A Christmas Carol (VCI, 1951)
Sound: C Extras: C+ Film: B
It is easy to loose track of how many filmed and
videotaped versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol have been
produced, but you can bet money that many, many more will be made for centuries
to come. However optimistic that
sounds, be assured that the one that will continue to remain definitive even
hundreds of years later will be the 1951 black & white film with Alastair Sim
as Scrooge. Why? Simple.
His performance is one of the most naturalistic we will ever see of the
character and this film version is so British, its purity and authenticity is
like solid gold.
This DVD version by VCI is even better than some of the
lesser versions floating around, because it has the great benefit of a classic
opening and closing by Avengers star Patrick Macnee, who played Jacob
Marley in the film. Since he taped
these segments, the film is unwatchable at home without them. That is because this is about a legacy, not
just another shallow Christmas cash-in.
This is supposed to be about the real Christmas, something the Peanuts
Gang reminds us annually. Everyone has
their Christmas classics, from the poisonous Frank Capra “classic” It’s A
Wonderful Life (1946) to the abandoned, too-forgotten, original theatrical Miracle
On 34th Street (1947) that was the great American Christmas film
until the Capra film “mysteriously” (and temporarily at that) went into public
domain in the 1980s. Producer-director
Brian Desmond Hurst made an even more important film than either here.
It has been a long time since I watched the film in its
entirety, but was amazed how well it has stood the test of time, feeling more
like a product of the book than the time it was made in Britain. It is also yet more proof of how great the
British Cinema had become in the world, as no American (and especially
Hollywood) film on Christmas has ever surpassed this gem. It’s so good, even an atheist can enjoy it.
The full frame 1.33 X 1 image is available in a bluish
monochrome and awful colorized version that is a disaster. However, the print for the black and white
version is not bad, though the way it has been bleached out for the colorized
version is not in the spirit of the season.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono shows its age and is a generation or so down,
but the accents are not a problem and the presentation is about as good as it
is going to get until a High Definition version arrives.
Besides the Macnee segments, there are biographies of the
cast, descriptive narration for the blind or visually impaired that go beyond
subtitles of any kind (hardly and DVDs have this feature, but it is growing in
theatrical use), an altered version of the Max Fleischer short on Rudolph
The Red-Nosed Reindeer that adds a version (and an odd one at that) of the
song on the opening and closing credits which have been altered
themselves. It is a good version of the
film with something for everyone.
- Nicholas Sheffo