Christmas Carols

There are a lot of filmed versions of this story. My friend George compiled a list, which I’ll include here. My vote: the best are Scrooge, with Alistair Sim (British 1951), and the TV movie with George C. Scott (1984). A sentimental favorite: Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962).

Can you tell I’m bored? Using Imdb, I’ve compiled a list of different versions…

Christmas Carols

1901: UK, “Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost” directed by Walter R. Booth
1908: UK, “A Christmas Carol,” starring Tom Ricketts
1910: USA, “A Christmas Carol,” starring William Bechtel. (17 minutes) on a compilation DVD
1912: USA, “The Virtue of Rags,” Theodore Wharton’s silent loose adaptation
1913: UK, “Scrooge,” directed by Leedham Bantock, Seymour Hicks as Scrooge (he also gets a writing credit)
1914: UK, “A Christmas Carol,” Franklyn and George Bellamy star.
1915: USA, “A Christmas Carol,” Delmer Daves stars
1916: USA, “The Right to Be Happy” (“Scrooge the Skinflint” in UK). Rupert Julian starred and directed.
1922: UK, “Scrooge,” directed by George Wynn, starring H.V. Esmond. Adaptation by W. Courtney Rowden
1923: UK, “Scrooge,” this one says it’s also a Rowden adaptation, but he’s also listed as director. Russell Thorndike stars.
1928: UK, “Scrooge,” directed by Hugh Croise, starring Bransby Williams (only 9 minutes, but first with sound)
1935: UK, “Scrooge,” directed by Henry Edwards, Seymore Hicks repeats his Scrooge, in first full length sound version. DVD
1938: USA,”A Christmas Carol,” MGM release, directed by Edwin L Marin, starring Regiland Owen. VHS
1943: USA, “A Christmas Carol,” early TV version. 60 minutes w/ William Podmore as Scrooge.
1947: Spain, “Leyenda de Navidad” Manuel Tamayo directed first foreign-language version?
1947: “A Christmas Carol” John Carradine and Eva Marie Saint apparently starred in an early TV version
1949: USA, “The Christmas Carol.” Another TV version directed by Arthur Pierson starring Taylor Holmes with Vincent Price
1950: UK, “A Christmas Carol,” Bransby Williams as Scrooge in Brit TV version.
1951: UK, “Scrooge,” directed by Brian Desdmond Hearst, starring Alastair Sim, adaptation by Noel Lanley. DVD
1953: USA: “A Christmas Carol” another TV starring Noel Leslie
1956: USA: “The Stingiest Man in Town,” episode of the Alcoa hour, starring Basil Rathbone as Scrooge
1960: West Germany, “Ein Weihnachtslied in Prosa oder Eine Geistergeschichte zum Christfest,” German TV version
1962: USA, “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” animated, book by Barbara Chain, Music & lyrics by Styne and Merrill DVD
1963: Brazil, “O Velho Scrooge” Brazillian TV series
1964: Canda, “Mr. Scrooge” another TV version starring Cyril Ritchard
1964: USA, “Carol for Another Christmas” Mankiewicz’s TV director debut, Rod Serling updated it to the present. Sterling Hayden starred as a Scrooge-like industrial tycoon
1970: UK, “Scrooge,” directed by Ralph Neame, Finney as Scrooge, Bricusse songs. DVD
1971: USA, “A Christmas Carol” Animated for TV, with the voices of Sim and Hordern repeating their ’51 roles. The visuals were so well-received that it was released theatrically in ’72 and considered for an Oscar. VHS
1977: UK, “A Christmas Carol,” TV. Hordern moved up to Scrooge in this version.
1978: Canada, “Scrooge” TV version. John Blanchard directed, Warren Graves starred.
1978: USA “The Stingiest Man in town” animated re-make of 56 Alcoa Hour version, Walter Matthau as Scrooge’s voice with Theodore Bikel, Tom Bosley, and Robert Morse supporting. Music by Fred Speilman. VHS
1979: USA, “An American Chirstmas Carol” TV version starring Henry Winkler, updated to Depression-era New England. DVD
1979: USA, “Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol” TV vervsion, set in modern Tennessee. Hoyt Axton leads the cast of this country-western version.
1981: USA, “A Christmas Carol,” TV version, from Dennis Powers and Laird Williamson’s stage adaptation.
1982: USA, “A Christmas Carol” TV film of Guthrie Theatre stage version.VHS
1983: USA, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.” Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck. DVD (Vol 2 of WD Treasures)
1984: UK/USA, “A Christmas Carol.” Clive Donner-directed TV version with George C. Scott. DVD
1984: France, “Christmas Carol” French TV version.
1985: USA, ‘The Jetsons Christmas Carol” TV. Name says it all.
1988: UK, “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol” TV. Rowan Atkinson’s take. VHS
1988: USA, “Scrooged” Bill Murray. Directed by Richard Donner, Mich Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue’s update of the story. DVD
1992: USA, “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” Brian Henson directed, Michael Cain as Scrooge.DVD
1994: “A Christmas Carol” a ballet version.
1994: USA, “A Flinstones Christmas Carol.” Fred Flinstone as Scrooge.
1994: USA, “Bah, Humbug!: The Story of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’” TV. Dramatic reading on video with Jkames Earl Jones and Martin Sheen.
1995: USA, “Ebbie” Susan Lucci version described by Robert above.
1997: Canada, “Ebenezer.” Jack Palance stars in a Western version. DVD
1997: USA, “A Christmas Carol.” Animated version with Cavallari/Goldsmith songs. Tim Curry and Whoppi Goldberg star. DVD
1997: USA, “Ms. Scrooge.” TV. Gender-inverted version. Cicely Tyson starred. Directed by John Korty. VHS
1999: USA, “A Christmas Carol” TV, Patrick Stewart version. Joel Grey as Christmas Past. DVD
2000: USA, “A Diva’s Chirstmas Carol.” Vanessa Williams. VH1 TV movie version.DVD
2000: UK, “A Chirstmas Carol,” UK TV. Modern version with Scrooge as a loan shark.
2004: USA, “A Christmas Carol,” TV version of MSG musical, with Grammer et al. Not on DVD…yet. (it was awful, apparently)

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15 thoughts on “Christmas Carols

  1. “Ein Weihnachtslied in Prosa oder Eine Geistergeschichte zum Christfest”

    Those Germans sure aren’t afraid of long titles.

    Loose translation:

    “A Christmas song in prose or a Christmas ghost story”

    And I agree with D. — the George C. Scott is the only one I’ve seen that I could imagine viewing again.

  2. Growing up in Canukyland, the 1951 Scrooge was the canon. It’s still my favorite, although it’s clearly over-the-top (which seems appropriate for Dickens).

  3. Well, I mentioned my old post on A Christmas Carol over at T&S before, so let me just throw in a couple of addendums.

    I’m a Christmas Carol fanatic; I always watch at least one, often two or more adaptations every year. I could watch the George C. Scott version every Christmas for the rest of my life and not get tired of it; it’s really a near-flawless work of sentiment, passion, and thought. But Melissa is a partisan of the Muppet’s Christmas Carol, which is also great.

    I like the Mr. MaGoo retelling of the story; one of the things which is neat about it is that it preserves the theatricality of the story. You can push a naturalistic take too far; it is, fundamentally, a very oral story, better spoken than shown. (Which is why it’s so important to have a Scrooge who is interesting to listen to, as Scott was, and as, I think, Sim wasn’t; I think the 1951 version which so many praise tries too hard to turn it into a conventional movie rather than a morality tale. This is also why the Martin Sheen/James Earl Jones recital of the story is pretty good.) MaGoo is, of course, a delight to listen to, but the cartoon also begins with MaGoo coming on stage, and the curtain being raised, and every act of story begins with a shot of the audience watching Mr. MaGoo “perform.” Very clever for a cartoon, and I really think it makes something potent out of what is, after all, a pretty cheap effort (the animation is cut-rate tv quality, and the songs forgettable).

    I never understood why people liked Scrooged. Bill Murray is a funny, funny man, but his comedy depends upon a willingness to play around with irony, and irony kills A Christmas Carol. So the big teary moment at the end, when Murray repents and dedicates his network to the true meaning of Christmas, just rang very cheap and false to me. Far better, I think, if they’d just gone whole hog with the black humor, and turned the movie into a triumph of the unrepentant Scrooge. That would have been different, at least.

  4. I’m glad you appreciate Mr. Magoo’s version as much as I do, Russell, but I have to disagree about the songs. I knew this version as a kid, but I haven’t seen it since then, until I got it on DVD this week. And the song “Winter was warm” hit me very hard — it’s really extraordinary, a bleak adult ballad in an animated special meant for kids. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head, and it makes me tear up.

    Here are the words:

    Winter was warm —
    Summer-soft that year — the
    Winter was warm,
    Without a sign of frost,
    Like winter lost
    Its way that year.

    It seems as I recall
    No blossoms fell that fall,
    “May” didn’t leave at all,
    Or did love paint an illusion?

    Now trees, with a sigh,
    Stand and shiver while their
    Dreams fall and die,
    And all my dreams are bare
    Wrapped up somewhere
    In summer leaves.

    Oh, what I’d give to be
    To be in love again
    This year, the winter is cold
    Will it ever be warm
    As it was then?

    The songs are written by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, top Broadway songwriters and not cheap at all. Some of the score does seem to pander, but nothing like the one written for the 1970 Scrooge (music and lyrics by Leslie Bricausse).

    P.S. I too love the George C. Scott one, but the old Alistair Sim one has more bite, and the black and white contrast is frightening and almost cinema-verite. One wishes David Lean had tackled this story, like his masterpieces Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, but this old one is as close to those as we’re going to get, I’m afraid.

  5. BTW, for anyone who missied the Grammer version…

    “NBC will again broadcast the TV holiday musical Dec. 24 at 9 PM. The USA network also has airings slated for Dec. 6 at 9 PM, Dec. 7 at 4 PM and Dec. 11 at 4 PM. (All times ET.) Check your local listings. For more information, visit the NBC site at http://www.nbc.com.”

    I’ll try to remember to record it (it does have songs by Ahrens/Menken after all).

    I watched the Sim version last night (I’ve seen it before), and I’m trying to decide what to say about it.

    I did cry at one point, so that’s a good sign. Overall, I agree that it’s the best version, though I don’t think it’s definitive — it has good things and so does the George C. Scott version, and both have weak points too.

    The Sim version does include whole scenes that don’t exist anywhere else, and for this reason alone it is really worthwhile. Remember when I said I needed to see WHY Scrooge turns into a mean miser? In most versions, we get Fezziwig’s ball, and then the romance with Belle (here called Alice) and then we see Belle break up with Ebe because he loves gold more than her. But this movie shows how he gets sucked into capitalism, how he meets Marley, etc.

    I really like the black and white photography, and the music is superior too (by Richard Addinsell). But I think Sim himself is … not quite right, I’m not sure about him at all. He’s good, and certainly touching at the end, but … I agree with Russell, it’s his speaking voice, it’s just not varied enough. The gruffness of Scott is better, but then all of this comes after watching too many Christmas Carols in the last 3 days.

  6. I watched the Kelsey Grammer version. I thought it was mostly forgettable, but you may disagree D.; you clearly have a great ear for music and lyrics, and I’d like to hear what you make of the opening number, which they extend Broadway-style for a good fifteen minutes or more (I was beginning to think it was being broadcast without commercials!). I can’t agree that the 1970 Albert Finney movie version “panders” though; sure, it’s not world-class, but “Thank You Very Much,” for example, is a very smart song, flexible and rich (especially given that it lends itself to two very different readings before the film ends), and “I Hate People” (“how I hate the ignorant classes, sitting on their ignorant asses”) is a riot.

  7. Russell, I got a Masters from NYU in theater, as a writer/composer of musicals. I’m not saying this to pull rank — in fact, I think in some ways it has been a detriment to my enjoyment of certain projects. I’m very…tuned to these things, perhaps more than I should be. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol works for me, as a musical, in a way that the 1970 Scrooge really doesn’t. Scrooge is too much Oliver!, all merry villagers dancing up a storm in the streets, with Scrooge in his nightshirt. And Albert Finney plays the character in a feat of acting, as an old fart and a young upstart, not finding the humanity in either. Honestly, I can’t abide it at all (though I own it on DVD). That song, “Happiness,” is pretty, but quite amateur in comparison to the one I posted from Mr. Magoo, “Winter was warm.” “Thank You Very Much,” is fun, but you can sing “Consider Yourself,” from Oliver! right along with it, which shows the basic lack of creativity in the whole project.

    I saw the Madison Square Garden version 3 times, 3 different years, and this is the version now filmed with Kelsey Grammer. The songs are adequate, though in some cases, tasteless. I’m done with musicals of this source — both the “straight” movies with Alistair Sim and George C. Scott are far superior, in my opinion.

  8. Feel free, D.; I’m honored that someone with your taste got something out of my analysis. And I won’t compete with you as far as musicals go; my experience is as an amature performer and spectator, not student. Weirdly, I was actually in a production of Oliver!, long ago, and the similarity between “Consider Yourself” and “Thank You” never occurred to me until now. But yeah, I guess can see what you’re saying.

  9. There is a vaguely troubling element in the theological analysis of the story, and I wish you would comment on this, Russell. It has occurred to me (and others before me I’m sure) that Scrooge’s redemption is strikingly comparative to the conversion of Saul/Paul. An angel/spirit appears, and through extraterrestrial power, reveals the truth, the character is transformed/redeemed, and becomes a saint forevermore. For most of us, this isn’t the reality of redemption. Our redemption is ignited by self-analysis, and not by some external celestial being or force. Even Joseph Smith (according to his own record) first prayed for answers before receiving the vision.

    But Paul/Scrooge are given the vision without requiring it. Unless Scrooge has been set with self-doubt, and the visitations are in fact his conscience, which would lead one away from the Christian symbolism of the story.

    Just food for thought and dialogue.

  10. BOTH I AND THE ONE I LOVED WHO HAS PAST AWAY ALWAYS LOOKED FORWARD EACH YEAR TO MR MCGOOS CHISTMASS CAROL NO MATTER HOW OLD WE GREW TO BE WE ENJOYED THE WARM MESSAGE OF THE CAROL.

    THANKS FOR SHARING THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS IN OUR HEARTS

    RICHARD ROBINSON

  11. But Paul/Scrooge are given the vision without requiring it.

    I’m somehow reminded of how Alma the Younger was “treated” to the visit of an angel because of the love of his father; apparently Marley had enough feeling for his ex-partner that he was willing to offer Scrooge a chance to redeem himself in much the same way (my sense of eternal mercy wants to have me believe that this was part of Marley’s post-death repentence, and that he, too, became a better man for having done his part). Alma the Younger’s conversion was certainly not of his own initiation.

  12. I was happy to see that others still love Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. It’s always been my favorite. I don’t get into discussions about sentimentality or the quality of the the technical medium, because even Einstein knew that imagination is a part of reality, so sentiment has purpose. I found the site by googling Winter Was Warm. Thank you gor posting the lyrics.

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