Whenever people engage in a discussion of the “best” holiday film, a spirited argument is sure to follow. Which is fine. My purpose here is not to compare “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” or “A Christmas Story.” All of those films have a loyal following (which they’ve earned) and I have enjoyed every one of them over the years.
However, when it comes to a holiday film that turns a spotlight on how we as a society relate to each other – good and bad, kind and cruel – my choice always comes back to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Here, too, a debate can be made, since there have been several adaptations of Dickens’ novel. But for my money, the two that stand apart are “Scrooge (1971),” starring Albert Finney as the bitter, miserly title character, and “Scrooge (1951),” starring Alistair Sim as the penny-pinching, misanthropic old geezer.
“Scrooge (1971)” is a musical, but remains true to the classic tale. Albert Finney’s portrayal brings a greater insight to Ebenzer’s past than most of the films have offered, as well as a more realistic view of London’s streets during the mid-19th century: the abject poverty, a sense of foreboding and hopelessness, and the depth of the chasm between those that have and those that have not. The film glides smoothly through a very nice ratio of dialogue-to-music, and the last third of the movie provides the viewer with a burgeoning – and very satisfactory – sense of jubilation.
“Scrooge (1951),” is considered by many film critics to be the best of all the adaptations. Alistair Sim’s pop-eyed visage offers up a very animated version of Scrooge, without going over the top. Indeed, as Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation and ultimate redemption nears, his newfound generosity and kindness -pouring forth via paroxysms of joy – is a sight to behold, even as some of Scrooge’s fellow Londoners believe he is afflicted by insanity rather than an epiphany.
Many families (including my own) have made an annual tradition of watching classics such as “A Christmas Story” and “It’s A Wonderful Life.” If some of those families also choose to watch Dickens’ superb tale this holiday season, they will be richly rewarded with a sense of optimism, and a strong – if not lasting – belief that deep down people are inherently good. Perhaps the most inspiring line from the film(s) occurs when Scrooge speaks to the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley and says, “You were always a good man of business, Jacob.” To which Marley replies, “Mankind should be our business.”