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  Scrooge Bah! Humbug!
Year: 1970
Director: Ronald Neame
Stars: Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Laurence Naismith, Michael Medwin, David Collings, Anton Rodgers, Suzanne Neve, Frances Cuka, Derek Francis, Gordon Jackson, Roy Kinnear, Mary Peach, Kay Walsh, Geoffrey Bayldon, Molly Weir
Genre: Musical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: It's Christmas Eve and in the offices of Scrooge and Marley, the local moneylenders, Ebenezer Scrooge (Albert Finney) is counting his profits as his clerk Bob Cratchit (David Collings) is completing the accounts, looking forward to his day off tomorrow as it's the only one he gets all year, and even then his miserly boss allows it grudgingly. A chorus of carol singers begins singing outside the door, but Scrooge is having none of that and chases them off without a penny; when his nephew Fred (Michael Medwin) arrives shortly after, he's not keen to see him either, no matter that Fred invites him over once again for Christmas dinner...

Will anything change Scrooge's ways? If you don't know that then you've never encountered any one of the countless adaptations or even spoofs of Charles Dickens' famous Victorian yarn, which given there's one on television every Yuletide must be pretty difficult to avoid. It's the most retold book in the history of the storytelling medium, and so after Lionel Bart had such a huge success with another famous Dickens tale in Oliver Twist both on stage and in the movies, transforming his A Christmas Carol must have been the obvious choice. Writer Leslie Bricusse was the man to do it, but once it had been completed and released, the reaction was not one full of the generosity of the season.

Indeed, the critics slated it and the public stayed away, leaving as is so often the case the small screen to pick up the baton and create a favourite in some households for gathering around the television to enjoy this version. As with It's a Wonderful Life, its association with the festivities and accompanying annual broadcast made for a perfect December viewing, or a cheap filler for TV companies if you were feeling more cynical, and truth be told the movie courted that kind of regard, for it was not actually that great. One major problem was Finney, heavily made up as an old man replete with unconvincing balding wig, scratchy voice and hunched posture: he simply never inhabited the role, and at times seemed to be performing in a sketch show.

Also not helping was the fact that he was a terrible singer, and putting across the tunes in his adopted strained tones was not the easiest on the ear, but then for a musical not many of the cast had been hired for the singing abilities, or so it sounded. When Alec Guinness appears as the ghost of Marley, he is about to break out in a big number when the scene changes as if nobody in the editing room could bear to inflict that on the audience, and couple that with the star's unusual reading of the part (his movement looks more like interpretative dance) you don't set the fantastical elements off to the best of starts. Anyway, Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited over the course of the night by three spirits who will show him the error of his ways.

You know the drill. First up is Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past, establishing the regrets Scrooge has not hitherto admitted, mainly allowing his love of money to scupper his chances of a happy romance, Kenneth More is the Ghost of Christmas Present, a giant who at least embodies some of the sense of the story even if he cannot sing either, and lastly the scariest, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the one who shows what Scrooge's cold heart has wreaked on those around him, specifically some treacly scenes where Cratchit's infirm son Tiny Tim meets his inevitable fate. There were a few deviations - Ebenezer ends up in Hell at one point, as if all of the above was not emphatic enough - but mostly Bricusse kept faithful to the source, the trouble being that for all the dancing around at regular intervals this was a lifeless affair, and even more unforgivable it only featured one good song, the cheery Thank You Very Much. About the best you could say for it was that it plainly inspired the far better Muppet Christmas Carol.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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