Every Version of “A Christmas Carol”

Looka here — I have verified empirically what we have all sensed instinctively: there are way too many friggin’ versions of Charles Dickens 1843 story A Christmas Carol. It is a powerful affecting tale and a brilliant piece of writing, but familiarity breeds contempt.  I felt there were too many versions THIRTY YEARS ago, yet Tinseltown just keeps plopping them out like  cookies out of a Christmas donkey’s ass.

Oh…and dont you dare accuse me of Scroogery! I think I have done more than my share of bringing the cheer this holiday season  in about 50 separate blogposts. But scan this list, you must agree with me. This meshuggah yarn has been COVERED, Jack, from every possible angle.  Oh, but don’t you worry: some committee of doofuses will find a way to wring another nickle — sorry: tuppence — out of this depleted husk of corn. If there was anything calculated to turn me INTO Scrooge, it’s this plethora, this glut of Christmas Carols…certainly all of the ones made after 1971.

A quick thumbnail primer to the sprawl you will find below:

The versions I knew in my childhood were the 1970 musical Scrooge with Albert Finney, the 1971 animated film with the voice of Alistair Sim, and the 1962 Mr. McGoo version. I’ll always have a certain affection for these. In adulthood I became acquainted with the 1938 Reginald Owen and the 1951 live-action Alistair Sim. Most critics prefer the latter; I am partial to the former. And of course nowadays I love the silent ones. And as I said, most of the ones made after 1971 are for the most part like fingernails on chalkboard to me…

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1901

Scrooge or Marley’s Ghost

The first known cinematic version, made in Britain back in the days of one reel (5-10 minute) films. Only a fragment (but a goodly fragment) survives.

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1908

A Christmas Carol

The first U.S. version, produced by Essanay Studios and starring Thomas Ricketts. It is considered lost.

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1910

A Christmas Carol

This early 1910 version produced by Thomas Edison exceeds nearly all subsequent versions in atmosphere and charm.  The cast includes Marc McDermott as Scrooge, Charles Ogle as Bob Cratchett (Ogle is also well remembered as the original Monster in Edison’s Frankenstein), Viola DanaWilliam Bechtel, Carey Lee and Shirley Mason.

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1913

Scrooge

This British version starred Seymour Hicks in the title role. He was well qualified, having played the part onstage since 1901. The film was re-released in the United States in 1926 as Old Scrooge, and remade as a talkie in 1935, also starring Hicks.

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1916

The Right to be Happy

This was the first feature length version and it starred Rupert Julianthe first major cinematic figure to come from New Zealand,  most famous now for directing The Phantom of the Opera (1925) The Right to Be Happy is now presumed lost.

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1923

A Christmas Carol

This British version starred Russell Thorndike, Nina Vanna, Jack Denton, and Forbes Dawson. Copies are extant, but it’s not on Youtube.

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1928

Scrooge

This is the first talkie version, a nine minute Phonofilm short by sound-on film pioneer Lee DeForest. It starred British actor Bransby Williams, who had played many other Dickens roles over the years, including Micawber and Bill Sykes (which also indicates quite a range).

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Radio! 

Just a brief interlude to insert: in the heyday of Old Time Radio in the 30s and 40s, there were countless radio versions:  the most notable was Lionel Barrymore who did it annually for many years, but there were also versions by Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, and others

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1935

Scrooge

English star Seymour Hicks recreates his famous portrayal of Scrooge from his many stage productions, and the 1913 silent. This version, to the dissatisfaction of many, does away with the 3 ghosts (they’re there, you just can’t see them. It is a tepid, clunky version — I wanted to like it more than I did.)

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1938

A Christmas Carol

This is the MGM version, fairly well known to Americans. It was to have starred Lionel Barrymore, who had become popular for playing Scrooge on the radio, but he sustained an injury and had to be replaced by Reginald Owen. Anyone who has seen Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life knows what Barrymore’s Scrooge would have been like — definitive. So it’s quite a loss. But Owen is okay. Also in the cast are the Lockharts, Gene and Kathleen (real life man and wife), and their daughter June in her screen debut. As Cratchets, of course.

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1947

A Christmas Carol

A live television version for the DuMont network featured John Carradine as Scrooge, and featured Eva Marie Saint, in her debut.

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1949

A Christmas Carol

Vincent Price narrates this half hour television version, with Taylor Holmes as Scrooge.

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1951

Scrooge a.k.a A Christmas Carol

This is the one many claim to be their favorite, starring Alistair Sim. It’s probably my second favorite, after the Reginald Owen one. It’s missing something for me, although I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m not crazy about Sim’s characterization, for one; I find his face a little droll, not forbidding enough. And the design is not quite as atmospheric and scary as I would prefer — just a shade too light. But just a shade. Over all, it deserves its place at or near the top.

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1951

A Christmas Carol

A half hour version starring Ralph Richardson appeared on NBC’s Fireside Theatre.

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1954

A Christmas Carol

This one bears investigation. It aired on the program Shower of Stars; adaptation by Maxwell Anderson, music by Bernard Hermann, with Fredric March as Scrooge, Basil Rathbone as Marley.

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1956

The Stingiest Man in the World

This original tv musical aired on the Alcoa Hour, with Basil Rathbone as Scrooge — and Vic Damone as young Scrooge! It would later be remade as an animated special by Rankin-Bass.

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1958

A Christmas Carol

Basil Rathbone went back to the well again on a show called Tales from Dickens, this time with Fredric March as narrator. I think this version has my favorite Scrooge make-up — kind of an E.C. Comics/ Crypt Keeper idea.

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1962

Mr. McGoo’s Christmas Carol

Well! I should hope I don’t have to add anything to THIS! A pure delight, though we aren’t accustomed to McGoo being mean.

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1964

A Carol for Another Christmas

This is an all-star production created by Rod Serling. as some sort of tribute to the United Nations. The Duchess and I caught it on TV last year. It is a fairly incoherent Cold War parable starring Sterling Hayden as the Scrooge figure, whose crime is he doesn’t want to pay taxes that will go to international aid and defense! Propaganda FOR taxation — whoo boy — it’s been a LONG time since we’ve heard that!

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1969

A Christmas Carol

Straightforward and no-nonsense version produced in Australia and directed by Zoran Janjic. The man himself is played by former cricketer Ron Haddrick. Plays under an hour — not a big-budget affair, but a nice job nevertheless.

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1970

Scrooge

A terrific musical version starring Albert Finney,  with Alec Guinness as Marley. Seems to have more than a hint of Oliver! influence, which is fairly appropriate. The film has many memorable moments, including the Oscar nominated song “Thank You Very Much”, and I remember being quite terrified when the door knocker turns into Marley’s face.

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1971

A Christmas Carol

This animated short film was also shown on tv when I was a kid. The voice of Scrooge is Alistair Sim from the 1951 version. This one is also memorable: the illustrations are lovely, and I remember being quite scared of the ghosts, and the children “Ignorance” and “Want” under the Spirit’s robes.

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1978

Rich Little’s Christmas Carol 

A cringe inducing font of embarrassment, leaning heavily on a laughtrack in a story that is largely not supposed to be a comedy. Rich Little’s out-of-date impressions of 1930s celebrities were like a portion of gruel to be choked down by the 1980s. In 2013, it’s like looking at archival footage of an old sleigh wreck. In this HBO comedy special, he plays all the parts as different movie stars, with W.C. Fields as Scrooge. 30 seconds was enough for me to want to jump out the window.

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1978

The Stingiest Man in the World 

This animated re-make of the 1956 tv musical is by Rankin-Bass, the holiday people, who also made Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snow Man, etc. It stars Walter Matthau, which is very good casting for Scrooge, although I must say I’m disgruntled by the American accents. Other voices in the special include Tom Bosley, Robert Morse, Theodore Bikel and Paul Frees.

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1979

An American Christmas Carol

We watched this one with great interest when I was a kid.  Henry Winkler, in full ham mode, was eager to prove that he could be more than just the Fonz (he had also earlier made movies like Heroes and The One and Only). But the Fonz was so indelible you would watch these performances and go, “Look at him try to be not the Fonz!”) What makes this little tv movie interesting is that it is set in America during the Great Depression, which is an apt transposition. With no “safety net” yet in place, the poor were just as in need of generosity as were the inhabitants of Dickens’ England.

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1979

Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol 

A made-for-tv country music version starring Hoyt Axton, Lynn Anderson, Larry Gatlin, Tom T. Hall, Barbara Mandrell, Mel Tillis, The Statler Brothers, and I guess because they couldn’t find enough country singers who could act, Martha Raye and Dave Madden. 

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1979

Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol

I hold fast to my dictum at that there are no good Bugs Bunny movies made after the 1950s. In this version of A Christmas Carol, apparently Yosemite Sam plays Scrooge. I don’t need to see that. Thankfully no clips are available.

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1983

Mickey’s Christmas Carol

H’m, well, Scrooge McDuck is better casting for Scrooge than Yosemite Sam. After all, his name is Scrooge. Other than that, it’s yet another animated version we don’t need.

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1984

A Christmas Carol

A television movie starring George C. Scott. This is the one which provoked the cry from me, “Oh, forbear, spirits!” Was this one too much or ten too much? I felt (and this was 30 years and at least a dozen versions ago) that the genre (it’s become a whole genre) was so exhausted that I had no room in my head or in my heart for new versions, especially one without some serious twist. To his credit, Scott gives an interesting performance by giving a boring performance, going against tradition by not making his Scrooge entertainingly, overtly mean, just a tight fisted man of business. This makes it of academic interest, but there is no need to watch it more than once. I also dislike the modern, realistic take for ignoring the fact that Dicken’s wrote in broad, melodramatic strokes, in keeping with the aesthetics of his time. The tastes of his time ran to TYPE, not fidelity to nature. Symbolism and the music of words are what tell the story. Trying to turn it into something prosaically recognizable is a chump instinct. I know many disagree with me. They’re quite wrong.

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1988

Scrooged

Scrooged gets a pass because it IS substantially different. It is set in America in the present, so at least we aren’t hearing the same lines again and again and again. The film marked the “return” of Bill Murray after briefly retiring after the lackluster response to his first serious performance in The Razor’s Edge (1984), not including a cameo in Little Shop of Horrors. It was also an early chance to see one of my favorite comedians of the time Bobcat Goldthwait play something other than his outre stand-up character…

I’ve always thought Scrooged pairs nicely with Groundhog Day (1993), two films starring Murray about a cynical and nasty TV guy who is made to transform into a nice guy through the intercession of a magical event. But I’ve always thought Scrooged  suffered from a cynical and nasty edge….almost as though it came from the mind of Scrooge himself (it was penned largely by the legendary Michael O’Donoghue). It makes relentlessly mean fun at television’s cynical exploitation of Christmas but goes at it with such a malice and ill will that it feels less like watching a holiday film and more like listening to the bitter, unhappy drunk complain at your office Christmas party. I for one feel the transformation at the end rings false, too little, too late — like swishing some mouthwash around in your mouth after vomiting.

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1992

The Muppet Christmas Carol

This one sits at the crossroads of both too many Christmas Carols and too many Muppet movies. I love the Muppets, being human after all, but I really don’t want to see them in other roles (at least not at feature length) and certainly can’t invest in Dickens’ characters, or any characters when they are played by animal puppets. The upshot is that it’s a waste of a potentially good Michael Caine performance.

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1994

A Flintstones Christmas Carol

Now Hanna-Barbera commits the same sin as Warners Brothers and Disney. I say, “Yabba dabba don’t!”

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1995

Ebbie

“Queen of Mean” soap opera star Susan Lucci shows “you’ve come a long way, baby” by proving that lady executives can be just as mean as men in this made-for-tv movie. Lucci has the dubious distinction of being the first female Scrooge.

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1997

A Christmas Carol

Tim Curry as the voice of Scrooge, with Whoopi Goldberg, Ed Asner and Michael York, and a  long list of others. The budget clearly went to the celebrity salaries, ‘cuz it sure isn’t on the screen. This is possibly the ugliest, cheapest looking animated version, and that is really saying something given all that came before and after. And what’s with the dog?

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1997

Ms. Scrooge

OK, now Cicely Tyson is the first black woman in the role as one “Ebenita” Scrooge, with Katherine Helmond as the Ghost of Marley. (The first black man was of course Redd Foxx in the Christmas Carol episode of Sanford and Son).

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1999

A Christmas Carol 

This one is more forgivable. It was produced by Turner Television, inspired by Patrick Stewart’s one man stage show of the story. (This version has full cast though). It also has the distinction of being the first version to employ digital special effects.

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1999

Ebeneezer

This is a Canadian version of the tale set in the Old West with Jack Palance in the title role. Now THIS is one I might cotton to if I can get the chance to see it.

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2001

Christmas Carol: The Movie

THE movie? Don’t they mean the 75th movie? Yet another animated version with no discernible angle or new approach, aside from the handful of celebrity voices, here Simon Callow, Kate Winslet and Nicolas Cage. 

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2004

A Christmas Carol

A made for television musical with Kelsey Grammer, Jason Alexander and Geraldine Chaplin

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2006

A Sesame Street Christmas Carol

As opposed to a Muppet Christmas Carol (see above). This is getting dizzying. This one at least makes a modicum of sense in that Oscar the Grouch plays Scrooge.

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2009

A Christmas Carol

Jim Carrey in a “motion-capture animated” 3-d, Imax, version for Disney, with additional voices by Cary Elwes, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins etc. Unthinkably to many of us older folks, this highly marketed version may ironically be the one that is best known to many younger people.

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Is this all of them? Not by a long shot. I found mentions of scores of other versions: silent movies, television productions, animated films, special episodes of sit-coms, etc etc etc, on and on. But really, I have to stop now. I’m seeing visions.

 

4 comments

  1. Trav, I love your analysis as usual. However, I feel I must defend my favorite version of Christmas Carol, the 1982 George C. Scott version. The actors’ choices it much more emotionally authentic. Roger Rees’ Fred Hollywell is deeply dismayed and insulted at Scrooge’s rejection. And George C. is the only actor who has Scrooge laugh uproariously at the “boiled in his own pudding” line as if he were making a hilarious joke to himself, though he cares not a whit if anyone else thinks it’s funny. When Scrooge transforms, he is greeted at Fred’s house with suspicion and lingering hurt feelings…as might really happen if your nasty old uncle turned up at the door acting nice — what does HE want? Also, no one does an idealized Dickens London like the British (this version was shot in Shepperton Studios in London). Finally, it was very faithful to the original text (which I’m very prickly about), aside from Scrooge’s “God forgive me for the time I’ve wasted!” Another very authentic moment from a great actor. I could go on…but I’ve got some ice-sliding to do in the village square.

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    • I agree, Jennifer. While it is true there have been far too many remakes, I found the George C Scott one the best. It was a fresh take on the role, and one I found compelling.

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  2. I actually thought the 2009 Christmas Carol a delightful adventure and great movie making. Having seen it in London, at a special premiere screening, in Leiceister Square. A perfect film all the way around!

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