Monday Morning Movie Review: A Very Portly Christmas: A Christmas Carol (1951)

Now it’s yours portly’s turn to step up to the plate and take a swing at review a timeless Christmas classic, the 1951 adaptation of A Christmas CarolPonty did the film a great service, and I must confess I read his review before viewing the film, which somehow—shamefully!—had slipped through my viewing until this point in my life.

Such is the peril of editing guest contributions:  I have to read them in order to write a pithy introduction and to get them scheduled.  As such, I’ve read Ponty’s review, which has already been published, and Audre‘s review, which will pop this Wednesday, 21 December 2022.  I’ve tried my best to stick to my own thoughts on the film, but Ponty’s review in particular really enhanced my viewing of the film.  He doesn’t spoil anything, but his analysis of some of the scenes is quite insightful.

A Christmas Carol has been on my mind a good bit lately.  Over Thanksgiving I reconnected with a college classmate from a Fiction Workshop class I took my senior year, herself a self-published author.  She has been brainstorming ideas with me about an alternate telling of A Christmas Carol involving Scrooge and restorative, romantic relationship—a God-centered romance that turns the acquisitive, miserly Scrooge into the generous, giddy soul we see at the end of the film.  I won’t reveal more, but it’s a fun project, and in line with her approach to writing.

All digressions aside, I must echo the sentiments of my contributors:  the 1951 version starring Alistair Sim as the sinister Scrooge is one of the most arresting bits of storytelling I’ve ever seen set to film.

One element that struck me is just how ruthless Scrooge is, to the point that it is shocking that he actually gives Bob Cratchit the day of Christmas off from work.  We quickly learn, however, that it was not ever thus—when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back through his life, we learn that he was, at one time, a jolly, fun-loving sort, a man who worked hard and played harder, who possesses a rosy view of life despite some childhood hardships.

His father, for example, blamed Scrooge for Scrooge’s mother’s death, as she died in childbirth.  Scrooge’s punishment was exile to a lonely boarding school, where his beloved sister comes to rescue him.  Later, that same sister dies giving birth to Scrooge’s nephew, perpetuating a cycle of loneliness for the miser.

Charles Dickens had a certain obsession with the ill effects of the Industrial Revolution, which he could see plainly around him in mid-nineteenth-century London:  the long hours, the grubby living conditions, the low pay.  Shades of that come out in the film, as we see a young Scrooge, now in the employment of a man addicted to “progress” and new-fangled manufacturing methods, debating with his employer about the dehumanizing and destructive aspects of the machines.  Scrooge slowly comes to see people as machines, too, mere tools by which he can gain further money.

Another interesting scene is the one in which Scrooge and Marley save their crooked employer from an embezzlement scandal (which would have sent him to prison and would have resulted in potential losses for other warehousing businesses in London) through an aggressive, opportunistic buyout, just as their employer had done to old Fezziwig, the jolly businessman of Scrooge’s early career.  At this point, Scrooge is in full wickedness mode, worshipping “a golden idol” at the expense of all else.

That worship goes to the point that Scrooge delays going to Marley’s deathbed until work hours end at 7 PM, the dying, gasping Marley somehow managing to hold on for a few more hours to sigh his last words to Scrooge.  There is a poignancy here, as Marley warns Scrooge not to waste his life on greed and avarice.  Alistair Sim’s acting is superb, as we see a look of dread and remorse pass over his face for just an instant, before resuming his hardened scowl.

We all know the rest—Scrooge comes to realize that his miserliness and greed have made life unbearably hard for those around him, though they all joyfully celebrate Christmas while he sips hot soup alone.  What’s remarkable is how Sim plays this transformation convincingly—everything Scrooge does seems genuine, whether it be for good or for ill.

The scene in which the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come shows Scrooge is grave is incredibly well shot, and supports Ponty’s argument that this flick is best seen in black and white.  I can’t find a good screenshot or video of this pivotal scene, unfortunately, but it’s powerful:  the grave is wreathed in shadows, out of which falls a devastated Scrooge, clinging to his lonely, crumbling headstone.  That’s the pivotal moment in which Scrooge thinks all is lost, before his joyous redemption comes.

This flick is also spooky, as it should be—it’s a ghost story, after all, and the Victorians did two things well, and always together:  Christmas and ghost stories.  Marley rattling his chains—which Scrooge amusingly writes off as some “undigested beef… a bit of cheese”—is a terrifying racket, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come is always a scary sight.

I encourage to watch this film right away.

Merry Christmas!

—TPP

 

5 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: A Very Portly Christmas: A Christmas Carol (1951)

  1. Well done you! So happy you enjoyed the movie – it’s comforting to find things, outside the day to day outrages we face, that we can share on such a personal level. I do think it’s personal because a story that moves us becomes part of us and so we are sharing a part of ourselves. A Christmas Carol, in my humble opinion, becomes part of our DNA – like a family memory from long ago; it’s always there to touch and examine and enjoy, regardless of where you are in your life.

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  2. Great review, mate. As promised, I’ve shared this on TCW. 🙂

    I know what you mean about screenshots. As with games, you want to get the right clip but when you come to rely on one medium – namely Youtube – for that shot, it can be difficult to attain. I’m going to have a look at Cloud storage in the new year and setting up a tripod for recording straight off the film/game to use, rather than relying on Youtube. Then I’ll be able to get the clip I want rather than using an entire clip for a few seconds shot.

    With regards Dickens and the industrial revolution, one of the things he points to in A Christmas Carol is the amount of children Cratchett has. That wasn’t uncommon in those times. If you were poor, having more kids meant raising the finances of your household, that is if they could get work. Cratchett was lucky in that he had the connections to find work for his children but not all families could do that. It must have been a hard time to grow up in, the Victorian era. Industry was kicking off, that was apparent, but the work was grubby and in many cases dangerous. I always liked to hope that the improvement of working conditions was down to Dickens’ writing. For one thing, the unions were a necessity back then. Now, they’re a royal pain in the, well, you know.

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  3. I really enjoy Sim’s version – he was a marvellous actor, and I struggle to think of anyone who could be more sinister in a comic-setting (perhaps Guinness in The Lady Killers). Of all the other versions of A Christmas Carol, I do have a soft spot for the one starring George C Scott.

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