1970 “Scrooge,” starring Albert Finney
My next favorite film version of “A Christmas Carol,” right after the Alastair Sim movie, is this one from 1970. Finney received the 1970 Golden Globe Award for best actor in musical or comedy. The film was also nominated for Academy Awards for art direction/ set decoration, costume designer, best song (“Thank You Very Much”) and best song score/ adaptation. A musical retelling with memorable songs and dances, (the song “December the 25th” is a favorite) and a lively cast, this film ranks high on my list of “must watch” DVDs during the holiday season. Filmed in such a way as to suggest that the only light is ambient sources on the set, it adds a look to the production that is simultaneously realistic and dream-like.
Albert Finney does an amazing job of playing the elderly Scrooge as well as the younger versions seen in the past. His “old man” Scrooge is acted with such aplomb that you accept him as that age, with not a hint of artificiality. His pinched features, squinty eyes, and close-to-his-body arm and hand movements suggest a man closed off from his fellow man, as well as age.
Reviewer Tom Knapp contributes his view: “Finney, in the title role, is unbelievably good in his impersonation of an old man. It took quite some time for me to believe that the scenes of young Scrooge are the real Albert Finney; the old, decrepit man seen through the rest of the film owes his amazingly realistic appearance to the wonders of cinematic makeovers. But makeup can only do so much, and Finney deserves a ton of credit for carrying the character the rest of the way. His walk, his posture and particularly his facial expressions are perfect.”
The Ghost of Jacob Marley is portrayed by Alec Guiness, with an unearthly lightness never before seen in the role. Even when seated, he really seems to float without much weight, other than the chains holding him down. In my opinion his is the best Marley ever seen on film.
Reviewer James Berardinelli had this to say about Guiness’ performance: “If there’s a standout performance in Scrooge, it belongs to Alec Guinness, who turns in an unconventionally energetic and sadistically high-spirited version of Jacob Marley’s ghost. Never before nor since has Marley been played with such a bizarre mixture of the nasty and good-natured.”
Worth mentioning is a scene involving Marley that has never been a part of the Scrooge story. Usually, Scrooge’s falling onto his grave marks the end of the vision and his repentance. In this one, however, he falls into the open grave, and falls a long distance down a hole until he awakens to find himself in Hell. (This inspired a similar scene in the later Disney animated version, with Uncle Scrooge McDuck struggling to hold on while he dangles over a hole containing an open coffin belching forth flames and smoke. This was also reprised in the Disney CGI version with Jim Carrey.)
The design of the Hell set is great, with tortured faces carved in the flowing rock of the stalagmites. A now-lively and spry Marley comes to greet him, his movements indicating that this is his world and reality, whereas his appearance in the world of the living was only as an insubstantial spirit. Scrooge is led by him to an icy replica of his office, where hooded demons bring a huge chain to bind him to his clerk’s desk. His punishment is to be treated by Satan as Scrooge treated Crachit, for eternity. Marley seems to take an oddly grim satisfaction in Scrooge’s ending up here after all. This strange attitude makes sense when it is remembered that this is not reality, but rather still a vision of the probable future, which Scrooge wakes up from with considerable relief.
In the TV broadcasts of this film, this scene is usually edited out, ending with his fall into the hole and his finding himself in a red-glowing coffin-shaped hole. This leads to a commercial break, which comes back with Scrooge awakening tangled in his bedsheets holding onto the bedpost. One can only assume that the television editors felt this scene to be too strong for a Christmas production! (Why they left the odd snippet of his lying in the coffin-hole, rather than the more logical move of cutting away at the end of his fall, is a mystery.) It was a revelation when I finally acquired the video version some years ago and saw the entire scene for the first time.
The visually-problematic Spirit of Christmas Past, portrayed as an older man in all previous versions, is an old lady here, to great effect. I think Dickens would have approved.
The flying effects are wonderful, depicting Scrooge’s flights with the spirits as never seen before in any prior version (most simply superimposed the standing actors over moving backgrounds). I would say that they are the best on film up to this point, not topped until the much bigger-budgeted “Superman: The Movie,” eight years later. One standout scene, the first flying effect in the movie, is when Marley takes hold of Scrooge and they float out of the house’s window and up into the sky. This is achieved, without a camera cut, in one shot as they begin from inside the house and float upward into the spirit-filled air. Those familiar with movie wire-work used to make the actors fly, will notice that they are well under the window’s eave when they start, an unusual place, since there must be a clear space above for the wires. Lacking any details about the movie’s effects, it can only be assumed that the top of the window and house must have been added photographically later. A nice touch that would go unnoticed by most, but one that added to the illusion of free flight most convincingly.
His romance with Isabelle is a major part of the story, rather than a small aside as in the novel. We find that Isabelle is one of the daughters of his employer Fezziwig (something never hinted at in the novel), who with his wife comedically follow them around as chaperones as they go on outings. The idea of Scrooge’s fiancee being a daughter of Fezziwig was another point later used in Disney’s animated version.
If you have never seen this version, seek out the DVD and watch it this Christmas season for a real treat!
Albert Finney …. Ebenezer Scrooge
Alec Guinness …. Jacob Marley’s Ghost
Edith Evans …. Ghost of Christmas Past
Kenneth More …. Ghost of Christmas Present
Paddy Stone …. Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
Michael Medwin …. Nephew Fred
Mary Peach …. Fred’s Wife
David Collings …. Bob Cratchit
Richard Beaumont …. Tiny Tim
Anton Rodgers …. Tom Jenkins
Derek Francis …. 1st Portly Gentleman
Marianne Stone …. Party Guest
Roy Kinnear …. 2nd Portly Gentleman
Frances Cuka …. Mrs. Cratchit
Karen Scargill …. Kathy Cratchit
Below are a series of images I scanned in from an issue of Life magazine from 1970, in which a photographer took a series of images of the characters using a special process which makes them appear antique. I was thrilled to find this feature, and I hope you enjoy seeing it. This is quite possibly the only place you will ever see these photos! If they are seen on other sites, most likely, they were copied from here.