'Tis the season (don't you hate when a writer says that) for snowflakes, mistletoe and Christmas on TV and video.
And maybe the tale about Christmas that you've all been told more than any other is "A Christmas Carol." No matter where you're reading this, I'm sure there's a production of it within your reach.
Movies and TV have been no stranger to it, certainly. But there certainly are some that are better than others.
Many people (and critics) seem to prefer the Alistair Sim 1951 version. (The cast also includes Patrick McNee, who later played John Steed of "The Avengers", as a young Jacob Marley.)Sim, who died in 1976, was a Scottish character actor who besides appearing in "A Christmas Carol" (also known as "Scrooge"), played Miss Fritton, the headmistress in two of the St. Trinian's films. He also re-created the role of Scrooge in a 1971 animated version of "A Christmas Carol" shown on television.
Most reviewers call Sim's version the most faithful to the book. Personally, I think Sim's version, though quite watchable, is dry and lacking soul.
A version that is somewhat forgotten next to Sim's is Reginald Owen's 1938 version. In the tradition of many MGM films, Owen's is bouncy and has a lot of human touches, making it a nice family film. It was originally intended to star Lionel Barrymore, who played the role of Scrooge annually on radio, but he was forced to drop out of the film because of his arthritis. Gene and Kathleen Lockhart played the Cratchits. The film was indeed a family affair for the Lockharts as a young June Lockhart played their daughter.
For years it remained the most famous film version of the story, and the most lavish, though it only lasts 69 minutes. But its popularity was eclipsed by the 1951 film after it started making the rounds on TV.
In his later years, Owen, interestingly enough, can be seen in a couple of Disney films, "Mary Poppins" (he's Admiral Boom, the commander on the noisy "ship" at the beginning of the film) and "Bedknobs and Broomsticks."
Another that often is underestimated and overlooked, primarily because of its age, is the 1935 version known as "Scrooge" starring Sir Seymour Hicks. Of all the versions out there, this one has be to the scariest. Though early in the film, Hicks plays Scrooge as the usual grumpy old man, when confronted by the demons in his life, he is profoundly terrified. There's no whitewashing of the story here. For those who want the coldest and dreariest version of "A Christmas Carol," this is it.
There are, of course, many others. Two recent TV verisions starred George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart. Scott, whose career included playing the stalwart Gen. Patton, shows a multi-faceted side of his acting talents here and is just charming when Scrooge realizes the error of his ways. Stewart, however, is less effective. He comes off more like his Capt. Jean-Luc Picard character from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" early on and his transformation later is not convincing.
There are countless other versions, too. For us, it isn't Christmas until we've watched "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." Magoo's version butchers the story, adds incompatible songs and theatrics. But, perhaps for sentimental reasons having seen it since its premiere on TV in the '60s, we love it and consider it one of the best versions.
So what is your favorite? We'll put up a poll and you are welcome to add your comments.
Check out our DVD Watch "A Christmas Carol" store featuring all the different versions of "A Christmas Carol" on DVD.