Those Blessed Ghosts

     There are people who think Ebenezer Scrooge is a wimp.  They point to his graveside pleading.  “Come on,” they tell me.  “He had to go through ALL those pages just to realize he was going to die some day?  That’s the big payoff?”

     These are the People Who Do Not get It.

     I admit Charles Dickens does not often pick up points for subtlety.  But he has been a touch too subtle here, and people don’t see what has horrified old Scrooge.  Let’s look over the Ghost:  shrouded in a dark garment which hides its head and form, scattering gloom and mystery.  Give it a scythe, and it would look like…..

     And that is what has just struck Scrooge.  Marley lied to him!  He died, in fact, just before old Jacob got there, and he has already started on his eternal punishment of, what was that, witnessing what he cannot share but might have shared.  Scrooge had already, when the Ghost of Christmas Past was leading him around, starting to think of ways he could change (filmmakers frequently ignore these bits, as it would cut into their dramatic conclusion) but that was all for nothing.  THIS is what has hit Scrooge so hard.  He CAN’T change.  He CAN’T fix the stuff he ruined.  It’s all going to happen, right down to that one person who felt genuine emotion that Ebenezer Scrooge had died.  (“Thank God!” is her reaction, but Dickens lets us guess this.) Now that he wants to, he CAN’T help.

     Thank you for letting me point out something you already knew.  (A lot of filmmakers don’t.)  But this is the third in our series of studies of Christmas carols a Lot of People Don’t Have Time For.

     The number of versions made of this work since 1843 is probably not countable, if you include puppet shows, slide shows, plays, movies, TV versions, and all the spinoffs: the Dobie Gillis Christmas Carol, the Pooh Christmas Carol, the Barbie Christmas Carol.  But I thought we could spare a little time for the worst versions of A Christmas Carol I ran into while writing a book on the subject.  My book was circumscribed and tightly controlled: only Christmas carols taking place in Victorian England were allowed.  Even here I found fascinating variations and trivia to play with.

     For example, you may well be aware of great actors like Basile Rathbone, Ron Haddrick, Basil Rathbone, and Seymour Hicks, men who not only portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge, but were filmed doing it at least twice.  Alastair Sim, for example, made two classic versions, twenty years apart.  Ron Haddrick starred in two abysmal version, just a couple of years apart.

     Mr. Haddrick passed from this mortal stage a year ago, aged ninety, after years of work in Australian television.  In the period of 1979 to 1982 (dating these gets iffy) he starred in made-for-TV animated versions which are amazing in their badness.  One, oddly enough, is one of the most faithful-to-the-text versions I ran into.  This badness cannot be attributed the Mr. Haddrick: the animation, the staging, and…at one point, Scrooge and his nephew launch into a duet in which they debate the merits of Christmas.  Not bad, not unusual except…it’s the only song in the whole blessed movie.  There isn’t even a musical soundtrack.  They just bust into song for no apparent reason.  It’s a bad version that way: fun and forgivable.

     What would you think of Vincent Price as Ebenezer Scrooge?  I had such visions of seeing an undiscovered classic when I picked up this, yeah, made for TV version from 1949.

     Fuggetaboutit.  This is another crammed into a half hour version in which Yalor Holmes and Patrick Whyte—not names which echo in MY movie memories—act out a dull, lifeless series of high points while Vincent, urbane and welcoming in a study, reads to us from the book to bridge those dreary scenes.  Vincent reading us the whole blessed book would have been more interesting.

     Let us leap next into this 1991 animated version, brought to you by the same folks who brought you VR Troopers.  Bob Cratchit comes dashing into his boss’s office to start the show, panting, “Thir, here’the the money Louis thent you to invetht.”  (Dickens himself gave Cratchit a lisp in public readings, so we’ll pass over this.

     “Fine” says Scrooge, “Justy enough to buy a new jet ski.”

     :But thir!” says Cratchit.  “Louis expectth you to invetht that in health food resthtrauntth!”

     “Cratchit!  It’s 1843!  No one’s going to be eating bran muffins for another hundred and fifty years!”

     First of all, let’s make it clear: this is NOT meant to be a parody.  It is meant to be a heart-warming half hour cartoon.  So what to make of the three Ghosts, who are fairies with poufed skirts and wands?  Or the narrator pointing out the exact moment when Scrooge realizes he is the villain in this movie?  Or the first straight explanation of what may happen to Tiny Tim?  (Well, he’s little, see.  So his parents are training him to be a jockey.  But Scrooge is so tightfisted with salaries, the Cratchits can’t afford a horse with four legs.  So one day, when Tim isn’t paying enough attention, the three-legged horse tips over and…this is in the script, mistletoe brittle…Squish!)

     This is NOT up there with The Muppet Christmas Carol, but again, it has so much fun being so bad, and it IS just another half hour….

     Speaking of time, I see I have grossly outspent my own, which leaves me no time at all to discuss what I consider the very worst screen version of A Christmas Carol I have sat through.  But why should I do any advertising for that piece of jetsam?  Go switch on Charlie brown and wash this all out of your head.

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