In a few days it will be Christmas again (it’s practically here, as the Grinch would say), so I wanted to do another seasonal
post. And Ebeneezer Scrooge popped into my head.
I love A Christmas Carol, and I’ve seen a fair number of the movies made of it. Originally my plan was to write about my favorite Scrooge, but I couldn’t pick. The closest I came was to narrow it down to Alistair Sim and Patrick Stewart. Very different, yes. I like Patrick Stewart’s energy, and the Sim version of A Christmas Carol spends a lot of time on how Scrooge became a miserable miser, so he’s covered a lot of ground by the end of the movie.
So I thought I’d go over some of my favorites, and what traits they highlighted in the character.
That means I’d start with old Scrooge McDuck himself. Mickey’s Christmas Carol was the first version of the story I was introduced to as a little kid. I recently rewatched it, packaged into a House of Mouse movie, and what stuck out to me was Scrooge’s vulnerability. When Goofy/Marley haunts him, Scrooge actually demonstrates some of the friendship he and Marley used to have, which you don’t usually see. He beeps Marley’s nose, to the ghost’s chagrin, and warns him not to fall down the stairs. When Marley falls (back into hell?), Scrooge looks genuinely sad, something notable that early in the story.
Continuing with the chronological theme, I’ll highlight Michael Caine, who was the second Scrooge I was acquainted with in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Despite what Miss Piggy claims, his is a very elegant, dignified Scrooge (no mean feat with all those puppets!). Even with Gonzo and Rizzo weighing him down as the Ghost of Christmas Past flies him through London, the audience doesn’t laugh as much at Scrooge’s indignity as it does the plight of the rat. He doesn’t lose his temper or really get rattled, so it’s all the more jarring the times he’s moved to tears. But the rest of his performance doesn’t feel remote or deadpan. And that takes great performance chops to pull off. Especially since it can’t be easy to act with the Muppets.
Third is Albert Finney, who is both the funniest and the most unpleasant Scrooge. That the movie is a musical is a major part of the humor… who can forget the number where Scrooge is so thrilled at a crowd of people thanking him that he fails to notice that they’re dancing on his grave? But he opens the movie flagrantly committing extortion, and otherwise victimizing the business owners in debt to him. That’s the only movie (that I’ve watched all the way through, I didn’t finish Scrooged) where the miser does something actually illegal. He’s unethical as all hell, but it’s interesting that in this adaptation, he’s a criminal.
I have to give George C. Scott some credit, even though I don’t particularly care for his version of A Christmas Carol. Nothing wrong with him. He’s a fine Scrooge, especially when you realize he was born in rural Virginia (and most Americans can’t do a good British accent). The rest of the movie just doesn’t grab me. What I do like about Scott’s performance, is that his Scrooge is one of the more pompous, whose path to humility, you can really see. He positively wilts under the Ghost of Christmas Present’s tongue-lashing, and never shows a shred of arrogance after that, even though he had been preening a moment before in response to Bob Cratchit toasting him. It’s the road to Damascus.
Now Alistair Sim. He’s probably the most realistic Scrooge in the bunch. Or at least the most human. And that’s because this adaptation lets us see Scrooge’s fall from grace in much greater detail. He’s tempted away from the benevolent Fezziwig by Mr. Jorkin (dropped in from David Copperfield), an embezzler. His sister Fan dies giving birth to Fred, which is implied in the books, but here, blaming his nephew for the loss of his sister, the strained relationship makes more sense. So we feel we really got to know and understand this Scrooge in a way the movies, and even the book, usually don’t allow. So we’re all that much happier when he reforms.
Finally… Patrick Stewart. His Scrooge has a lot of energy, and enthusiasm, no matter what the scene is. You can tell he loves arguing with the stockbrokers, in the opening, and he vigorously defends Fezziwig when the Ghost of Christmas Past ironically asks if his old employer deserves so much praise. This energy makes him more sinister during the earlier parts of the movie, and funnier and more joyful when he’s reformed. It’s terrifying when Scrooge scares the carolers away from his business doorstep. It’s hilarious when he gets into a snowball fight with them on Christmas day and heartwarming when he dances with Fred’s wife. This also is probably pretty faithful to the book, because Scrooge is probably not that old. When Marley died, Belle, Scrooge’s old love, had a new baby, and they’re typically shown as being of similar age. So, while Scrooge probably doesn’t look good due to his miserly habits, he’s not a wizened old man yet.
I know there are a lot of adaptations out there I haven’t covered (like the animated versions), due to length, preference, or ignorance (beware!) so I’d be very interested to hear what you think. Sound off in the comments about your favorites, and why.
And this Christmas, as my family often does, why not raise a glass to Mr. Scrooge, the founder of the feast, and everyone’s favorite unwanted creature.