It's no big secret that I hate Christmas, and if I had my way, we'd just do away with the damn holiday season all together. But since that's about as likely to happen as my proposed "license to use a phone" and "kill the stupid" legislation, I have to do my best to get through the holidays. One of the things I do to prepare myself for this time of year is watch the movies that in my youth represented the spirit of the season. This little trick doesn't actually get me in the mood for gift giving or caroling; it just reminds me that at one point in me life I didn't want to go on a homicidal rampage in the month of December.
Of all the films that help sedate the holiday-born sociopathic misanthropy that haunts my soul, none soothes me more than Scrooge, the 1970 musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Forever synonymous with the holiday, A Christmas Carol remains one of the most heavily adapted works of literature, with more than 60 different film and television versions. But this rendering, by veteran director Ronald Neame, remains one of the best. A television staple during the holiday season for years, Scrooge was for many people, especially those who grew up watching television during the '70s, a quintessential telling of the tale.
Just in case you aren't familiar with Dickens' story of Yuletide redemption, Ebenezer Scrooge is the stingiest man alive in 19th-century London. Feared and hated by almost everyone he comes in contact with, Scrooge (Albert Finney) deplores Christmas. But after being visited by several spirits--including the ghost of his former business partner (Alec Guinness)--who show him the error of his ways, Scrooge emerges from the experience transformed.
Finney gives one of the best performances of his career, portraying Scrooge as a bitter, twisted old man. Finney was only 34 years old when Scrooge was released, and the fact that the actor uses very little makeup as a means to appear older makes his performance all the more powerful. Equally as impressive are Guinness as Jacob Marley and the scene-stealing Kenneth More as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Aside from the Golden Globe-winning performance by Finney, one of the key things that separates Scrooge from the countless other versions of A Christmas Carol is the music by Leslie Bricusse. An Oscar-winning composer and lyricist, Bricusse's numbers breathe energetic life into Dickens' story. Bricusse also wrote the script and weaves the music in so seamlessly, one would almost think that Dickens originally wrote A Christmas Carol as a musical.
Recently released for the first time on DVD, Scrooge is a treat for even the most cynical of holiday haters. Restored to its full length, the disc includes a brilliant sequence cut from the broadcast version, where Scrooge finds himself trapped in hell. It's kind of like being at Washington Square.