For my money, it’s this movie — and not Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” — that marks my favorite yuletide flick.
A made-for-television film, this rendition of Charles Dickens’ oft-spun classic “A Christmas Carol” joins dozens of others produced by Hollywood’s cheer factory. Some well done (and aired ad nauseum every December), and others clearly less than memorable.
What separates this “Carol” from all others is its wonderful cast. Legendary actor George C. Scott is an ideal curmudgeon as Scrooge, so cold and stone-faced that one almost bristles at his heartless manner. But even more novel is Scott’s Ebeneezer being — of all things — a restrained man, even after his change to one of good conscience and humor. This marks a welcome difference from other “Carols” (including the fine 1951 version with Alastair Sim) which depict Scrooge as a cranky old bastard transformed into a happy fun ball of holiday cheer, and — even more curious — those around him so willing to believe his new attitude. However, to see Scott just as overtaken by happiness and the people around him actually skeptical of the new Ebeneezer reaffirms what a mature and intelligent “Carol” this is.
The film also deals strong acting by David Warner as upbeat pauper Bob Cratchit, Susanna York (“Superman”) as his dutiful wife, and Edward Woodward (“The Equalizer”) who is brilliantly both jovial and grim as Christmas Present. Even Christmas Future, played by Michæl Carter, has never looked better. He’s truly an otherworldly wraith, and not just some guy in black with no dialogue.
Yet even more encouraging with this production — yes, I know I’m gushing — is the respect given to Dickens’ original text, reset by screenwriter Roger Hirson, who neatly captures the story’s political edge. It’s an element ignored in many versions of “A Christmas Carol” which also enhances its innate darkness. God forbid, the movie is even filmed in a London neighborhood as opposed to some Los Angeles soundstage!
Put simply, if I were one who awarded stars to movies, this “Christmas Carol” would easily score the maximum — scoring so well on multiple levels that the entire package (cast, writing, production values) cannot be lauded enough.