SCROOGE

(1970)
With Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, David Collings, Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Michael Medwin
Directed by Ronald Neame
Reviewed by JB

You are an old potato!     SCROOGE, the 1970 musical version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, is often ranked a notch below (and sometimes above) the 1951 version starring Alistair Sim.  While the 1951 film often feels like the novella coming alive on screen, Dickens himself would have probably heartily approved of this offbeat, tuneful adaptation. He certainly would have loved Albert Finney, who is the craggiest, crustiest, creepiest and most constipated Ebenezer Scrooge in film history. Finney's go for broke approach with the role, holding back nothing in either the pre-redemption or post-redemption scenes, may at first be a little offputting for somebody new to this film, but his display of the full range of Scrooge's emotions, from anger and hate through heartbreak and finally complete joy, make him one of the most endearing, human Scrooges on record.

     With the kind of classy, star-filled British cast worthy of a Harry Potter film, SCROOGE also features some excellent characterizations of the other classic Dickens characters from the book.  Alec Guinness is as ghostly a Jacob Marley as they come, while Kenneth More is perfection itself as the Ghost of Christmas Present, even as the writers add some added humor into his part ("Ebenezer Scrooge - come here, you weird little man!").  And Michael Medwin gets my vote for the most affable nephew Fred of all time.

     But the film belongs to Finney, who, at only 34, convincingly played uncle to an actor (Medwin) 14 years his senior.  Finney's age also allowed him to play young Ebenezer in the Past section, making the tale of his lost love Isabelle all the more heart-breaking.  Finney plays the old Scrooge as a dried up piece of fruit: hard, wrinkled, lacking the juice of life. When he is redeemed, his body, having been rigid for so many years, lacks any semblance of coordination.  It is a wonderful bit of acting, as Finney expresses joy and happiness through his face, his energy and his voice, even as his atrophied limbs struggle to straighten out.

    The score by Leslie Bricusse is notable in that Bricusse, who usually collaborated with other writers such as Anthony Newley, composed all the music for SCROOGE himself for the first time in his career.  It is a pleasant score, but perhaps there are a few too many songs, slowing down the narrative.   Still, though over the years, I've come to appreciate the better ones, such as "December the 25th", "I Like Life" and its opposite, "I Hate People".   The best song by far is the show-stopping "Thank You Very Much", performed twice in the film - once sung to a dead Scrooge in the Christmas Yet to Come scenes, and later, sung to a redeemed Scrooge. 

     The Albert Finney SCROOGE is my second favorite version of the story, and sometimes, every few years, it is my favorite. ½ - JB

Christmas     The Stuff You Gotta Watch

NOTES: This particular film is a favorite of mine for sentimental reasons as well.  My mom taped it off a local television station in 1984, and it is still this tape that I watch each Christmas.  The picture and sound quality remain reasonably good even after 22 years (on SLP no less!), but the film is of course shown in pan and scan rather than widescreen.  There is also at least one entire scene edited out, where Scrooge meets Jacob Marley in Hell. I have only just seen this sequence in 2010 on Turner Classic Movies.  (It turns out the TV editors had a good idea - the Hell sequence is pretty awful!).  This 1984 tape is like my own private time machine, allowing me to revisit local NYC Channel 9 (WOR) each year and remember what it was like two decades ago.  The commercials are especially fun.  My favorites are for Mr. T Cereal ("It's cool!" says the T-Man) and one for a toy set I think every child should find under their Christmas tree, Crossbows and Catapults. - JB

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