A Christmas Carol (J Searle Dawley, 1910)

AChristmasCarol1910 1A Christmas Carol has probably been filmed, staged and adapted more than just about any other literary work. As my ‘Dickens in December’ season carries on, I’d be very interested to hear which adaptations of this great tale are other people’s favourites – my own, out of those I’ve seen to date, is probably the Alastair Sim version, though I do also love the more recent Patrick Stewart film, which my family often watches at Christmas.

AChristmasCarol1910 2One of the shortest and earliest versions was the Edison Company’s 1910 film, which is only around 10 minutes long. I saw this version today and was very impressed. Despite its single-reel length, and despite being made with a fixed camera, it does get a flavour of the novel and it also has quite impressive special effects in the scenes with the ghosts, apparently achieved by double exposures. There are several copies of the film on Youtube, some of which claim to be remastered, but I can’t see much difference between them in terms of quality – all are fairly poor prints, not surprisingly with a film more than a century old – except that the “remastered” ones have a yellow tint. They also all finish very abruptly, so there may be some footage missing at the end. The print I have linked to below (not remastered/yellow) has quite atmospheric music, although it is a bit loud, so I turned down my speakers. It is also possible to buy this film on DVD in region 1 from Kino, as part of the Christmas Past DVD which includes a number of early films from Edison.

It was directed by an uncredited J Searle Dawley, who claimed to be the world’s first professional movie director, and starred Australian actor Marc McDermott, who was discovered by Mrs Patrick Campbell, as Scrooge. McDermott was only 29 when he took on the role of the elderly miser, but he plays the part convincingly.

The story is inevitably very compressed, with one ghost returning several times instead of three, and brief glimpses of past, present and future. Many of the scenes feature three elements – with Scrooge himself in the foreground, and the ghost standing between him and the scene he is observing, also made to look ghostly. One especially striking scene is the one where the children representing Ignorance and Want appear, their hands clawing at the ghost’s skirts. I was impressed that, even with its short running length, this version does include the social aspects of the story and gives them their full weight.

Instead of memories of a bitter failed love story for Scrooge, the film gives a simpler romantic dilemma – his nephew, Fred, can’t marry the girl he loves because of his lack of money, until Scrooge hastily makes him a partner in the last couple of minutes of running time. ¬†Another change from the book is that Scrooge himself takes the prize turkey round to the Cratchits’ home for Christmas dinner instead of sending it with a boy – this makes for a wonderful, comic scene, which is sadly cut off too soon as the film ends.

For further reading, there is a great article about this film at the Silent Volume blog.


9 thoughts on “A Christmas Carol (J Searle Dawley, 1910)

    • Thanks, G.O.M.! I must catch up with that MGM version, as it is one of those I haven’t seen yet. I do have a poll on the blog now asking about favourite versions of ‘Carol’, so you can vote for the Sim version there if you would like to.


  1. I’m not sure I can choose between the Sim version and the Muppet version. :-) I love how the latter sticks so close to the story even though it’s full of Muppets (and a fuzzy blue Charles Dickens who hangs out with a rat)!


    • Must admit I’m not a big fan of the Muppets version, Gina, but I know many people disagree – I will give it another try some time! Do vote in my poll if you can make up your mind which version you like best. Thanks very much for commenting, and for mentioning my Dickens postings on Dickensblog. :)


  2. You’re very welcome! :-) Sim’s become a great favorite of mine. I first saw him in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Stage Fright” and was just blown away by his funny, lovable performance. I’m trying now to find more of his movies.


    • Sim is very funny in the St Trinian’s films, Gina – I was never a big fan of another of his films, ‘The Green Man’, an Ealing comedy which we were occasionally shown at school for a treat, but I might like it more if I revisited it now!


  3. As I just mention on the later post that announces the sidebar voting Judy, I do think for all sorts of reasons the Sim version is the towering winner, but that should never mean to imply that other versions are negligible, as you glowingly attest to in this post. It’s hard to imagine any other literary work has been as often tackled, even in the present time. Bill Murray’s SCROOGED is an example, as is the Disney adaptation and Albert Finney’s musical SCROOGE. In any case it is a holiday tradition to watch the Sim version every Christmas Eve, and this year will be no different.

    It will be Sim the night before and the musical LES MISERABLES on Christmas Day on the big screen!! Dickens and Hugo hand and hand! Ha!


    • Well, Dickens and Hugo were friends, as I’m sure you know, Sam! All cinemas are closed in the UK on Christmas Day, but I will be eagerly looking forward to seeing ‘Les Miserables’ as soon as possible, anyway – have just seen a trailer which looked great. Maybe the excitement surrounding this film might lead to someone adapting ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ again – we’ll see.

      I do like the Bill Murray ‘Scrooged’ and may watch that this year, as it is several years since I last saw it. As I may have mentioned to you, earlier this year I went to a day of talks at the BFI on Dickens on TV, where Tom Courtenay was on one of the panels and mentioned that he would like to play Scrooge – I’m not sure we need any more versions, but after his great turn as Mr Dorrit I would like to see him play the part.


  4. Pingback: A Christmas Carol (Edwin L Marin, 1938) « Movie classics

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