Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Dec 14 - Family Ties and The Real Ghostbusters (1983 and 1986)

I'm gonna cheat with my chronological order approach just a bit to put two TV specials together, These are the only "special Christmas episode of a TV show" versions I'm covering so I thought I'd do them at once. There are plenty of other shows that have their own Christmas Carol pastiches, but I didn't want to cover a dozen shows and so limited it to these two shows which I love in general. 

Family Ties is a show about two liberal parents who grew up as hippies in the '60s raising their kids in Ohio, but the twist is, somehow, their son Alex grew up to be a hardcore Reagan republican! So Alex is a pretty natural fit for fiscally conservative Scrooge. Though, at least in my recollection, they amp up Alex's personality a bit too much in this episode to make him a more heartless and Scrooge-like than is typical for his character.

So it's Christmas Eve and Alex is not feeling any of the festivities-doesn't want to decorate the tree and pose for photos, resents the notion of getting presents for anyone, and will not tolerate a single line of Christmas carol being sung. So two years before doing so to escape Libyan terrorists in a microbus, Michael J. Fox travels in time thanks to two ghosts who've taken the appearance of his sisters.

It proceeds about how you might expect. In the past, Alex felt the joy of Christmas and in the future the Keaton living room is a hilarious, nigh-dystopian scene of indoor clotheslines, filthy, raggedy shirts and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Alex is more cynical than ever and wealthy for one reason or another and lives out of state. Poor little Jennifer has to tote a wheelbarrow around selling dirt to help the family get by. I'm not sure exactly why the family has fallen into such terrible poverty because Alex doesn't love Christmas..but I guess these things happen sometimes. Alex sees the error of his way and when he wakes up the next morning he makes merry hardcore.

So it's a charming enough episode, but the problem for me is it's sitting in between being an episode of Family Ties and an adaptation/homage of A Christmas Carol. It's not a fully realized adaptation, and in trying to squeeze in a half-adaptation, it's only half a Family Ties episode and doesn't have room to be as smart and funny as a typical episode is. I'd be fine watching this anytime I'm watching a Family Ties marathon, but I'm not going to go out of my way to squeeze it into the annual Christmas movie rotation.

After Ghostbusters was released in 1984, they had to find a way to sell toys to us crazy kids and in the '80s that meant there had to be a cartoon. This episode is the one with the flimsiest reason to be on the list, as far as retellings of the novel, but I couldn't pass up a chance to include Ghostbusters.

The gang is returning from a far off job upstate when they drive into very heavy snow on a rural road and...go back in time through a portal thingy. Oh, and transported to England. They don't really seem to notice at first, the fact that everyone is speaking with accents and modern technology is nowhere to be found passes them by. When they stumble upon Ebeneezer Scrooge's house, all they see is an old man being harassed by three ghosts and so they do what comes natural. They trap the ghosts, eventually pry a shilling from Scrooge as payment...still not curious or overly surprised by their situation.

But! When they finally make it back to New York City, everyone is humbugging around the town. Being a Scrooge is just the norm because a hundred and fifty years ago Ebeneezer Scrooge, not transformed, wrote a book decrying the holiday! I'm impressed that one man's book could apparently tear down almost two thousand years of Christmas love, but that's what has happened. And a weird thing is that the Ghostbusters know all about A Christmas Carol and Scrooge, they just thought it was fiction.

Getting the Christmas ghosts out of the containment unit may be tricky, so the next obvious plan is to, of course, go back to the portal thingy, go back in time and Peter, Winston and Ray will pretend to be the three ghosts and turn Scrooge around. They do their thing and the real ghosts are freed and returned just in time to get back to Scrooge and finish the job. The Ghostbusters return to the present and all is right with the world.

So it's by no means an adaptation but as far as special episodes go it's a great success. It takes the premise of the book, a story just about everyone has heard and knows at least in broad strokes, and turns it on it's head so it fits perfectly within the world of the show. It doesn't just try to pointlessly, limply rehash the story for easy sentimentality points, but makes something uniquely its own. It won't be the only cartoon Christmas Carol you watch, but it would be fun to check out after watching a couple of the good feature length movies.

  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. Scrooge (1970)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  4. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
  5. A Christmas Carol (1971)
  6. The Real Ghostbusters-X-Mas Marks the Spot (1986)
  7. An American Christmas Carol (1979)
  8. Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
  9. Scrooge (1935)
  10. Family Ties-A Keaton Christmas Carol (1983)
  11. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  12. Rich Little's A Christmas Carol (1978)
  13. A Christmas Carol (1977)
  14. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  15. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  16. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Dec 13 - Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)

It was inevitable that there would be an animated Disney version. They put out some audio renditions on records but this is their first visual stab at it. I'm not the world's biggest Disney fan, so I don't have a lot of nostalgia and love for the characters in general going into this viewing. It's cute, it works pretty well, but doesn't jump to the list of animated adaptations for me.

By this point, the breadth of Disney characters to choose to use was very wide and so it was easy to assemble a great "cast". In particular, I like Willie the Giant and Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Future.

 It seems by this point, and with directors and writers as talented as those at Disney, it isn't a death sentence to only be a half hour long. This is a condensed version that hits all the right points and still has enough room to inject some of its own humor.

I think it's going to be said a lot from this point on, now that we're dealing with the most recent versions made at a time when they really aren't "necessary"...there's practically perfect straight adaptations, musicals, animated versions. The word serviceable comes to mind a lot. It often is all that I care to say after watching a lot of these...they're fine, they aren't offensively terrible but they aren't exceptional. And when you have a lot of alternatives you could watch, being adequate isn't good enough. I want to be convinced that there was a reason "this version" had to be produced. Not just because it was a no-brainer idea.
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. Scrooge (1970)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  4. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
  5. A Christmas Carol (1971)
  6. An American Christmas Carol (1979)
  7. Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
  8. Scrooge (1935)
  9. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  10. Rich Little's A Christmas Carol (1978)
  11. A Christmas Carol (1977)
  12. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  13. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  14. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dec 12 - An American Christmas Carol (1979)

This TV special is one of the first attempts at taking the spine of the story and implanting it in a new body. Out of Victorian England and over to New England during the Depression, and Ebenezer Scrooge becomes Benedict Slade, played by America's sweetheart, Henry Winkler. Yup, TV's The Fonz at the apex of Happy Days-mania slathered in makeup and looking like if Joe Biden drank from the false holy grail.

I wasn't expecting Winkler to win me over, but he was very believable and captivating as a heartless businessman. I imagine it was a lot of fun for him to take a break from thumping jukeboxes and thumbs upping. As far as young Scrooge's go, he doesn't quite have the presence and authority of Albert Finney, but he does well enough.

The change to Depression-era America is a brilliant, natural one. It was a welcome change of scenery after a dozen in London. The production values are good and you feel like you've been transported there as well any of the more expensive England-set movies.

At the beginning of the movie, Slade is going around trying to collect payments but ends up taking as many possessions as he can stuff into his truck. One place he visits is a school and from them he takes as many leather-bound books as he can find to rip apart and reuse. And one of them is a copy of A Christmas Carol. I think it's an interesting choice to have the book exist in your movie's reality...at least in a case like this where the tone of An American Christmas Carol is very serious. In a more comedic movie, acknowledging the book's existence and winking at the camera a bit is easier to pull off. If the movie is too straight-faced it can come off a bit hokey.

Besides the geographic shift, we also go ahead in time a few decades. One way this is taken advantage of is how when a ghost comes to visit, Slade first hears anachronistic broadcasts on his radio. Before the Ghost of Christmas Past appears he hears a news broadcast referring to President Hoover and Charles Lindbergh from six years earlier. Before the final ghost, he hears unfamiliar songs that haven't been written yet in his present. It's a clever way to build up the ghosts' arrivals a little more, and sell the idea of the entire world coming loose and rolling back and forward around him.

Another unique way the ghosts are handled is that they take the form of the people Slade visited at the beginning of the movie to collect from. Since the book exists in this universe and he reads it before he's visited by any spirits, you could interpret it all as being a dream..so I like the idea of using faces of people's he knows, à la Wizard of Oz.

So it's pretty good. The direction and cinematography is a little too safe and flat, but I'd watch it again.

Oh..one kinda funny, squicky part worth mentioning, that gets glossed over entirely by any characters, is that Slade an orphan and gets sorta adopted by Mr. Brewster who takes him in and makes him an apprentice at his furniture company. And the "Belle" character that Slade falls for in this adaptation is Mr. Brewster's daughter Helen, his sorta half sister that he's grown up with since about twelve. In a few of the adaptations Belle is Mr. Fezziwig's daughter so I guess this was an homage to that idea, but it's like no one stopped to think how weird and creepy it is with the family dynamic they set up.

Watch it on YouTube
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. Scrooge (1970)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  4. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
  5. A Christmas Carol (1971)
  6. An American Christmas Carol (1979)
  7. Scrooge (1935)
  8. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  9. Rich Little's A Christmas Carol (1978)
  10. A Christmas Carol (1977)
  11. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  12. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  13. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Dec 11 - Rich Little's A Christmas Carol (1978)

Oh goodness, what a silly little time capsule. It seems kinda silly to include it and try to rank it, like comparing a plastic squeaker toy orange to real apples. But I couldn't pass up a few oddities like this. It might be difficult to put them head to head with true adaptations in any meaningful way, but they are important as they illustrate just how much of a phenomenon the novel is and how enormous a footprint it's made in pop culture.

Okay, so first things first...just to get this out of the way, it's not a great adaptation. That's not it's goal, but just to get all the facts out there. The jokes are priority one and if the story kinda came through in the end, great! In general, as far as ranking, I'm going to end up ordering everything in the vague, all-encompassing sense of how entertaining they were. A lackluster adaptation could still be funny or worth watching for other reasons. Maybe even better summed up, the list is an assumption of how likely I am to watch them again. And, for me personally, this lackluster adaptation also isn't terribly funny and worth keeping in the holiday movie rotations.

To explain a little, for anyone not familiar, Rich Little was/is an impressionist extraordinaire and here he plays every part in the story as an actor or character he is impersonating. Scrooge is WC Fields and Bob Cratchit is Paul Lynde, to name a couple. It's the kinda crazy, goofy gimmick you only see once in a while when a performer briefly brushes against and becomes part of the zeitgeist of their time. It's kinda like Garth Brooks being able to invent and become Chris Gaines for a little while, it's a very special set of circumstances and fanaticism and tolerance from the viewing world that lets this happen.

The problem is...and it's not exactly the show's fault, I don't think anyone made this planning on it being a timeless holiday tradition watched decades later...it's completely locked in 1978 and is hard to relate to and connect with. Heck, even in 1978 I doubt audiences were howling over WC Fields or Laurel and Hardy impressions, but it didn't matter if they were outdated because they were easy impressions and strong among his repertoire, even if irrelevant. Like someone today who still busts out their Austin Powers impression. It's really twice as long as it probably should be, it gets dull after a while.

Credit where credit is due, since Little was the main cast member, it meant a lot of clever shoots and reshoots of the same scenes from different angles to assemble the necessary footage. That it came out looking this cohesive and managed to maintain a decent comedic pace and timing is impressive.

While watching I kept thinking about what a modern version like this would look like. Ten years ago,TBS really coulda had something if they made Frank Caliendo's A Christmas Carol...

William Shatner as Scrooge
Robin Williams as Marley
Jerry Seinfeld as Fred
George W. Bush as Bob Cratchit
John Madden as Ghost of Christmas Past
Bill Clinton as Ghost of Christmas Present
Morgan Freeman as Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Watch it on YouTube
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. Scrooge (1970)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  4. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
  5. A Christmas Carol (1971)
  6. Scrooge (1935)
  7. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  8. Rich Little's A Christmas Carol (1978)
  9. A Christmas Carol (1977)
  10. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  11. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  12. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Dec 10 - A Christmas Carol (1977)

At around this point, I began asking myself if watching all the movies like this is the best way to do it, or the worst way. Is it unfair to the lesser ones to watch them so quickly after the more acclaimed? Are flaws and shortcomings amplified, or even invented to some degree? Or is it the ultimate test, to see how each one can stand up to the toughest competition while all the info is fresh in my mind? No buffer of time and selective amnesia to soften the rough edges and overshadow inadequacies.

I don't know, still not sure. But all I know as it pertains to this one is that while it was done well enough in about every objective aspect, it was also utterly forgettable. I finally wised up and started keeping notes as I watched and was getting behind on writing posts...but I never had anything to jot down. There was nothing that made this one stand out from the pack. It was like a lovely, technically well painted banal landscape...can't really criticize it much, but there's nothing terribly gripping that stays with you after looking away.

If this is the only version you could ever watch, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but it would still be kinda sad. It's the movie equivalent of eating white bread-perfectly sustaining and harmless but you never close your eyes and say, "Mmmmm" after any bite. And you sure don't look back on the experience with vivid memories.

Watch it on YouTube
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. Scrooge (1970)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  4. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
  5. A Christmas Carol (1971)
  6. Scrooge (1935)
  7. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  8. A Christmas Carol (1977)
  9. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  10. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  11. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Dec 9 - A Christmas Carol (1971)

This was a neat one to discover existed. This was a special made for ABC, but it went over so well that it ended up being released theatrically as well. And then went over so well that it was nominated and won an Academy Award. It's the only Christmas Carol so far to do so.

It has a very unique art style, much more detailed and sketchy than you'd typically see on an animated show, back then or now. It was inspired by illustrations found in earlier editions of the novel and it works surprisingly well. If I just read that, I would not assume heavily textured engravings could translate to animation, but they pulled it off. With this much linework, it's no wonder it's only a 25 minute short.

It is very short, but without a doubt it's the most successful of the TV specials so far. They figured out how to distill the story perfectly and keep it from feeling too rushed or incomplete. If you've only got a half hour, this is definitely the one to check out. Oh, almost forgot, it's neat to have Alistair Sim return to voice Scrooge. He's not the most recognizable voice, you wouldn't perk you rears up at the first line, immediately knowing it was him as Scrooge again, but he's a good Scrooge and it's a nice touch that adds an extra special touch.

Watch it on YouTube
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. Scrooge (1970)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  4. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
  5. A Christmas Carol (1971)
  6. Scrooge (1935)
  7. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  8. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  9. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  10. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Dec 8 - Scrooge (1970)

Another musical. But thankfully, another fantastic musical. Around this time, especially when it comes to theatrical releases, I've gotta imagine that producers were thinking, "Okay, we can't just throw out any lazy, by-the-book adaptation and expect people to gobble it up. Most people are happy just to stay in and watch the perfect 1951 movie on their TV on Christmas Eve. We might need to make sure our movie's a little bit special." So they thought a little longer and decided that a grand musical with fun songs and a little lighter heart might be worthwhile.

Just a couple factoids, this was the first theatrical adaptation to be in color. Albert Finney was only 34 at the time, as far as I can tell by my extreeeeemely exhaustive research, I believe this is the first time a young man played Scrooge and underwent makeup to appear older in the present. Rather than a middle-aged or older actor playing Scrooge and trying to get by with makeup to play Scrooge in the past or just having another actor play him. It works very well, Finney is terrific at every age and the connection to his character is a little stronger by only seeing a single familiar actor in both timeframes.

The first thing I noticed, right at the beginning, was how "bold" the camera work was. In retrospect, the earlier films feel very strongly like adaptations from the theater. Actors stay sitting in a large single room. If there's much activity, it's often a character entering a door and then exiting it at the end of the scene. I hadn't thought about it until now, but many scenes in the first adaptations feel much more stiff. Here, when Fred first visits Scrooge, the characters are walking back deeper into the office while talking and the camera is navigating between bookshelves and around desks. There are long, snaking shots through London crowds on the street as Scrooge walks home. I didn't realize I wanted it, but it was a very refreshing approach.

I'm now struggling a bit with how to describe the plot, when it's just done really well. The songs are clever and catchy and as entertaining as they are useful to progressing the story along. One good specific moment I can bring up is in the Christmas Future segment, there is a song, maybe the best one on the soundtrack, called "Thank You Very Much" and it features a large group outside his building cheering and "thanking" Scrooge. Scrooge, of course, at first thinks this is everyone coming around and finally showing him some well-earned gratitude and doesn't catch that they are thanking him for dying and relieving them of all their debt.

The crowd is singing and toting Scrooge's coffin through town like a fan surfing on a sea of hands to the front of the stage. Scrooge joins the crowd's procession and sings and dances along with them, never noticing his coffin is the real star of the show. And he doesn't realize he has died until he is taken to the graveyard where Tiny Tim is buried and sees a grave that's never visited and learns it's his.

I've always thought the whole Christmas Future part with Scrooge's death, where we see housekeepers getting rid of his belongings they've stolen and fellow businessmen talking about what a dull affair his funeral would be was pretty silly. I mean, in that Scrooge doesn't realize it's his death everyone is talking about until he sees his grave. It makes Scrooge seem like an idiot. "I've been visited by four ghosts all with a very Scrooge-centric agenda and I've seen moments across the span of time that only pertain to my life and how I've lived it....now who in the world would this dead turd everyone's talking about be?!? Wha..what!? It's me? Noooooo!!! What a twist!" And this is the first time that the formula is tossed aside and something different and more interesting is attempted. And I love it.

Watch it on YouTube
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. Scrooge (1970)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  4. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
  5. Scrooge (1935)
  6. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  7. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  8. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  9. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dec 7 - Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)

Now the floodgates have been opened. As far as I can tell, this is the first time someone saw the book and said, "Look, this thing's a hundred years old...we don't have to treat it like a sacred text anymore, do we? Can't we be a little silly with it?" And so it is Mr. Magoo we really have to thank for making it the default Christmas story for parodies and sitcom send-ups. It's also the first animated version, but it sure ain't gonna be the last one seen on this blog.

It's framed like a play, where Mr. Magoo the actor is playing Scrooge. I thought this seemed random and odd, but apparently Magoo was not just a clumsy, nearsighted retiree for the whole run of the show but became an actor later on. So the format is a bit pointless..as the "play" is a fully realized adaptation with grand sets and ghosts and tons of locations and not treated with any restrictions like an actual stage presentation, but it at least makes sense after reading more about the show.

And it's not just a play, but a musical. After the last crappy "musical", I was steeling myself to sit through another one, but this is how it should be done. The songs here are great, funny, original songs that characters sing from their point of views. I'm surprised that I haven't personally ever heard any of the songs outside of this show, I could see one or two easily having a life of their own on Christmas radio stations every December.

Besides trimming things for time, no mention of Fred or Scrooge's sister Fan, it's a fairly faithful adaptation. Almost surprisingly so for an animated children's show...talk of stabbing people in the heart with Holly and damned souls intact. One of the strange changes is that the Ghost of Christmas Present is the first one to visit...I can't really make any sense of why this was done.

It's faithful, but it also has some great funny moments that don't go so far as to undermine the seriousness of the message. It manages very well to both honor the novel but put its own spin on it.

Watch it on Dailymotion
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  3. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
  4. Scrooge (1935)
  5. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  6. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  7. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  8. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Dec 6 - Shower of Stars Presents: A Christmas Carol (1954)

Here's the second TV presentation, not much better than 1949's though. I'm writing this a coupled days after watching it and it's hard to remember much to say. And not just because my life currently is a dizzying blur of black and white Victorian grumps and crippled kids, it's just incredibly bland. All I recollect very clearly are the bad points.

Number one, it's called a musical adaptation, but the musical aspect here is just random breaks in the story so we can watch a choir on a London street sing a random carol for 4 minutes. or watch Scrooge and Belle stop the show to sing a song to the camera like we're watching a Bing Crosby special. I'm not sure if diagetic is the right snooty, filmy-type word I'm looking for...but it's not a musical in the sense of characters singing about their inner thoughts or a Greek chorus providing exposition. It's just characters in a show singing songs sometime. Total waste of time. It's dumb. So naturally, the whole thing feels very rushed and unfulfilling.

Oh, and besides wasting precious airtime on songs, since this was on TV, there's a Chrysler commercial in the middle of the show where they sincerely try to force a meaningful connection between the story and why you should rush out and order a car in time for Christmas.

Scrooge is kinda okay in this, so I won't banish it all the way down,

Watch it on YouTube
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  3. Scrooge (1935)
  4. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  5. Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol (1954)
  6. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  7. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Dec 5 - A Christmas Carol (1951)

I've really been looking forward to this one. Prior to this little experiment, it's actually been several years since I've seen any Christmas Carol, but in my slightly fuzzy memories this one sits proudly on the top of the heap as my favorite version. It's the one I watched in middle school after reading the book in English class. There's warm memories of seeing it in those delirious days before Christmas break started. Possible unfair nostalgia aside, it is very highly regarded by others, including high-falutin' film reviewer types...so I'm not completely off base.

It held up remarkably well. I'm realizing now that eventually, theoretically, I'll reach a point where I won't have anything new to say about the latest movie I've watched. It'll be a patchwork of previously made points and criticisms. It's harder and harder to make as many unique notes and observations. I'm not quite there yet, but with a divine adaptation like this one I'm getting closer. Succeeding posts could just be "This part was done well, like in 1951. They missed this point that 1951 nailed."

So. Let's see...okay...it looks gorgeous. That strikes you immediately. The lighting is incredible and creates a look that gives this one a very unique "personality"..which is saying something among a dozen other black and white, gloomy London set movies. Watching this you realize how flat and lazier the cinematography in other versions was. The contrast is so deep without destroying any details. I'd love to see this one on Blu-Ray.

Alastair Sim is amazing as Scrooge. More than any others thus far, at the beginning of the movie he feels unhinged. The look in his eyes and his expressions paint him as not just a grumpy man, not just bitter, but someone who has been divorced from humanity for so long that he's on a different plane.

Marley's appearance is fantastic. The sound design and acting is just as chilling as I remembered. Finally, one of my favorite lines made it into Scrooge's dialogue in its entirety. I've personally never had indigestion related hallucinations, but I suppose eating a bite of underdone potato might've been a much scarier experience in mid-19th century England than it is now, I dunno...but I've always loved when Scrooge is trying to dismiss Marley as a bad dream, just a result of some tummy trouble and he says, "There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!" Very cute and clever line, Chuck.

I've talked about the difficulty in making Scrooge's redemption feel complete and honest and earned, and this is the most successful job so far. The Christmas Past segment is quite long and provides ample reasoning behind how Ebenezer became who we first meet. Knowing how crucial this segment is to the arc, a few new flashbacks are included to flesh his background out. We see that his sister Fan died on or around Christmas. We see some seeds of greed being planted and sowed while working with Fezziwig and later when he first meets and works with Jacob Marley. Just a few more minutes spent in his youth helps him feel so much more real and his personality more justifiable.

The next two ghost visits are done very well, but hard to say much more about them compared to other movies. The Past segment is done so well in this case, that the other two being very faithful is about all I can really remember. I will reiterate that, upon getting to visit other locations and peek into the Cratchit's or Fred Scrooge's home or the "pawn shop"?...I don't know what exactly the location is at the end where all the people are trying to hock Scrooge's stuff after he died, the grimy look of London is perfect. I feel like washing my hands just thinking about it. None of the fakey, far too clean look that plagued some earlier adaptations.

The glaring flaw with this one for me is when at the end as Scrooge wakes up, realizing he is alive and well, he asks the hosuekeeper what day it was and not the boy walking outside. For a movie that nailed so many of the iconic moments that are burned into out collective pop culture brain, they screwed this up.

Watch it on YouTube
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  3. Scrooge (1935)
  4. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  5. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  6. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Dec 4 - The Christmas Carol (1949)

Vincent Price is a quasi-narrator for this television adaptation that bounces between actors and Price reading to the audience from the novel between each stave. It really isn't that great. The best quality is that it's only a half hour since it was made for TV.

Remember that last post when I talked about scenes having breathing room and characters feeling like humans? Yeah, that's all gone. The forgettable actors recite the lines quickly without any emotion and weight behind the words. Humor falls flat, Scrooge speaks in an annoying tremulous manner to everyone, whether he's being curt, frightened or giddy. The whole thing feels like a high school assignment from the apathetic group of students who have, technically, successfully slapped together a quick movie and can get their A for participation.

This one goes straight to the bottom. The short silent films, while not terrifically entertaining, are historically fascinating and easy to recommend watching once. This one is thoroughly skippable.

  1. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  2. Scrooge (1935)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  4. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
  5. The Christmas Carol (1949)

Dec 3 - A Christmas Carol (1938)

Okay, now it's starting to get interesting since it's possible to genuinely compare and contrast the adaptations. This is a very good one, it stumbles in a couple areas but it's an improvement over Scrooge (1935) in several ways.

Best of all is characters are fleshed out a little more and feel more real. Scenes have more breathing room and appear like actual interactions with real humans and not just actors hammering through dialogue without much sincerity behind the delivery or proper reactions. When Scrooge suggests that Christmas revelers should be boiled in pudding, Fred is horrified and it's not just a silly line that gets shrugged off in an instant. Fred is the real hero of this adaptation, he's given some more screen time as a kind of bridge between Ebenezer's current bitter, isolated state and the younger man he was. A reminder of the most powerful love he has probably ever felt, for Fred's mother and Scrooge's sister-Fan. A love that died long ago. Most adaptations seem to focus too heavily on Bob and Tim Cratchit and overlook Fred's importance in the story of Scrooge's redemption.

Speaking of Fan, this is the first time we see Scrooge as a child during the first ghost's visit. A boy abandoned away at school by a father who saw his education more important than forming or maintaining strong familial bonds. No other movies thus far have conveyed very well why Scrooge might have turned out how he did, judging from the information they give the audience, you'd just assume Scrooge's first words were bah and humbug.

Unfortunately, the Ghost of Christmas Past fails to remind Scrooge of Belle, his one-time fiancee who left Scrooge when it became clear that his money was more beloved than she was. Even in the novel, there's not a lot explaining the transition between being a young homesick man who loves his family and the greedy miser who slowly forces all of his non-business relations away. So to lose Belle and this significant piece of his puzzle is disappointing. In most of the adaptations, I don't think the redemption comes across as very real, it just kinda happens because it has to. Surely Scrooge has a concept of what being poor is. And he knows he is generally despised by the world and will die alone. But the ghosts show him a quick peek into the Cratchit home and his own gravestone and he flips out like they're the most knee-buckling revelations in the history of the world. Scrooge isn't a dumb or oblivious character who doesn't realize how isolated he has made himself with his personality or fails to understand how the world and economy works...someone like that could be won over by a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into how people talk about him. Scrooge's redemption needs a little more work to feel truly earned. They don't nail it here, but they get close.

The Past segment does, however, get a million points for being sure to include a scene with the character who has perhaps the best surname in all of fiction, young Scrooge's employer Mr. Fezziwig.

Backtracking some now that the Fred thread I was on has kinda wrapped up... back to the first ghost. Jacob Marley is really well done here. Head bandaged up and dragging chains just like he should be. His cacophonous entry is exactly as harsh and unsettling as it should be. The production values are very high. Lots of camera movement and some inventive, Citizen Kane-esque shots. The special effects are wonderful, at one moment with Marley, Scrooge walks around and in front of the transparent ghost...very well done for the time.

The production value in some ways is almost too high, though. It no longer feels like a filmed play since the sets are more expansive than in earlier movies, but they also feel flatter and too clean and shiny. No one feels very poverty stricken. The Cratchits have a large home and cavort in matching, brilliant white dressing gowns. Bob Cratchit is a fairly fat fellow, which doesn't seem right at all. So some of those details, which seem like they should be obvious catches, are overlooked and hurt the final score.

Worth noting is while this version is only an hour long, they felt the need to invent some scenes. There's a near-subplot where Fred likes sliding on the icy sidewalks and breaking distance records. And after leaving Scrooge's on Christmas Eve, Bob Cratchit joins in snowball throwing with some children on the street, hits Scrooge as he walks home and is fired. It's a small addition that really doesn't change much in the overall story, so I don't know why it was worth shoehorning in.

Lastly, there are some awkward, oddly sexual scenes with the Cratchits that struck me as funny. After Cratchit arrives home he makes all the children dig in his pockets like a gaze of rabid raccoons for the chestnuts he just bought. When the children first see the hot goose laid on the dinner table, they're transfixed with looks that can only be described as lustful. And Tiny Tim, speaking before he can catch himself, says, "I..I want to stroke it..." Very strange.

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  1. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  2. Scrooge (1935)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  4. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Dec 2 - Scrooge (1935)

This is the first feature-length, sound adaptation. It was a pretty fine job, I was ready for the earlier ones to be rough or boring, but I was pretty entertained. The direction was interesting and creative. The cinematography was good, it feels very grimy and smoky but never murky and hard to follow. I like this Bob Cratchit and it was the first time we really get a Tiny Tim, and he was pretty sad and sympathetic. Music was used sparingly but effectively.

It wasn't perfect, I didn't love Scrooge, he often came across more than a little hammy, theater actor-ish. Certainly after seeing the special effects pulled off in the silent versions, not actually seeing most of the ghosts was quite strange. Jacob Marley appears as a face on the door knocker, but not in full body form when talking with Scrooge. The camera "follows" an invisible Marley as he interacts with a few things in Scrooge's room and speaks to him. No broken jaw, no chains. Lame. The ghost of Christmas Past is a white smear, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a black smear, only the Ghost of Christmas Present is an actual human in costume standing next to Scrooge. Many of the great, memorable lines from the novel and later movies aren't included.

But all in all, a surprisingly great start. I'll be curious to see how the movies I'm more familiar with compare to these first time watches, right now they all kinda feel exactly the same in my head and I'm wondering how unique they'll end up. I also think I might go insane after a few weeks of this.

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It's not phenomenal but it's easily better than the silent movies. It's light competition right now and I suspect it will hover around the bottom of the list as it grows.
  1. Scrooge (1935)
  2. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  3. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dec 1 - The Silent Films

Since they are only a few minutes each, I thought I'd knock out the whole silent era in one post...

Gotta start at the very beginning. This is the earliest found adaptation of the story. It's odd, kinda hard to follow. And not just because the film no longer exists in its complete form and we only have about half of the scenes. The director relied almost entirely on the familiarity with the novel to tell the story, there are only a few intertitles and they are only here to setup the proceeding scene in the most basic ways. No dialog or extra exposition. We only have Scrooge's over-the-top arm acting to understand that this is apparently a harrowing evening. It's not great film making to be so dependent on the source material. If you found some poor soul who'd been trapped under a rock on a deserted island since the 1840s and plopped them down in front of this movie, they'd be lost.

Like a ton of silent films, especially from this early, it feels very "stagey". No camera movements and flat, painted sets. It's interesting that Marley is the only ghost, handling all the duties of exploring the past, present and future himself. I guess costuming could only afford the one white sheet, so they had to get clever. I'm being a tad harsh...there are some genuinely impressive special effects to show Scrooge's memories and he and Marley visiting the Cratchit's home.

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Nine years later, the film makers at Edison Studios, no longer content with recording frumpy people kiss or sneeze, decided to take a stab at A Christmas Carol. Only a few years later and not much longer than Marley's Ghost but it's an exponentially more successful adaptation. The sets look terrific, special effects are top-notch, and the acting is great.

For being so short, it surprisingly manages to hit the iconic elements that we are familiar with from seeing all of the feature length movies. All the ghosts are present, Marley's got his chains, Scrooge does a goofy, giddy dance on Christmas morning. I don't know if the occasion where you just GOT to watch A Christmas Carol but you only have a few minutes and you have to keep quiet will come up often...but if it does watch this one. Unless you're some insane person with a blog trying to watch a couple dozen versions for no good reason, you aren't missing anything by skipping the 1901 movie.

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There are at least two more silent films, one from in between these two and one from 1913. The latter I especially wish I could find as the actor who plays Scrooge plays him again in a talkie version in 1935, which I'll be watching soon. It'd be neat to see how he handled the role decades earlier and in the silent format.

Oh, I forgot to mention yesterday, I'm going to be ranking these as I go so I can see what cream rises to the top...

  1. A Christmas Carol (1910)
  2. Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)