Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Two Christmas Carols

by G. Jack Urso

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a ubiquitous part of the holiday season; so much so, in fact, that it is easy to overlook the power of this simple story. Two of my favorite iterations of this classic tale include the 1970 musical version Scrooge, starring Albert Finney, and the 1971 animated version, A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim recreating his role from the superlative 1951 film version, also titled Scrooge. Both are available below form the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

For me, the exuberant musical version Scrooge (1970) is a must-see for the holiday season. Though receiving mixed reviews at the time of its theatrical release, this version received wide airplay in the 1970s and 1980s, consequently gaining many Baby Boomer fans.  Albert Finney and Alec Guinness star as Scrooge and Marley, respectively, and fans of British TV and film will notice many familiar faces, including Gordon Jackson (The Great Escape and Upstairs, Downstairs), Roy Kinnear (Help!, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and The Three Musketeers), and  Anton Rogers (The Prisoner, May to December, and Upstairs, Downstairs). The choreography is tight and a number of songs, including “A Christmas Carol,” “December the 25th,” “I Like Life,” “Happiness,” and “Thank You Very Much,” linger long in the mind well after the film is over.

The film was nominated for several Academy and Golden Globe awards and was later turned into a stage production in 1992 starring Anthony Newly in the title role. The full version is available below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
1971’s animated A Christmas Carol is a brief 25 minutes, but all the essential elements from the book are covered, reminding one just how short a story it is. The animation can be both whimsical and dark, and, indeed, this is a darker version of Dickins' story. At its heart, A Christmas Carol is more of a ghost story than a traditional feel-good Yuletide tale. In fact, the full title of the book is A Christmas Carol. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas; yet, despite that, it has an optimistic and life-affirming message.

As the film progresses the imagery grows more disturbing, evocative of Edward Gorey's work in tone, if not in composition. This is apparent in such scenes as when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come visits and is so intense that it may frighten some younger viewers. Alastair Sim ably demonstrates that he is the quintessential Ebenezer Scrooge, and his performance provides the character with depth, nuance, and subtlety. The legendary Chuck Jones, of Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes fame, lends his hand as executive producer. First released on TV, which I remember seeing, it was given a theatrical release and won a 1972 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film (which led to the rule banning programs first broadcast on TV from Oscar consideration). This is as much an underrated classic as ever there was one and deserves much wider appreciation by the general public. The full version is available below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
That both these films date back to the earliest years of my childhood, it is no wonder that I recall them so fondly. As Christmas is for children, each year we can revisit our youth by enjoying the tales told to us as children. For more great Christmas programs, please visit these other Aeolus 13 Umbra articles: CBS Seasons Greetings (1966): Animation by R.O. Blechman and J.T.: An Urban Christmas Carol.