Hollywood certainly offers plenty of Christmas movie choices to rent, stream, or buy. “A Christmas Story”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34 Street”, and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” are just a few of the long list of films to enjoy during the holidays.
“A Christmas Carol” also rightly belongs near (or at) the top of must-see movie list leading up to (or on) December 25th.
Filmmakers adapted the beloved novel by Charles Dickens heaps of times, and I admittedly haven’t seen them all, but I’ve definitely enjoyed these five “A Christmas Carol” films.
“Scrooge” (released as “A Christmas Carol” in the U.S.) (1951) 4 / 5 stars – Director Brian Desmond Hurst’s picture spends more time developing Scrooge’s character than many of its counterparts.
In this 1951 film, we see Scrooge (Alastair Sim) grieve for his sick sister, Fan (Carol Marsh), work with Marley (Michael Hordern) and also sadly watch his business partner pass away.
This gives the audience time to really see the steps which turn a wide-eyed thoughtful young man into a miserable and cutthroat businessman.
Sim’s performance is purposely understated and it works.
Scrooge doesn’t yell or raise his voice in anger. Instead, Sim uses a forceful, but quiet, tone which projects cruelty towards anyone who comes in contract with him.
His negative energy seems to jump off the screen, and his gloomy and sour nature poisons the air.
No wonder Scrooge is pitied and/or despised.
Naturally, life turns around for Scrooge, and Sim wonderfully handles his transformation.
“I don’t deserve to be so happy, I just can’t help it,” he laughs to himself.
Yes, this film certainly put a smile on my face too.
“A Christmas Carol” (1984) 4.5 / 5 stars – George C. Scott wears the black hat and jacket in a wonderful performance as Scrooge in this made-for-TV movie which really hits the mark.
Directed by Clive Donner, this version of the Charles Dickens classic doesn’t seem like a TV movie.
The sets and production values feel like London in chilly December, and solid actors – like David Warner (as Bob Cratchit) and Roger Rees (as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred) – help round out a strong cast.
Donner brings this classic to life by also getting the small, but important, details right (like the makeup job on Tiny Tim (Anthony Walters) which makes him look really frail and sickly), but this is Scott’s movie and he commands our attention.
With his gruff and gravely voice and assertive nature, Scott delivers an authoritative and convincing performance as Scrooge, but offers much more.
At times, his eyes grow wide with surprise, he adds some subtle touches of humor along the way and brings Yuletide warmth when the Christmas spirit reaches Scrooge.
Yes, Scott’s makes us truly believe Scrooge is “as happy as an angel.”
“Scrooged” (1988) 4 / 5 stars – In a 1980’s version of the “A Christmas Carol”, Bill Murray plays an infinitely abrasive TV executive who gets “Scrooged.”
Frank Cross (Murray), the president of IBC Television, fires people on Christmas Eve, steals taxicab rides from elderly women, doesn’t offer bonuses, and simply is an all-around jerk.
Fortunately, his deceased boss of seven years pays him a visit and brings along the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to help change Frank’s ways.
Director Richard Donner’s follows the basic tale – including “Scrooge’s” old love interest (Karen Allen) and a Tiny Tim-like character (Nicholas Phillips) – but humor helps drive the story, and Murray is his typical hilarious self.
When the Ghost of Christmas Future crowds him in an elevator, Frank says, “That might work with the chicks, but not with me.”
This movie works well as a comedy and as a successfully telling of the fabled story, but your grandmother might long for something more traditional.
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) 4 / 5 stars – Sure “A Christmas Carol” has been done 1,000,006 times, but not like this.
Jim Henson’s son, Brian, directs – in his feature film debut – a charming and warm version of this famous story, and it’s told “Muppet-style.”
Henson perfectly casts Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, and the talented actor is face-to-face with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, Christmas Future, and also his old business partners Jacob and Robert Marley played by those cranky old men, Waldorf and Statler from the Muppet Theatre balcony.
Part of the fun of this film is figuring out which Muppet character will play the famous Dickens characters, so I won’t give any more away.
If you have young kids, this movie should be their first experience with “A Christmas Carol”, but quite frankly, you’ll enjoy it more.
“A Christmas Carol” (1999) 3.5 / 5 stars – For “Star Trek” and “X-Men” fans, this specific telling of the celebrated Christmas story will probably be your favorite.
You see, Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard, Professor X) plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this made-for-TV movie.
This feature offers a few scenes not normally seen in other “A Christmas Carol” movies.
An extended account of Marley’s funeral opens the picture. In an odd turn, one of the ghosts takes our featured miser aboard a ship. In another, Scrooge finds his grave and falls on top of his corpse.
Stewart, of course, is terrific and brings his Shakespearean training to the role.
He provides unique touches to the picture, including a terrific moment during the Christmas morning scene when Scrooge begins laughing.
Having said that, the picture falls down in few places.
Although the costumes show off plenty of detail for the period, the sets seem ordinary and set in cramped quarters.
Tiny Tim, “unfortunately”, looks quite healthy, and most of the other actors aren’t terribly memorable (sans Joel Grey who plays a creepy and haunting Ghost of Christmas Past).
Then again, for Stewart fans (full disclosure: I’m one of them), who cares about the “little problems.” Patrick Stewart is Scrooge!
Jeff Mitchell is on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic
“Scrooge” (or “A Christmas Carol”) (1951) is not rated and is available on DVD and Blu-ray
“A Christmas Carol” (1984) is not rated and is available on DVD and Blu-ray.
“Scrooged” (1988) is rated PG-13 and is available on DVD and Blu-ray.
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) is rated G and is available on DVD.
“A Christmas Carol” (1999) is not rated and is available on DVD.