Friday, December 10, 2010


The other day, when I was writing about Christmas viewing traditions, I mentioned that my mother always seemed to know what the latest Christmas movie releases were, and she always saw to it that the family went to see them.

One of those Christmas movies will be airing on Turner Classic Movies tonight at 8:30 (Central).

It is called "Scrooge," and it was a retelling of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," with Albert Finney cast as Ebenezer Scrooge and Alec Guinness as Marley's ghost.

I don't know what you would discover if you could compile the number of times a beloved Christmas tale, like "A Christmas Carol," has been performed on the big screen — or the smaller one, for that matter — or on the stages of school auditoriums or community theaters, but, if it isn't at the top of such a list, Dickens' story certainly must be near the top — especially when you take into account not only the faithful retellings of the story, whether set in the period or given a more modern setting, but the parodies as well.

Heck, I remember being in an elementary school production of the story when I was in fourth or fifth grade. That was a pretty straight–forward telling, incidentally — hardly a satirical treatment.

And, over the years, there have been several Hollywood versions. Some were titled "A Christmas Carol," others took their title from the lead character's name, "Scrooge." Some were made before the advent of the "talkies," others came along later.

The version that will be shown tonight made its debut 40 years ago — in November 1970 — and it earned a few Academy Award nominations, including one for the song in the attached clip, "Thank You Very Much."

That scene, by the way, has a delightful twist to it. Scrooge (the fellow to be seen wandering around in a white nightshirt and a white nightcap) is unaware that what he and the others are singing and dancing about is an expression of their gratitude to Scrooge for dying — and, consequently, nullifying the debts they all owed him.

Unknown to Scrooge, he is in the middle of his own funeral procession, and it plays a role in reforming him.

If you're curious as to how this was accomplished — and, considering how many times this story must have been told on screen and stage, how could you be in the dark about that? But never mind — you'll have to watch the movie for yourself, won't you?

Unless you've spent your life in a cave, you must know about Scrooge's encounters with the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come.

They are the broad brushstrokes of the original story, but each presentation contributes its own colors and textures.

And "Scrooge" managed to explore the reasons why Scrooge was the way he was. In hindsight, I can understand the emotions Scrooge experienced when he reflected on the love of his life, Isabel, and how circumstances had driven them apart forever.

The same circumstances contributed to the lonely, old miser that Scrooge had become. And I guess we all know that that is pretty much how life operates.

In spite of everything, though — and in large part because of his visit with the ghost of Christmas present — Scrooge decides that he likes life.

I don't recall the critical reaction to the movie, but I liked it. I remember my family was visiting my grandmother in Dallas that Christmas, and we all went out to the neighborhood theater (an old–fashioned single–screen one with a lobby and a balcony and a marquee out front) to see it.

We may have done that on Christmas Eve. Maybe we did it a night or two before that. In my memory, Christmas had not yet occurred, but it was close, excruciatingly close in a child's eyes.

It was a cold night, even for Dallas, which is always milder than most parts of the country in December but seemed unusually cold that particular Christmas. It wasn't snowing — it almost never snows here at Christmas — but, in my memory, it seemed cold enough that night for snow.

Perhaps that is because there were so many cold, snowy scenes in "Scrooge." I don't know. But that is how it is in my memory.

I'm sure that, for many folks, the character of Ebenezer Scrooge was defined by George C. Scott in a made–for–TV movie that came out in the 1980s. For other generations, there were other actors, I suppose, who epitomized the character of Scrooge.

For that matter, I've seen Finney in several movies, and I really liked some of them. I was always particularly fond of his performance as Hercule Poirot in the 1974 adaptation of "Murder on the Orient Express."

But, to me, Finney was Scrooge. And he always will be.

Watch it and enjoy it, especially if you missed it the first time. As Scrooge learned, sometimes life gives you second chances.

Start your own Christmas tradition.