By Jessica Pickens
I have a goal to see as many versions of “A Christmas Carol” as I can. Sure, I’ve seen those starring Mickey Mouse or the Muppets. But I’ve even seen a “Christmas Carol” version starring Susan Lucci as “Ebbie” Scrooge, who runs a department store, and “An American Christmas Carol” starring Henry Winkler as a miser during the Great Depression.
These are all entertaining in their own way, but I wanted to share my favorite versions that emulate Charles Dickens’ 1843 original story….
Starring: Reginald Owen, Ann Rutherford, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Terry Kilburn, Leo G. Carroll
Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938, this may not be the best version of the story but it’s one of my favorites. I love the cast members who give the story a comfortable and familiar touch. Reginald Owen plays Ebenezer Scrooge and Gene Lockhart plays Bob Cratchit. This film is a real family affair, because Mrs. Cratchit is played by Gene Lockhart’s real life wife, Kathleen Lockhart and their real life daughter, June Lockhart (later of Lassie fame) plays Belinda Cratchit.
The casting of the Lockhart family is a real treat. Terry Kilburn pays Tiny Tim and is particularly memorable in his role. Another thing I love in this version is Ann Rutherford as the Spirit of Christmas Present. Just a year before playing Scarlett O’Hara’s sister Careen in “Gone with the Wind,” Rutherford dons a blond wig and is a particularly lovely and ethereal Spirit. Of all the versions I’ve seen, I may like her translation of this character the best.
Starring: Alastair Sim, Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison, Hermione Baddeley, Ernest Thesiger
This 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol” is said to be the best by many people. In Great Britain, the film was released with the title “Scrooge” and changed to “A Christmas Carol” for its United States release. Filmed and released in the United Kingdom, many of the actors may not seem familiar to American audiences. Admittedly, I only am really familiar with Alastair Sim, Hermione Baddeley and Ernest Thesiger.
But even without being familiar with many of the actors, this is still an extremely enjoyable version. Alastair Sim was seemingly born to play Ebenezer Scrooge — I would say he is in the top three best actors who played the character. This version is much gloomier than other versions of “A Christmas Carol,” but I feel that it gets some story points that other versions may miss.
Starring: Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, David Collings, Michael Medwin, Kenneth More, Edith Evans, Kenneth More
If you love musicals, this retelling of “A Christmas Carol” is for you. Albert Finney plays miserly Scrooge and Alec Guinness has a small role as Jacob Marley. What’s interesting about this film is that “Scrooge” is one of the few feature film adaptations that is a musical—there were many television versions but few musical versions on the big screen. It was also an interesting choice to make “Scrooge” a musical, because musicals were no longer popular or profitable by 1970.
The songs in this film are extremely catchy — it will take weeks to get “Thank You Very Much” out of your head. Finney doesn’t provide the strongest characterization of Scrooge, but his character is more sympathetic than others. I feel we get a better sense of his past pain that lead him to be such a bitter old man.
Starring: George C. Scott, Frank Finlay, Angela Pleasence, Edward Woodward, David Warner, Susannah York
This is my all-time favorite version of “A Christmas Carol.” This made-for-TV version originally aired on CBS on Dec. 17, 1984. But the cinematography and quality of this movie is higher than what you would expect from a TV film—particularly one of the 1980s era. Director Clive Donner’s “A Christmas Carol” is down-right cinematic. In fact, this wasn’t Donner’s first go-round with the story—he was an editor on the 1951 Alastair Sim film.
George C. Scott is perfect for Ebenezer Scrooge and brings something different to the character. He’s bitter and grumpy, but also rather haughty, particularly when he speaks about the issue of orphans at the beginning of the story. Scott’s Scrooge is remorseful, but not too soon like other actors sometimes are. Scott takes the full journey before truly being convinced that he needs to change his ways.
What I also like about this version is that it includes multiple storytelling elements that other versions omit. In some retellings, I have seen the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come omitted. This spirit is not only in this version, but he’s downright terrifying (I couldn’t sleep after watching this when I was 12 because it scared me so much!) It also includes the two children that represent “want and ignorance.” I could really gush further about this made-for-TV “A Christmas Carol,” but I just will encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it, to remedy that immediately.
What’s your favorite adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”?
Jessica Pickens is a North Carolina-based writer. She has a degree in print journalism and now works in public relations. Outside of work, she writes about pre-1968 films at CometOverHollywood.com with a special interest in musicals, films released in 1939, and World War II-era films. You can follow her Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.