‘A Christmas Carol’ poll – and a 1950s TV version

Basil Rathbone as Scrooge

Basil Rathbone as Scrooge

I’ve finally discovered how to post a poll on my blog, so there is now one in my sidebar asking for people to vote for their favourite film/TV version of  A Christmas Carol. Please do cast your vote and also leave a  comment if you would like to.

Following on from the early silent version I wrote about yesterday, I’ve now also seen a rather obscure TV version featuring two great cinema actors, which is currently available on Youtube. It is an episode from the series Tales from Dickens, hosted by Fredric March for the British-based Towers of London Productions and starring Basil Rathbone as Scrooge, and was originally shown in either 1958 or 1959 – opinions on the exact airdate seem to differ between websites. Possibly it was shown on different dates in the UK and the US.

I was quite excited at the thought of Basil Rathbone as Scrooge, since he is such an intense actor that I thought he would be perfect. Sadly, however, this TV episode is so short, at only around 25 minutes (the Youtube video just keeps repeating it over and over), that he gets very little scope. He has almost no screen time as the unregenerate Scrooge – and spends most of the film standing meekly to one side while the succession of ghosts show him extremely brief scenes of past, present and future. The story is rushed through at a rate of knots, and I was disappointed to see that most of the social commentary is lost. There isn’t even time for ‘This boy is Ignorance, this girl is Want’ , a key moment which the 10-minute 1910 version managed to retain.

A Christmas Carol Rathbone 2One aspect I did like was that this version has a narrator, in Fredric March, though again he doesn’t get enough time – but it does mean he can include one or two great lines which are usually lost from dramatisations. On a pedantic/obsessive note … March, cosily seated in a study where the walls are lined with old books, intriguingly announces at the start that he is sitting in the actual room where Dickens wrote the story. But Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol while living at 1, Devonshire Terrace, which was demolished in the late 1950s – and surely this can’t be a rare glimpse of that house, can it? I can’t believe the room was still full of Dickens’ books so shortly before the house was pulled down, and suspect this is the study in Gad’s Hill Place, which looked similar when I visited it some years back. But he only moved to Gad’s Hill some years after writing Carol. If anyone knows more on this front, please tell me.

Getting back to the TV adaptation, there is a lot of confusion about this version because there had also been an earlier TV adaptation, in 1954,  with the same two stars, although that earlier version was a musical, starring March as Scrooge and Rathbone as Jacob Marley. Both short TV films were issued on VHS years ago and Amazon has lumped the two productions together, while the comments on the imdb also mix them up!  Has anyone seen the musical? I hope to do so, but it got pretty bad reviews so I’m not holding my breath.

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9 thoughts on “‘A Christmas Carol’ poll – and a 1950s TV version

  1. John Greco

    Judy, I do love the Dicken’s novel and have read it twice. As for the movies the Sims version is excellent and my own personal favorite. I do think George C. Scott did a fine version too.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Thanks, John! I agree the Sim version is excellent – unfortunately I saw it on TV last year in a colorised version where everyone was bright pink, but hope to see it in glorious black and white this year. I am not sure if I’ve seen the George C Scott one, but hope to do so.

  2. Sam Juliano

    Judy, the Dickens novel, which I use in school quite often, is also (like John asserts) one of my favorite novels, and one that has the timeless appeal that can never be diminished. I have voted on the sidebar, casting my vote for the unforgettable Alistair Sim version of 1951. I also love the Reginald Owen version, and was most impressed with Rathbone there, and will second John’s motion on the Scott. It’s doubtful anyone will ever touch Sim. The lines as he utters them are thereby etched in immortality. Fabulous post.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Thank you very much, Sam – all the kind comments you have left me are cheering me up, as I’ve just crawled back from the new ‘Great Expectations’ film which I must admit was a great disappointment to me – how could they cut out Orlick completely?

      Anyway, I love the Sim version of the ‘Carol’, and have seen quite a few other versions, including some dreadful ones, but clearly need to catch up with more of the others that people are citing too. We usually watch the Patrick Stewart version every year as it is my husband’s favourite and I especially like Richard E Grant as Bob Cratchit, but I need to broaden out and watch some of the other famous versions!

  3. Joe

    I’ve always enjoyed the clever staging and film tinting of this modest production. Basil rathbone is almost unrecognizable as scrooge.My videocasette is a little long in the tooth,so I’m glad to see that folks still know about this little gem.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Joe, I agree Rathbone is almost unrecognisable as Scrooge – not sure I would have known it was him if he hadn’t been credited. It would be nice to see these Tales from Dickens get a DVD release. Many thanks for the comment!

  4. Helen

    I can’t resist an invitation to talk about favorite Carols. I’ll happily join the chorus in praise of Alastair Sim, still the definitive Scrooge. There are several other versions I enjoy and watch at least every few years. The Albert Finney musical has Kenneth More’s marvelous Ghost of Christmas Present. The Muppet Carol is delightful and the silent movie lover in me enjoys the unexpected Expressionist touches in the Christmas Yet to Come segment. Scrooged is a mostly successful updating and a good recommendation for unenlightened friends who refuse to watch old movies. Richard E. Grant in the Patrick Stewart version is arguably the best Bob Cratchit, and that version also has a superb visit to the rag and bone man.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Helen, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the different versions. Must admit I’m not a fan of the Albert Finney musical as I don’t like the songs very much, but maybe I should revisit it and take a look at Kenneth More’s portayal. I do love the Alastair Sim film and the Patrick Stewart one, though, and must agree with you on Richard E Grant being excellent as Cratchit – and I also love Scrooged, though it is a long time since I’ve seen it. Maybe I’ll have time to revisit it this year. Thanks again!

  5. Letta

    Which one of the Scrooge movies had ebeneezer as a young boy singing in an old classroom I remember this as a child but cannot find the movie thanks

    Reply

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