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Scrooge (1951)

Courtesy of Renown Pictures

Main image of Scrooge (1951)
35mm, black and white, 86 mins
DirectorBrian Desmond Hurst
Production CompanyRenown Film Productions
ProducerBrian Desmond Hurst
AdaptationNoel Langley
PhotographyC.M. Pennington-Richards
MusicRichard Addinsell

Cast: Alastair Sim (Ebenezer Scrooge); Kathleen Harrison (Mrs Dilber); Mervyn Johns (Bob Cratchit); Hermione Baddeley (Mrs Cratchit); Michael Hordern (Jacob Marley); George Cole (young Scrooge)

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A miserly curmudgeon is forced to mend his ways after a series of supernatural encounters on Christmas Eve.

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Although there will always be dispute over which is Alastair Sim's finest screen performance, there's little doubt as to which is the best known. His 1951 characterisation of Charles Dickens' notorious curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge is not only generally regarded as definitive, but is also the only one of his films to achieve wide circulation in America, where it became a Christmas television perennial to rival The Wizard of Oz (US, 1939). There, it was known by the title of Dickens' original story A Christmas Carol, but in Britain it was named after the lead character.

And rightly so, because despite the stellar cast and a middle section where he is temporarily usurped by George Cole playing his younger self, this is Sim's film through and through. Clearly relishing the chance to play Scrooge as both villain and reformed hero, he takes an almost indecent delight in mocking the trappings of Christmas at every opportunity, shooing away carol singers and refusing to contribute to a fund for the poor. But after he's learned his lesson, he becomes almost childishly gleeful, dancing a little jig as he realises that he might actually enjoy living as a reformed character.

He's given ample support by an impressive supporting cast, including Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley as the downtrodden Cratchits, Michael Hordern as Scrooge's deceased partner Jacob Marley, Patrick Macnee as young Marley, Kathleen Harrison as Scrooge's Cockney housemaid, and a scene-stealing Ernest Thesiger as an over-eager undertaker. But the film's true voice of authority comes from Rona Anderson as Scrooge's fiancée Alice: in a crucial central scene, she bitterly rebukes him for favouring material wealth over love of his fellow man.

Casting aside, Brian Desmond Hurst's production is competent rather than inspired, with little of the cinematic brio that David Lean brought to his Dickens films a few years earlier. For all Sim's effective evocation of Scrooge's abject terror, the various ghosts are distinctly unfrightening, and the Cratchit family looks altogether too healthy to be convincingly on the brink of starvation, especially a ruddy-cheeked Tiny Tim who seems barely inconvenienced by his crutches. But the Victorian London setting is effectively staged, alternating between a picture-postcard white Christmas to an altogether harsher impression, as homeless women clutch their children to their ragged bosoms. Not only does this implicitly rebuke Scrooge for his callousness, it reminds us of the reforming zeal underpinning Dickens' own work.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Bah, humbug! (3:19)
2. Scrooge and Alice (2:40)
3. Christmas spirit (5:44)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
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Cole, George (1925-)
Donner, Clive (1926-2010)
Hordern, Sir Michael (1911-1995)
Jacques, Hattie (1922-1980)
Johns, Mervyn (1899-1992)
Macnee, Patrick (1922-)
Malleson, Miles (1888-1969)
Sim, Alastair (1900-1976)
Thesiger, Ernest (1879-1961)
Warner, Jack (1896-1981)
Dickens on Film