul’s.

I’ll freely admit that the effect for The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come’s visions is insanely cool. I mean, I’m not too sure what’s going on but I like it.

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The only thing about this effect is that producing it clearly required Scrooge to keep his head perfectly still throughout. The result is that he cannot move or emote while talking, which is fun. The conceit falls apart a bit when he has to get mopey on his grave and brush off the snow but it’s nice looking enough for the rest of the time.

Oh, in this version we see Tiny Tim’s corpse.

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Who here’s willing to bet that the lifeless body of Bam Bam pops up in A Flintstones Christmas Carol? I’ll take those odds.

Ebenezer has his little character arc in the graveyard and we’re all done with the Spirits by 65 minutes into the movie, with another 15 to go. Worth noting at this early stage that only 45 minutes of this 80 minute long movie is spent in the company of ghosts. This is a clear repudiation of Charles Dickens as The Ghost Novelist. I can happily announce that this title can now return to Chuck Tingle.


The epilogue to this is enormous and completely uninteresting. It hits all the beats in the way you’d expect. The story then takes a dark twist when Scrooge, drunk on bonhomie, decides to play a nasty prank on Bob. Feigning x-mas rage, Scrooge roughly shoves him into a door frame. This is the last straw for the impoverished, overworked Mr Cratchit. He sees red and snaps. Fumbling for a weapon, he raises a steel read high over his head and is only stopped from caving in Scrooge’s skull when offered a pay rise. Psychopath.
attack.gifScrooge also says “Hello Marley” instead of the original “I shall love it, as long as I live! I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its face! It’s a wonderful knocker!”. Brevity is the etc of wit.

What a wonderful knocker indeed. This isn’t, altogether, a bad adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Not seeing any of the ghosts means you do get a nice sense that Scrooge’s experiences may not have been literal. However, the weird way in which story was adapted means its almost impossible to follow Scrooge’s emotional journey and his transformation from being complicit in child manslaughter to benevolent philanthropist is not at all clear. Seymour Hicks does a fine job as Scrooge. It’s a little overplayed but he has some nice flourishes towards the end.

Rating:
5 ½ furious, fat, destitute racists out of 10


As we have not opened any other doors on the Chradvent Carolendar this is, by default, the most Superior version yet. I have a strong suspicion, however, that I will completely forget it almost immediately.

A Chradvent Carolendar #2: A Christmas Carol (1939)

You’d be surprised how far they get into this before they say the words “A Christmas Carol”.

We’re at 1939 and my first and only chradventure into radio is in the company of sleigh mogul/ bored Transformer Orson Welles. Two months after the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, the Mercury Theatre’s radio company was bought by Campbell’s soup. It was only natural, therefore, that a year later they’d do an adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

We start with another rendition of The First Noel though thankfully this one is considerably more tuneful than the one in the 1935 version. This gives way to the meat of the performance; Orson Welles rambling about Lionel Barrimore, “the best loved actor of our time”. Barrimore would later go on to play Mr Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life, ranked as the #6 most hated villain in all film.

Another short ad for soup and then we’re off! Orson jumps straight in with “Marley was dead to begin with”. I paused at this point because I could’ve sworn he was playing Scrooge. Some further investigation revealed that his company had, in fact, done five separate versions of A Christmas Carol and this was the only one where we don’t get to see Ebenezer Welles. But this was also the only one with such an overwhelming emphasis on soup, my favourite of all the semi-liquid foods.

When you take out the soup ads and Orson’s wildly tangential monologues, the piece is about 40 minutes long. We get no Marley knocker but are instead treated to the ghost Marley scene in full. We miss out Old Joe, post-rehabilitation Christmas Day and vast, vast swathes of Christmas Present. These are all good cuts, especially the Old Joe segment, which I have decided I hate. Are we meant to be held in suspense over whose drapes they’re trying to flog? Is Scrooge a moron? What is with this ongoing cultural association of ghosts and terrible mysteries? 

The good news is that after the Ghost of Christmas Past there’s an ad break for soup. 

As a completely silent character, The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is very difficult to portray on radio. They get around this issue by having Scrooge narrate every single thing that is happening at all points. 

As you can see (hear – Ed), there are no attempts at English accents. 

One of the stranger cuts is the second appearance of the gentleman collecting for charity -“the chugger”. In the original he is introduced and reintroduced to demonstrate in the simplest possible terms that where Scrooge was once miserly now he is magnanimous. In this timeline we can then assume that either the Poor Law Act of 1834 was repealed over Christmas Eve or that he himself died that Tiny Tim may live.

That’s basically it. It’s actually a very strong adaptation and really shows how much brevity is the etc of etc. There are a few upcoming adaptations that are over 2 hours long and I am beginning to dread them.

We’re hit with another ad for soup and then we go straight into Orson Welles dedicating the performance to all of his friends and all the members of the cast and crew. It’s very luvvie and very sweet and very Orson and I love it and him.
We then get a very quick interview with our lead actor, the great Lionel Barrimore, and it quickly becomes apparent that his seemingly overacted old man Scrooge voice is his natural speaking voice. I can only hope the rest of the cast went equally as method, especially Tiny Tim (who is insanely pretentious here).

I still wish I’d listened to Orson Welles’ Scrooge though.
6½ tins of Campbell’s tomato soup out of soup. I mean 10. 


Sad that I won’t get to listen to any other radio adaptations, this was really fun. But there are so many that I doubt I’d even fit them into one Advent.

A Chradvent Carolendar #3: The Christmas Carol (1949)

Day three is a made for TV movie narrated by Vincent Price. Oh boy! I wonder who’s playing…

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Ebeneezer Scrooge? Well clearly they must’ve spent all the proofreading money on incredible special effects!

XmasFlix.com will be a very close friend of mine over this month. They seem to have almost every single non-commercially viable Christmas film uploaded to their YouTube channel and maintain an active but completely anonymous social media presence. I’ve no idea what they could be getting out of it other than satisfying a substantially deep, year-long fetishistic obsession with Christmas. That is, after all, why I’m doing this.

Vincent Price introduces The Christmas Carol while holding a copy of a book that clearly says A Christmas Carol.

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I’m guessing this was simply for convenience. After all, “The” is considerably easier to say than “A”.

Taylor Holmes’ Scrooge is bad, poor thing. Listen to how he manages to turn “be here all the earlier the next morning” into one syllable. It’s almost commendable.

The staging of that clip is fairly typical of the rest of the film. Flat, boring and done in one take.

Never before have overacting and underacting been blended together so marvelously as when Marley’s ghost enters.

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Low budgeted films like these can often lead to interesting directorial decisions; like the decision to have Marley explode when he passes through a door.

This is probably an allusion to Dickens, who used to explode when he passed through doors.

Vincent Price announces that Scrooge fell asleep without undressing. It’s a neat coincidence that that would’ve allowed them to get filming done in a day with only one set of costumes.

We then meet the Ghost of Christmas Past. I presume he’s standing behind this man dressed as Mother Theresa. 1949c.png

The screen fades to black and then we’re in the schoolhouse. At this point I feel the weight of terrible direction far overshadows any one person’s bad acting. Scrooge is dispassionate and reacts weirdly to events, delivering a lot of lines like he has no idea what he’s saying.

For instance, he delivers the line “my playmates , they didn’t like me” with whimsy and, upon seeing himself as a boy, remarks that he regrets not giving some money to a caroler we heard earlier singing The First Noel. The good news here is that Scrooge is already reformed! The spirits did it one night! The bad news is that The First Noel plays a bigger part in this story than the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Speaking of which:

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Hello.

On closer inspection he looks like John C Reilly.

Never mind.

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In this version Tiny Tim doesn’t get to talk much, only to say “God bless us, every one” and even when he does everyone drinks and looks around like it’s really awkward.

At least it’s a change from all of the pretentious Tiny Tims who genuinely deserve to die.

They really hit on something with the sound effect transitions here.

It’s time for the future ghost. I wonder what cool lighting or camera tricks they’re going to use?

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Well this is definitely the only version I’m aware of where the Ghost of Christmas Future is visibly shorter than Scrooge by several inches. I suppose if nothing else this is technically the first western Ninja film. 

It’s about this time that I realise that I haven’t seen Vincent Price in a while. 

We miss Old Joe (thank god) but do get the bankers talking about the death of a mysterious gentleman (Scrooge is so stupid) and jump straight into the gravestone reveal. It’s all academic of course because Scrooge reformed 40 seconds into the first spirit. We cut to him sitting up in bed (filming him lying down would have required maneuvering the camera between the bedposts) and we get this fun laugh:

Either he’s very happy or about to commit suicide. Whatever happens I’m just glad he’s confident enough to share his feelings.

We then go to the Cratchit’s house and Fred is there too I guess. Scrooge turns to Tiny Tim and says he’s going to give him surgery but Tiny Tim hasn’t to this point actually shown any signs of disability. If anything his freakish height seems to indicate almost superhuman strength and vigour. 1949g.png

Wondered if the title card was a typo?

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Wrong, bitch, this production had a systematic misunderstanding of the letter E. You’d think adapting from a book would make misspelling the name of the main character extremely difficult. Wrong again.

This was a bad adaptation. Cute and campy but I can safely say it is not Superior.

I give this 3 extremely mighty Tiny Tims out of 10

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3 days in and I’m already starting to get tired of the story. I’m sure this will pass.

A Chradvent Carolendar #4: Scrooge (1951)

Right, this one is really, really good.

When people talk about their favourite version of A Christmas Carol it’s invariably the 1970 Albert Finney musical, the version The Muppets did or this. Having sat through three adaptations in a row I was skeptical how you could execute the story well enough for it to be definitive. Surely it’s just hitting the beats with an acceptable level of technical competence? That’s what the 1935 and 1939 versions did and they were fine. 

But Scrooge (1951) doesn’t do that – it is not a straight adaptation and is largely not faithful to the source material. Instead, it takes the basic elements of the original story and twists and interprets them in fun, creative ways.  It treats Scrooge like a human being and not a cartoon character. It’s just really, really good.

Opening credits then.

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What’s that?

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This bodes extremely well.

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I wondered how long it’d be before we got to the first Noel.

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Look at that deep focus. It’s so pretty and this is just the first shot!

Going to get on my wanky high horse and start comparing this to Citizen Kane. It almost feels like the similarities are deliberate – both films use deep focus extensively, both use striking, expressionist cinematography and both follow a dispassionate businessman who left his friends and family behind in pursuit of wealth and glory.

Usually Scrooge’s past is taken for granted; he was a lonely schoolboy who traded bonhomie for bond equity, but Scrooge (1951) fills in the gaps in wonderful, unexpected ways that give Scrooge’s character such depth and texture that I have no idea why other versions didn’t adopt what happens here as the new Canon.

We spend a full 30 minutes – more than 1/3 of the total running time – with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Seven new segments are added that flesh out Scrooge’s relationship with his sister (Fred’s mother who died in childbirth) and Jacob Marley. We are actually shown Scrooge being a ruthless businessman rather than just a) being told he is and b) having him wish the poor to die. Even his reluctance to participate in charity is justified during a scene where we learn that he was traumatised by the death of his sister.

“One must stele oneself to survive [modern life]. Not be crushed under by the weak and infirm.” he says to a young Robert Marley in the scene immediately after her death.

The film is not so much about Christmas as it is about Scrooge’s redemption arc. It just so happens that his redemption arc coincides with the Christmas. I cannot overstate how important this is to the interpretation. Scrooge does not hate Christmas, he is indifferent to and bemused by it.

“Christmas has even less to do with it, my dear sir, than your wife has or l have. You still owe me twenty pounds and you are not in the position to repay it if was in the middle of a heat wave on August bank holiday. Good afternoon.”

Scrooge is intelligent, sarcastic and witty. His grave/ gravy joke should be a natural tell for this but Alastair Sim is the first Scrooge so far to convey the humour in the line while not sounding like an alien. Scrooge is a political animal who is self assured in the conservatism that feeds his downward trajectory. You can feel Dickens’ own satirical edge here when Scrooge wearily corrects the chuggers, stating that his taxes pay for the institutions designed to support the poor (workhouses, debtors prisons) and that those are sufficient. He is less of a miser and more of an Adam Smith Institute sanctioned neoliberal.

“The world, that can be so brutally cruel to the poor, professes to condemn the pursuit of wealth in the same breath.”

That could almost be a tweet by Daniel Hannan.

Another perfect shot. 1951e.png

Look at the way the direction of the lighting and the placement of the staircase draws your eyes to Scrooge who’s positioned quite non-naturally in the northeast of the frame.

This is also the only Marley so far that remotely approaches being terrifying. I suggest skipping to 3.40 in the clip below.

I’m going to draw another Citizen Kane parallel here; Scrooge’s relationship with Fezziwig is expanded and we learn that Mr Jorkin, pictured below on the left, wants to first buy Fezziwig’s firm. He is unsuccessful but then manages to recruits Scrooge after flattering his intelligence. Scrooge’s relationship with Fezziwig, his trusted and benevolent employer, is ruined forever.

This is very similar to the bit in Citizen Kane where Charles forfeits family and love for wealth and prospects. The bit as in, y’know, all of it. The difference here is that Scrooge’s failures in life are entirely of his own doing and were not set in stone from his youth.

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Jorkin on the left, Young Scrooge (Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c on CBS) on the right

The scenes where Scrooge witnesses his sister dying and where he undercuts his old firm to turn a quick profit are so rich and well executed that I’m including them in full below. I hope you appreciate that I had to individually convert them from mkv to mp4 then painstakingly edit, upload and embed them just for this.
They’re short and I recommend you watch them.

The dialogue is tightly written and delivered well enough that you can’t really hear the sometimes distracting Dickensian verbiage. This is the only adaptation so far to do that.

Christ, I haven’t even touched on half of what makes this incredible yet. Remember early on in the story when Scrooge asks Bob Cratchit
I suppose you’ll be wanting the whole day off tomorrow?” and Bob replies
“If it’s not inconvenient”?

Well in this version they’ve been having that same exchange every Christmas for years. Ebenezer checks whether or not Bob still insists on this very silly idea while Bob nervously treads around him. It’s almost a ritual. It’s such a simple addition that adds so much depth to what is nominally a throwaway line that it makes me want to give up Chradvent four days in. That and the brain ache. 

Consistently throughout the night Scrooge shows small signs of regret before going back to insisting that he is too old to change, that he is tired and that he wants to be left to keep Christmas in his own way. His remorse builds naturally with each visitation and the gravestone is only a tipping point like it should be rather than the set piece of Scrooge’s rehabilitation. 

Despite the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come being just a man in a black veil I still believe that Scrooge is more scared of him than any other spirit (in part because he was actually shown to be frightened earlier).

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The brilliant way in which he is introduced somewhat mediates the lackluster costume.

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Hand shown to scale.

Remember the Old Joe segment and how I hate it? Yeah well guess what, it’s really good here. For a start, it’s fairly clear that Scrooge is aware of who they’re talking about throughout (did you know? it was him!).
Secondly, instead of the three skivs being generic working class thieves, they each have a distinct characterisation and relationship with Joe. The maid knows him well, the undertaker is out of his depth etc. The filmmakers also take a while to reveal exactly why they’re there, giving us a couple of minutes of fun as they establish themselves.

Mrs Cratchit is Ellen from Mary Poppins. 1951i

Step in time, Tiny Ti- oops.

They even managed to make Tiny Tim’s speech about Jesus helping the lame to walk not totally shitty and pretentious. Also the Cratchit children drink gin throughout and eat boiled Christmas pudding if you wanted some indication of the libertarian hell hole in which Scrooge the AnCap would have us live.

I’m going to force myself to stop now because almost every single shot in almost every single scene deserves an entire dedicated day of Chradvent. Maybe next year. Safe to say, the film ends with Scrooge doxxing the Cratchits (2 Porter Street, Camden Town).

As I mentioned in the intro, the very important message to take away from this is that when you are adapting a property,  it’s probably far more worth your time to focus on translating it for the medium for which it is intended rather than simply copying the text. Scrooge (1951) plays fast and wild with the original but is, I imagine, exactly how Dickens would have wanted Scrooge to have been portrayed provided the man himself didn’t have a crippling fear of film. He died in 1870 so we’ll never know for sure. 

Watch this version, Muppet lovers.

9 fucking awful boiled puddings out of 10



I’d say this only loses points for not making enough use of the Mechanical Victorian Dolls, so torturously teased in the opening credits.

Side note: I’m having to be fairly brutal with what I pick for this month and am missing out a film from 1938 notable for featuring a massively fat Bob Cratchit. This depressing compromise was alleviated by only finding out about it well after I could’ve had a look at it, per rule #2 of Chradvent. There’s a thin blue line separating society from chaos and I intend to respect it.

A Chradvent Carol #5: A Christmas Carol (Shower of Stars) (1954)

Day five and we’ve hit our first musical! I’ve no idea what to expect.

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Hello, my old friend.

We start with some gaslighting.

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This is an absolutely hideous opening shot but I guess we can’t all be Scrooge (1951).

Straight into music – some carolers wander around the streets of London singing hymms. I assume they’re original; I don’t recognise them and can barely hear the lyrics. It all sounds fairly generic. I wonder what poor soul got given the task of writing it?

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Oh sure, only one of the single greatest and most prolific film composers of all time. Way to make me look like an asshole, facts.

There’s a nice slow reveal of Scrooge hampered only by the fact that he is an almost cartoonishly large hooked nose. 

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He looks like a goblin. Specifically, this goblin from the first Harry Potter film. They look so similar that I do not believe it was coincidental.

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To its credit, this whole sequence does do quite a nice job of framing him Scrooge an outsider. He alone stands against Christmas and boy, how. This Scrooge hates Christmas! More on that later. For now enjoy this thing Scrooge does with his face after the “surplus population line”. 

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Now we meet Fred. Oh dear. I do not think I have seen anyone so totally misjudge the character of Fred as the actor who plays him here. He is a big booming lumberjack of a man, straight out of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. 

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That’s a shot of him having just shouted “and a happy new year!” at max volume straight into Scrooge’s ear. Look how happy he is. I don’t blame this Scrooge for not wanting to spend Christmas dinner with this Fred. He’s a dickhead. Dickfred.

No songs yet. As Bob Cratchit leaves the office the carolers start singing the same hymm from the beginning and I wonder: “is that it? Is this one of those cases where someone on IMDb misremembered that this was a musical because it just had the same interminable hymm fucking repeated constantly?”. If only. 

Look how much this Scrooge hates Christmas. Stark. He wont even TOLERATE the MENTION of the word.

Also, if you’re thinking that Fredric March”s Ebenezer Scrooge sounds like Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown then I suggest you read all 600 youtube comments saying exactly the same thing.

We get to midnight and Jacob Marley’s ghost. It is completely unclear what Scrooge is meant to be reacting to as he arrives. Is it… is it the incidental music? It can’t just be the chiming of one clock. If you have any guesses feel free to email me.

Basil Rathbone is Jacob Marley. Like Fredric March, he is completely wasted here (possibly in more ways than one).  However, his arrival opens up a mystery.

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During the visitation, a temporarily tangible Marley picks up a ledger from Scrooge’s desk detailing the two’s money lending (careful of the flame, Jacob). For some reason Scrooge seems pained to look at it and it’s all very odd. But then:

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Marley, ledger in hand, turns intangible again. The ledger follows suit. Then, Marley tosses the ledger to the floor. Both remain intangible throughout. I cannot overstate how huge the implications are for human/ ghost interactions. First of all, does the intangible book rest on the ground or fall through to the centre of the earth? If it does rest on the ground does it remain intangible forever? Would Scrooge ever be able to pick it up again? What if there are important tax documents in there?

I was considering pausing the movie here to consult a psychic but then Scrooge does a lot of work for me:

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Still, the implications remain huge. There is clearly a cooling off period for spectral intangibility. What if you turn tangible again when halfway through a door? I will have to put this on the back burner for now because we are only 1/3 of the way into this movie.

In the scene following Marley’s exit, Scrooge is spooked and goes around his study nervously. It was probably shot in one take with very little direction because it just looks like there’s a bee trapped in the room.

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Huh? What’s this?

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For a start that’s very odd use of the present continuous tense. 

Power steering, eh? Turns out A Christmas Carol (Shower of Stars) is so-called because it was part of a CBS variety show called Shower of Stars. It was fairly standard fare for its time and was sponsored by Chrysler I guess. Chrysler was such a beloved brand that they didn’t even take their ads out of the home video release.

At this point part of me wondered if the jingle at the end of that ad that qualified this as a musical because, Christmas carols aside, we’ve had nothing yet.

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Aha! The first woman ghost! Who said corporations don’t have a social conscience? (Though I hear that in the 1938 version – which I’m increasingly annoyed that I missed – she was also a woman).

I looked back at the original text because I was sure Past was a described either as a woman or not specifically as a man. Looks like Past was originally described as being androgynous and white robed. However, Past was also originally described as:

“being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom where in they melted away”

I’d pay to see Robert Zemeckis CGI that. Sounds like the biblical descriptions of angels.

When Scrooge remarks that Fezziwig is alive again, the Ghost of Christmas Past normally corrects him and says “These are the shadows of things that have been.”  In this version, we get the rather terse rebuff: “No, not alive, this is Christmas past.” Then Scrooge pulls a face.

Young Scrooge doesn’t have a massive hooknose. 

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We can only assume he got it later in life after trapping it in that unnecessarily large semi-tangible ledger.

Canny individuals will note that the same actress playing Scrooge’s fiancée, Belle, also plays the Ghost of Christmas Past. They take each others hands and part waltz over to the staircase as the harp begins to play.

Could… could this be the first song?

I wouldn’t bother watching that video. Fun fact: I got a copyright claim on it so someone, presumably at Chrysler Corp, is still getting money for this. I’d cut your losses short if I was you, mate.

At one point Belle starts singing directly into the camera which is a bit unnerving but was not uncommon for the time.

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There’s a dumb bit where it looks like Old Ebenezer has just worked out that Belle looks like Past despite mentioning exactly that a bit earlier.

There’s also a nice moment as he reacts to his younger self singing.

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Then young Scrooge straight up yells in Belle’s ear.

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Look guys, if you really don’t know what to get each other for Christmas then maybe you shouldn’t be together. This isn’t a problem for long though, because the second they stop singing they break up with each other.

That’s it for Christmas Past. The ghost disappears and Scrooge runs back to bed.

It’s time for Christmas Present. Oh dear. Oh no. It’s Fred. Oh dear. Oh no. This is the comedy character. 

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The song is so awful and repetitive I’m not even going to clip it for you. Here are the lyrics.

A merry, a merry, a merry, merry Christmas. [repeat x34]

The sequence largely consists of Present pointing and singing at Scrooge then performing close-up magic tricks.

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I wouldn’t hang that up mate, you don’t know where it’s been.

He fucks up the clock

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He bodily possesses Scrooge

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I don’t even know what’s happening here but I don’t like it.

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The whole thing is extremely distressing. The truth is that there are so many odd moments in this sequence that I physically cannot gif them all. I’ve already dropped half a gig of wordpress storage on gifs out of a total 6 and I’m barely into Chradvent.

He does his whole exhausting, infuriatingly bad spiel and then just sits down normally like nothing happened. This man is clearly a psychopath.

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Scrooge asks him who he is and he STARTS SINGING THE FUCKING SONG AGAIN.

Thankfully, we cut to Bob Cratchit’s house before anything else happens. Ghost of the Present. I hate you more than any spectre I have seen.

We’re treated to a bit of dialogue about the sage dressing for the goose, presumably sponsored by Chrysler kitchen, and are introduced to Tiny Tim, who is the only character in this film to have an English accent. 

The Fred and Cratchit scenes from the Present are combined because the raw power of Ray Middleton’s acting means he cannot play both Fred and Present in the same scene (like Sally Fraser did effortlessly for Belle and Past). The problem with this is that Fred’s mean game of 20 questions where the answer is Scrooge is now delivered by Bob Cratchit, who also insists on toasting to Scrooge’s health and thanks him for the meal against his wife’s wishes. It was an extremely dumb decision to combine those.

The third song of the film, if you count the second song as a song, is “God Bless Us Every One” delivered by Tiny Tim. Unlike Belle, who directed her solo straight into the camera, Tiny Tim directs it literally everywhere other than the camera.

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The song is completely unremarkable, don’t bother to look it up.

Then we see the following exchange after the Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge that he sees a vacant seat and a crutch without an owner.

Present: These shadows may be altered only by the spirit of the future.

Scrooge: Where do I find this spirit of the future?

Present: Look within yourself for if you continue as you are then the answer is there before you.

What? 

What the fuck does that mean? The spirit of the future can alter shadows of the future? I thought the whole point was that that was exactly what the ghosts couldn’t do? The spirit of the future is within Scrooge? Is the future ghost metaphorical now? If so, why weren’t the others?

I calm down assured that my questions will be answered soon. Perhaps the ghost of future will be another cameo – maybe the chuggers or even Tiny Tim himself? That’d be cool.

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Is that… is the bird from this gif from earlier?

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Christ knows. Anyway, Scrooge is in the graveyard now and he sees his gravestone and also Tiny Tim’s and there’s a moment where he’s sobbing over Tim’s grave in sadness and it’s clearly made out of polystyrene.

We get no future ghost – unless the bird counts (is it a moorhen?) – so that means Jacob Marley lied when he said Scrooge would  be visited by three spirits.

Scrooge wakes up etc donates some money to the chuggers etc goes and says hello to Fred and asks to save him a mince pie as “he’s about to rejoin the human race”.

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You and me both, Fred.

Scrooge then pays an unannounced visit to Bob Cratchit’s house, immediately raises his salary and invites himself in for Christmas dinner. Bob is clearly uncomfortable with this and the whole scene is very odd. Fred, who had specifically invited Scrooge for dinner, is rejected in favour of this very large, very poor family who are clearly struggling to make ends meet. Peter Cratchit was earlier reprimanded for eating a scrap of gingerbread dough before it was ready, so poor are they. Scrooge takes Bob’s place at the table and the family introduce themselves. When we get to “I’m Tim” Scrooge says “I know you are”,  the creepiest possible thing you could say in that moment.

Tim sings us out and we spend the last minute of the film watching Scrooge’s face as he listens to the song. What is obvious is that Fredric March has not heard the song because his face shifts from sad to pensive to happy every few seconds regardless of any emotional beats in the music.

I hated this. This film was terrible. It was more technically competent than 1949 but less charming and with an obviously higher budget so less can be excused. 

3 hideous, hateful renditions of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s song out of 10

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Next week’s episode: Ethel Merman’s Show Stoppers (is presenting by Chrysler)

A Chradvent Carolendar #6: A Carol For Another Christmas (1964)

A Carol for Another Christmas was the first in a series of television specials commissioned by the United Nations to promote and educate viewers about its mission. With an elevator pitch like that we can’t go wrong, can we? Can we? Can we?

Turns out we can’t, this was pretty good. Horribly depressing but good.

A lot of very talented people worked on this. It was directed and produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, written by Rod Serling, with music by Henry Mancini, and starring Sterling Hayden and Peter Sellers among many others.

There’s a lot to dissect. It’s bleak, it’s political and it’s heavily didactic. It makes George Bernard Shaw look like Roy Chubby Brown. I shall warn you, this blog post will be extremely light on jokes. If you want jokes I suggest going back to #5 and rereading that. (You are reading these in order as they come out, right?)

The film takes its time to establish itself and over the first four minutes we get four extended sequences. The first is a series of outside wintertime establishing shots. The second follows Charles, an African-American butler, as he tends to his duties around a mansion. As you can see, the table is set for two. The third sees a solemn figure sitting in total darkness listening to upbeat wartime music. In the fourth we see him wring his hands as he pores over a collection of medals and old photographs. With no narrator or dialogue we have already established a few of essential facts about what is obviously our Scrooge.

He is more alone than he wants to be, he is wealthy, and he has a relationship with the military. This film was made at the height of the Cold War so will it be about The Bomb?

You might be thinking that Charles the Butler is our Bob Cratchit. Well you’d be quite wrong, you absolute moron. We get Fred, Scrooge, a bit of Marley, the spirits and that’s it, very little of the original story remains. We also get a hospital scene where some children, in the aftermath of Hiroshima, are shown to have literally had their faces melted off, which I’m fairly sure was in early drafts of the Dickens.

This version of Fred might be my favourite version of Fred. He’s more solemn, isn’t simply a vessel for bonhomie and sounds like Bing Crosby. He has a complicated relationship with his Uncle, whose name we learn is Daniel Grudge, fostered on political disagreements. They constantly snipe at each other in the way that only people who know each other extremely well do.

“Well now nephew, which one of your many causes brings you out into the snowy night? What is it this time, a movement to donate the Mississippi river to the Sahara desert?”

“You can do better than that.”

“Not with a full stomach I can’t.”

Sharp, witty, full of character. At one point halfway through this film I realised I was just transcribing dialogue rather than taking notes. The script is by far the strongest part of this film (though it is also beautifully directed).

We learn that Grudge has used his considerable unseen influence to block an educational exchange programme at a local University between an American and a Polish professor. Grudge is fearful of Communists and does not like the progressive, humanitarian work that Fred does with what we presume is the UN (we do not get a namedrop until the last 15 minutes of the film and even then it’s very brief).

Grudge believes that every man is an island. It is Scrooge’s “let me keep Christmas in my own way” extrapolated to it’s logical contemporary extreme; nationalist conservative, laissez-faire politics. This is Grudge’s equivalent hatred of Christmas but the execution of his redemption is incredibly confusing. The film is anti-war but pro-intervention. A full half of the Ghost of Christmas Past is an argument where Grudge argues with the spirit that the World Wars were not America’s to fight but also that the only humanitarian aid the poor need is the shelter provided by America’s nuclear umbrella.

It is the kind of moral ambiguity that can only have come from an extremely specific commission brief from a 1960s UN that needed to both a) protest the use of nuclear weapons and b) be prepared to justify intervention into countries prepared to use nuclear weapons. On paper these may sound compatible but they do not convert into the black and white moral message required by the A Christmas Carol story.

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Here we see Fred and Grudge, with Grudge’s dead son Marley in portrait form between them. Clever shot that visually demonstrates the structure of the Uncle-Nephew relationship. Marley is the reason the two still talk to each other and his death is the driving force behind Grudge’s anti-interventionist ideology. He died in World War Two and is whom Grudge sets the table for on Christmas Eve. 

Marley never says a word and is only briefly glimpsed here in what is also the coolest, most eerie revelation of Marley I’ve seen yet.

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They don’t need Marley to say that Grudge is going to be haunted because it’s all cleverly implied in the previous Grudge/ Fred conversation. (Note – I later learned that they did film a scene like that but it got cut.)

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a WW1 soldier who first argues with Grudge on a boat carrying soldiers corpses home and then shows him Grudge’s visit to Hiroshima 20 years previously in the September after the war. Here we meet the aforementioned butchered children. The exact dialogue in the build up to the reveal is between a Japanese doctor and Grudge, a colonel at the time, and is as follows:

“When the plane flew overhead these children looked up at the sky. Their faces were upturned to the blast. They suffered what we call flashbang. It is a term we used to describe instantaneous thermal radiation.”

“How badly were they burned?”

“They have no more faces, Commander.”

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Jesus Christ.

The doctor tells the children (who are still alive, by the way) that the American naval officers have come to “wish them well”. The irony is not lost on the audience or by the actor, who delivers it perfectly.

There’s a lot of this kind of stuff and I won’t go into it all. It’s fairly grim and at times narratively messy but always very sharply written and directed.

Grudge is extremely mercenary and is obsessed with statistics and military utilitarianism. He makes the old argument about the necessity of dropping the bomb to shorten the war. So then why is he so anti-interventionist? By this point his son had died, surely?

The following clip from a scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present has him directly confront that aspect of Grudge’s personality. (It’s also, simultaneously, the best acted scene in the film and representative of all of its problems.)

There are lots of well made humanitarian points throughout these segments:

“If you shared a loaf of bread with them how would you be relinquishing your freedom? If you joined other nations to administer vaccines to their children how would you have desecrated your flag?”

It reads like Marx. But the problem is that something so dark, heavy handed and didactic, billing itself as an adaptation of A Christmas Carol and airing on prime time ABC is probably not going to communicate all the points you want it to.

Superb transition into the Future Ghost. Shows how much you can do with a small television budget and precipitates what Rod Sterling would later do in The Twilight Zone. 1949’s adaptation has no excuse.

We’re in the nuclear apocalypse now and Peter Sellers takes over as Imperial Me, a hyper exaggerated non-interventionist and social libertarian. Maybe he’s meant to be an objectivist, he does actively espouse the worth of greed and self interest. It’s very out of tone with the rest of the film and this is by far the most heavy handed we get. Grudge says the crowd are insane and we get a moment where Future turns to him and says Aha! But it’s what YOU believe!!

Peter Sellers is quite good but I have no idea what accent he is going for here. I think it’s Louisiana.

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A future version of Charles stands as the sole voice of reason delivering a passionate speech about the values of diplomacy, democracy and international cooperation to a crowd that boos him so vociferously that he breaks into tears.

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Interesting to note that a black actor has a major role in a mainstream American drama from 1964 where his race is never mentioned or openly politicised – though the speech to the crowd does have racial overtones in form.

There’s no tacked-on gravestone sequence just because “that’s what you do”. I like that. 

You’d think the resolution would be that Grudge would wake up, announce to Fred that he would allow the cultural exchange and then invite him over for dinner to sit in Marley’s seat. Instead, he merely apologises and then looks pensive drinking his morning cup of coffee as the credits play.

I usually like it when the message isn’t spelled out but Grudge’s resolution here is extremely vague and unsatisfying. Because it’s difficult to pinpoint his precise politics at the beginning it’s difficult to see how he’s changed and how his actions will have consequences, especially as how the only person he ever interacts with is Fred.

I have a lot of sympathies with this production; it was broadcast with no commercial breaks and the actors all waived their fees (with the exception of Sellers who took a reduced fee of $350 from $750,000). It was clearly made with good intentions even though the internal politics are extremely confusing and heavy handed. 

I’d actually thoroughly recommend this if you’re into alternative Christmas films and Cold War domestic American politics. The dialogue is really fun to listen to and the acting is universally pretty great. 

7 nuclear warheads aimed directly at Charles Dickens’ face out of 10

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Wow, this one was really was light on jokes. Realistically depicted nuclear holocaust will do that to you, I suppose.

 

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.

 

A Chradvent Carolendar #8: A Christmas Carol (1971)

First cartoon of Chradvent!

A Christmas Carol (1971) was animated by Richard Williams (the mastermind behind the animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the essential Animator’s Survival Kit and semi-lost animated feature The Thief and the Cobbler) with Ken Harris who animated the greatest animated short of all time with the producer of this film Chuck Jones). As a result, this is fucking beautiful.
Remember the incredible title cards from the 1970 version?

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Yeah well fuck you how about 24 of those every second?

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Alastair Sim and Michael Horden reprise their roles from the 1951 film as Scrooge and Marley respectively. Their performances are nowhere near as dynamic or interesting as in 1951 because these versions of the characters are severely abridged to make way for reproducing A Christmas Carol as simply as possible. Each essential beat of the story follows the previous. Marley knocker. Marley ghost. Grave/ gravy. Christmas Past. The bare essentials. There is no story department because the story is a wire frame from which to hang some very pretty pictures. All things considered, this is probably the most faithful adaptation yet. 

This is the opening shot; an extended pan and zoom using extreme perspective and fluid camera movements to introduce us immediately to Scrooge. No messing around.

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Props to Richard Williams for being the first director to faithfully adapt the original description of the Ghost of Christmas Past that I mentioned previously as:

“being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom where in they melted away”

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Although, to their credit, I suppose replicating the effect in live action would probably put too much strain on the actor’s spine/ limbs.

The character animation is incredible. Ken Harris was responsible for Scrooge; I’ve clipped him delivering his surplus population line. So, so good.

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And here when we see Scrooge aging up, transitioning between segments in the Past stave.

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The film races through Christmas Past, faithfully hitting each essential story beat for the bare minimum amount of time necessary. It was only scrolling through the YouTube comments afterwards did user 2071Johnny raise a very good point about the inclusion of the scene where Belle breaks up with Scrooge:

“You could’ve fast forwarded past that, spirit. In not one single installment has the lose end of his love life ever been tied up. Kind of a harsh filler.”

And you know what, he’s absolutely right. The other segments of Past (school, Fezziwig) allow Scrooge to reflect on his issues around loneliness and making merry. They’re both tied up in the end as part of Scrooge’s redemption arc. But the love angle of the Scrooge story is literally never resolved. It is established across multiple versions that Belle was the only person Scrooge ever loved and it is always left unresolved. Always.

[Edit: I have been informed that the arc is resolved in Scrooged. I look forward to watching it later this month.]

And while we’re on the subject, why does Scrooge die if he doesn’t reform? Does he get murdered? Do the spirits murder him? Does Bob Cratchit murder him? Is it the raw power of Christmas bonhomie that keeps his yuletide heart beating?

Back to pretty shots.

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There really isn’t much else to say. I would only remark that Alastair Sim is probably there for nostalgia; he is not replicating his 1951 performance as his version of Scrooge is very different to Richard William’s version of Scrooge. That was fine for that and this is fine for this. Sim reads the lines well and you can tell the voice direction was good but it does not reach the lofty heights of his 1951 characterisation.

You have to consider what a project to achieve when evaluating how good it is. This project achieved exactly that which it set out to achieve; to animate A Christmas Carol. It was unconcerned with frills or interpretation.
As such rating it as I have done this past week becomes incredibly difficult. As an adaptation of A Christmas Carol it is far from Superior but as a short film in its own right it is absolutely exceptional.

6 Garrett Gilchrist restorations out of 10 with the caveat that in any other context it’d be a 9 or 10


I might retcon this rating later, I’m more uncertain of this than any rating yet. It’s a third rate adaptation but a first rate cartoon.

A Chradvent Carolendar #9: Rich Little’s Christmas Carol (1979)

I have no idea who Rich Little is. You probably don’t either. What matters is that he was important enough in the late 70s to get his very own Christmas special. I went into this totally blind.

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Does… does that say merriest or messiest? I’ve legitimately no idea but either way we’re in for a treat.

Here’s our man of the hour, Rich Little, who looks exactly like Peter Serafinowicz’s impression of Alan Alda.

1979balanaldaIt quickly becomes clear that impressions are, by coincidence, exactly what Rich Little is known for as the title crawl then lists all the famous people he’ll be caricaturing (always a sign of confidence in the impersonator). Is he really planning on recreating A Christmas Carol with various forgotten celebrities?

No, that can’t be it.

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So Scrooge is W. C. Fields, a man known exclusively for his work in such toilet literature classics as “Grumpy Old Wit” and “1000 Brilliant Quotes”. I had to look up YouTube clips of W. C. Fields shortly after starting because there was no way that a human being could sound like Rich Little does here and not be terminally ill. 

Bob Cratchit is Paul Lynde (me neither) and, instead of being money lenders, the two own a “Boat and Bottle” business, whatever the fuck that is. Rich Little invented an entire industry just so the narrator could say “Bob built the boats and Scrooge emptied the bottles” because Rich Little was unable to do his impression of W. C. Fields without making constant references to the man’s crippling alcoholism.

The jokes are staggeringly weak. They’re not even jokes. Scrooge sings “I’m dreaming of a tight Christmas” cue laughter. Before asking Scrooge if he can put another log on the fire, Bob jumps up and down and says he’s doing a new dance called “freezing and shivering”. It brings me no great pleasure to say that I’ve seen funnier moments in Scooby Doo. 

There’s an odd moment where Bob has his hand on the stove pipe then realises and draws it away in pain. I am not clear if he is doing that because it is hot (which doesn’t make any sense) or because it is cold (which doesn’t make any sense).

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It would make more sense if it his hand froze to the pole but then why would he have this reaction?

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I’m not going to dwell on this. Fred enters and it’s Johnny Carson. There’s some terrible continuity editing.

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Pause.

Ever wondered what celebrities think about other peoples impressions of them? Here’s Johnny Carson on Rich Little, straight from Wikipedia:

“Little’s impersonation allegedly got under the skin of Carson and he was permanently banned without notice or reason [from The Tonight Show] after his August 1982 appearance according to Little’s biography, and this claim was supported by Henry Bushkin, Carson’s long-time lawyer, who stated that nobody got under Carson’s skin more than Little.”

You almost gotta try hard to be that bad. The article goes on to say that he hosted the 2007 White House Correspondents Dinner. 

“Although President George W. Bush was reported to have enjoyed Little’s performance, it was panned by some reviewers for “his ancient jokes and impressions of dead people””.

I went back and watched that Correspondents Dinner and… my god. In this clip below, which I implore you desperately to watch, Little tells an extremely prolonged joke about hunters who confuse deer tracks with train tracks, berates the audience for not “getting the joke”, then, for no reason, singles out and insults members of the New York Times, promising to send them copies of Bill O’Reilly’s book “Culture Warrior”.

I mean, he’s not quite Stephen Colbert, is he?

The chuggers are Laurel and Hardy.

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His Stan is fine but his Oliver is awful. The slapstick in this movie, and there is a lot of it, is unequivocally awful.

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It’s even worse with sound – you can hear his feet hitting the bottom of the door frame way before his face makes contact, telegraphing the joke and rendering it even more desperately unfunny. 

Someone made this! Money, time and effort went into this!

Very odd sequence.

Scrooge sees Cratchit working, sneaks up on him, causes him to break the boat he’s made and then reprimands him for not doing the work he was just doing. Very out of character for both Scrooge and W. C. Fields. Also I’m not sure that’s quite how you get a boat into a bottle.

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Scrooge enters his house and his nose glows. Took me a while to get this one before I realised it was meant to imply he was drunk. Undercut by 1) his nose not being red in any other scene before or after and 2) by it being a clearly visible comic relief-style prop red nose.

Jacob Marley is Richard Nixon.

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I will give this film its credit, there are four (4) good jokes in total and two of them are here. The first is that instead of Marley’s chains he has the reels of the Watergate tape. The second is his line

“Expect the first ghost when the bell tolls one. The second 18 and a half minutes later.”

Even then it’s a 3 out of 5. Then he goes ahead and ruins the joke anyway 10 seconds later by turning to the camera and saying “they’ll never let me forget those 18 and a half minutes”. Why does every joke in this sound like it was written by an alien?

The grave/ gravy joke is gone because it would make Rich Little’s material look pathetic by comparison. I double checked and, yes, Rich Little is the only credited writer.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is Humphrey Bogart.

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By now we see a pattern. The impression appears, with a heavy reliance on costume, and delivers a few lines from their original property with a Christmas twist. Except here Humphrey Bogart doesn’t even bother festivising it:

“In all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world I had to walk into his”

He takes us back to Fezziwig’s “boat and bottle warehouse” party where Jimmy Stewart plays Dick Wilkins (remember that unforgettable timeless character) who lectures Scrooge for being miserly. I thought the whole point was that Scrooge only became miserly when he turned his back on Fezziwig’s outlook later in life?

Also Fezziwig is Groucho Marx.

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We get a musical number here called “Typical Office Party” where Groucho goes around pinching womens’ bums. Oof.

Did you know HBO made this? I’ll never be able to watch The Sopranos again.

Ok, past is over now. Time for Present. Who could it be?

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Oh, it’s Columbo. Hello Columbo.

I won’t fault him when he succeeds, his Peter Falk is fairly good. But he brings us into the most batshit insane Christmas Present segment I’ve seen yet.

For a start, Mrs Cratchit is Edith Bunker. From All In The Family. WOW.

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But here’s the best bit. Stop the fucking presses everyone, Tiny Tim is TRUMAN CAPOTE played by an ACTUAL CHILD.

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Not only this, but we never get a scene or a single line of dialogue to suggest that Tiny Tim is ill nor do we ever see him again. He’s not even mentioned. We don’t see the grieving Cratchits or Tim’s gravestone. The entire centrepiece of A Christmas Carol is chucked out of the fucking window.

Disappointingly, we cut to a closeup of Rich Little for a couple of Tim/ Truman lines. The bad news is that I was expecting the child to do it. The good news is that Rich Little’s impression sounds like Droopy Dog.

Following exchange between Peter Cratchit and Bob:

“What do you think of the meal we’ve prepared for you father?”

“Offensive.”

If I was Tiny Tim with a father as mean spirited as that (probably as a result of a lifetime of homosexual repression) I’d welcome death.

Who’s the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?

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Oh COME THE FUCK ON. Inspector fucking Clouseau? It’s not even an impression. It’s just a French accent. That’s it! There is literally no more to it than an accent, the costume and the Pink Panther theme playing in the background. That is not an impression. That is nothing. It is a true void and it is the single worst characterisation for Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come possible. It is. I have thought about it and there is no worse candidate for the Ghost of Christmas Future than a bad impression of Inspector Clouseau. It is the endgame. “It’s a comedy” I hear you say. “Live a little” I hear you say. Well it’s also a story, and up to this point has at least attempted to hit some of the beats of the classic it is attempting to replicate.

The placement of impressions is arbitrary. It’s almost random. Paul Lynde is Bob Cratchit simply because Rich Little can do Paul Lynde and needed to put him in somewhere. No other thought went into it.

As a result of the Pink Panther theme forming a large part of his impression of Clouseau, this becomes the second film of Chradvent to feature the music of Henry Mancini. Rich Little seems to have a bit of a history with Blake Edwards; he occasionally provided the voice for the otherwise silent cartoon Pink Panther character (foreshadowing Clouseau’s loud Future ghost) and provided the dub for David Niven in some of the Panther sequels. Why? Who knows. I suppose this also makes this the second film of Chradvent to feature Peter Sellers, in one way or another. No wonder he died in 1980.

We then cut to the future as the gentlemen outside the bank discuss the death of a mystery man (hint: it’s Scrooge). We get James Mason

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George Burns

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and… 

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John Wayne? In full cowboy gear? Mr Little, is your impression of him really so bad that you have to dress him like a cowboy even though everyone else is dressed like a Victorian? 

Don’t answer that.

We get one of the four good jokes in the graveyard scene.

“You have never lifted a finger to help anyone!”

“That’s not true. I’ve given many people who needed my help the finger.”

It’s then immediately undercut by some fucking stupid awful unfunny slapstick. Not even going to clip it. Clouseau falls in the grave. When helping him up, Scrooge notices that his own name is on the gravestone and drops Clouseau back in again. He promises to reform and give up liquor and we return to the present.

Scrooge has now given up liquor, completely destroying his business model. If Bob built the boats and Scrooge emptied the bottles then what possible role in the business could Scrooge now occupy? He’s definitely shown no marketing or sales acumen heretofore. This also throws Bob’s situation directly into question and could jeopardise the life of Tiny Tim even further if only he hadn’t been introduced and then immediately forgotten.

The fourth good joke comes as Fred offers a reformed Scrooge a belt of scotch. It’s more like a half good joke.

“A drink? No, I cant stand the sight of the stuff”

“I know, that’s why you drink, to get it out of your sight.”

It’s uneven and the idea is there, but the execution is off. 

Oh, not to worry, they get Dean Martin to empty the bottles instead – except his voice is off screen because Rich Little can’t do a convincing enough physical impression/ doesn’t have access to a Rat Pack costume. It still means that Scrooge’s role in the business is completely redundant. Good. I hope he dies.

At the end of the film, all the characters we now know and love turn to the camera and personally thank Rich Little.

What a shitshow. This might be the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

0.5 out of 10


Almost gave this a 0 but, to be fair, his Columbo was good. That said, I have no reservations in describing this as the most Inferior adaptation of any property across all media and time.

A Chradvent Carolendar #10: Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Yesterday’s Chradvent left me completely emotionally drained. It was very kind then of Disney to make theirs the next chronologically. Mickey’s Christmas Carol is typical cartoon fun; it’s nothing special but I’d say it’s probably the best family friendly, 25 minute long adaptation you could make bearing in mind the source material.

Let’s see who worked on this, then.

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Ah, Glen Keane. He’d go on to do some incredible character animation during the Disney renaissance and recently went viral for an appearance on The Late Late show where he drew a 3D picture of Ariel in real time in VR. Who else?

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Ah. Never mind.

Can you guess which beloved Disney character is playing the part of Ebenezer Scrooge? Let’s just throw a dart at something. There isn’t a W. C. Fields Mouse and Rich Little is busy. Let’s probe the depths of the Donald Duck universe, which apparently exists and is distinct from the Mickey Mouse universe . But who? Who??

Ok enough it’s Scrooge McDuck.

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Considering the title is Mickey’s Christmas Carol I thought Mickey might be our Scrooge. It seems obvious that Scrooge McDuck would play Ebenezer Scrooge but bear in mind this was a good four years before Ducktales came out and McDuck was not a well known character at the time outside of the comic books.

The premise here is very similar to Duck Dodgers or… ugh… Rich Little’s Christmas Carol in that established characters are actors in the story of A Christmas Carol. Scrooge McDuck plays Ebenezer Scrooge and is referred to as such. Mickey Mouse is Bob Cratchit, etc. Right away we can see why each character was cast; Scrooge McDuck is obvious but even Mickey Mouse makes sense as the good natured Bob Cratchit. Donald Duck is maybe the most obvious casting, being both the real (read: in Duck Universe) nephew of Scrooge McDuck and the fictional (read: fictional within Duck Universe) nephew of Ebenezer Scrooge; Fred. Makes Rich Little’s characterisations look even more arbitrary and stupid. Paul Lynde for Bob Cratchit? Inspector Fucking Clouseau as the Ghost of – no, no. It’s over now. I can stop.

Fred invites Scrooge over for Christmas dinner. He specifically mentions that they’ll be eating goose. Fatalistic. I presume this cartoon is set in the same universe, where famine has driven the desperate to avian cannibalism. It’s even worse because later a named sentient goose shows up at Fezziwig’s party.

The animation is really smooth and pleasant to look at. Paused on some really good inbetweens that show great squash and stretch

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Next up are the chuggers. Who do we think, Chip and Dale maybe?

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I, uh – who? Is that… Rat and Mole from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad? Christ, it is. Ok. I didn’t even think anyone at Disney had seen that.

There’s a nice bit where Scrooge palms them off by saying:

“You realise if you give money to the poor they wont be poor anymore, will they? And if they’re not poor any more then you won’t have to raise money for them anymore. And if you don’t have to raise money for them anymore then you’d be out of a job. Please gentlemen, don’t ask me to put you out of a job – not on Christmas eve.”

At least it’s something a bit different. It’s also closer in line to the sarcastic, witty Scrooge of 1951 than any version since.

Bob Cratchit goes home at 7pm (10 hour workdays, 6 days a week, thank god for the labour movement) and asks for half the day off for Christmas. This is the first version where he asks rather than being offered and where he only wants half the day rather than all of it.

Now, who did they choose to play Marley?

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Goofy? Why the fuck would anyone want to go into business with Goofy? I literally can’t imagine anyone worse as a business partner. He’s got a massive gambling problem for a start.

This is a bit of casting with which I disagree; Goofy is playing out of type here and is not by nature a Jacob Marley. Oh well, at least he gets to do his signature yell.

Jiminy Cricket is the Ghost of Christmas Past. That makes sense. We get taken straight to Fezzywig’s [sic] party and are introduced to the sentient goose that Donald plans to butcher and ingest.

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Lots of cameos in this scene. As you can see, we get the rabbit children from Robin Hood along with a few Aristocats and Extended Duck Universe characters. 

Fezzywig [sic] is…

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Mr Toad? From The Adventures of Ichibod and Mr Toad? Not Baloo or… ok, sure, whatever.

We pan over to a young Ebenezer who is described as a “shy young man”. His Belle is Daisy Duck which raises a lot of questions re: intergenerational incest with Donald. (We never meet Fred’s wife in this version, maybe there’s a reason Scrooge disapproves.)

The Ghost of Christmas Present is Willie the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk. I guess he retrained following the famine.

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He was probably chosen for his size (described in the novella as a “jolly Giant”) but if anything this role could’ve been swapped with Marley. The giant of the Beanstalk story hoards wealth in-canon and Goofy is good-spirited and jolly enough to be the Ghost of Present. 

There are natural comparisons to be made between this and the 1971 Richard Williams version and yet the animation styles could not be more different. Both are good in their own rights but I’m struggling to pick out any scene or sequence in this that is particularly well animated or stylishly done. It sometimes feels like it’s going through the motions.

Bob Cratchit’s house then.

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I understand why they wanted to cast only existing Disney characters into existing roles but they were scraping the bottom of the barrel here. The Cratchit children are quoted as being drawn from Minnie & Mickey’s nieces and nephews; Millie, Morty, Melody and Ferdie, forgotten ancients who haven’t appear outside of a few comic strips from the 1930s and Disney Golf for the Playstation 2. They are played so far out of character here though that they are essentially entirely different characters. 

The Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge he sees an empty chair etc and Scrooge says “You mean the boy will…” because they can’t say the word “die” in a Disney film. This is immediately followed up by a horrifying scene set in a graveyard with lots of references to graves, dying and death.

(Ignore the ending to that clip.)

The reveal of Pete as Christmas Future is done in two stages and is altogether pretty menacing. 

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He’s smoking! You can ___ from smoking.

The shot where Scrooge falls into the grave is reminiscent of the scene from the 1970 version.

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Also the weasels from The Fucking Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad are there. Someone in the production team really liked The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad.

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Scrooge wakes up a reformed man etc. He accidentally busts his top hat on the way out, which is exactly what happens when Mr Banks reforms in Mary Poppins (maybe this was deliberate?).

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Scrooge McDuck then gives 100 gold sovereigns to the chuggers which is a bit less than £5000 in today’s money. We can equivocally state that this is the most generous Scrooge yet. Also, what’s his actual net worth? I hope this is established at some point. That’s a lot of money to just chuck at someone on a whim. Proper philanthropy requires forethought and planning. What an amateur.

We don’t get a “why sir, it’s Christmas day” moment.

This is the first to have Scrooge visit Bob’s house to play a prank on him. Also, Scrooge offers Bob partnership in his business instead of just a raise. I hope Scrooge’s generosity hasn’t gone to his head and Bob has demonstrated enough acumen for this to be worth it. Wouldn’t want to jeopardise the business as a whole. Though I suppose anyone’s better than fucking Goofy.

That’s it really. There aren’t really any clever twists on the original that you would expect from a better Disney cartoon and it’s a fairly straightforward march through the story beats. Well animated but not really well animated.

6 1/2 Victories Through Air Power out of 10


Rule #5 of Chradvent was “easy on the cartoons”. I’ve limited myself to 5 for this month because almost every single cartoon you can think of has done their own version of A Christmas Carol. I think it might be the most adapted property outside of… The Bible? Maybe one of Grimm’s fairy tales.