Scrooge 1970: An Exercise in Fun
Well we've reached that time of year where everyone looks for a little holiday cheer and comfort and yours truly is no better. While I have mostly reviewed off kilter and obscure films, it may shock you to know that my favorite Christmas of all time does not fit into that category. Scrooge 1970 is perhaps the most glitzy and bombastic adaption of Dickens most famous work and I love every blessed second of it, from the set design, to acting, to the musical numbers and costume design, this film is simply divine. This film never fails to comfort me like a warm blanket on a cold winter day and I can't express enough how much I love Albert Finney as Scrooge, though I'll certainly try. I still remember being in my grandma's house waiting for my mom to pick me up to go with her to a cookie swap and watching it for the first time on Turner Classic Movies, it's been a holiday staple ever since. No matter the stresses of life or whatever seasonal depression may arise Scrooge never fails to put me in a better mood and for a time I am that twelve year old kid sitting in my grandma's den watching Scrooge, sitting too close to the tv without a care or a worry in the world.
The level of detail in Scrooge can be seen from its opening title sequence where various scenes and set pieces are depicted by the beautiful paints of Ronald Searle while the overture plays and eventually dissolves into a lamp on the streets of 1860's London as a group of young carolers solicit from door to door before running into the curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge whom they dub "Father Christmas". Sequences such as this are sadly missing in today's films and are sadly relegated to the Bond films, it's one of the simplest ways to establish the tone of a film and I can not for the life of me understand how in a generation of filmmakers who seemingly rely more and more on the music of the film to tell their stories, seemingly no one is willing to take advantage of one of the simplest film techniques in the books. With that aside out of the way, the detail of the sets of Scrooge are out of this world, so many times when looking back to the musicals of yesteryear they are contained to sound stages and look more like a high budget stage shows rather than fully realized worlds. It is amazing to look at the sets of Scrooge and see things like water ways, snow, bridges, gas lamps, store fronts and street markets all beautifully woven together. Keep in mind this film was produced well after the peak of the Hollywood Musical and made by the short lived film division of CBS which was closed just two years after this films production.
Another thing that is worth acknowledgement is the great makeup on Albert Finney who was still in early 30's when this film was film was produced, little details like boils on his fingers and the hair pattern of his balding head were so convincing to me as an adolescent that I thought he was much older than he actually was at the time. It should speak to both the power of his performance and the great makeup that this films illusion of Scrooge is able to be sold and it's kind of humorous to think that Michael Medwin who plays Scrooge's nephew was older than Finney by over a decade. The level of energy Finney brings to his Scrooge is absolutely bombastic and ironically the scenes of his younger self are more subdued painting the picture that he only truly became self actualized when he became truly bitter and jilted. While I can appreciate the portrayals of Scrooge by the likes of George C. Scott, Michael Caine and the likes, they were both old men when they portrayed the character and in my humble opinion Finney is the only one to portray all phases of Ebenezer's life and transformation well and I compare his unique approach to the character similar to how Michael Keaton is able to portray the dichotomy of Batman and Bruce Wayne. While I've mostly focused on the special effects of this film so far I do not want to make it out as if this film is a special effects film. While there are many scenes of great wire work (for the time anyway) and the some of the ghost and lighting effects are mind blowing even now, some fifty years later this film would be nothing without the great performances of its actors. The little quirks and bits of British humor are things that I feel are sadly missing from other adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Character interactions like Scrooge admonishing his nephew for carelessly sitting on the binding of his ledger or the Ghost of Christmas Past sharply replying "Thank You" to Scrooge after he tells her she doesn't look like a ghost are things that add a certain level of spice to an extremely familiar meal. I also dare any person to not get a little teary eyed when Tiny Tim sings to his family while they're prepping for their Christmas dinner after caroling for money and it really makes the scene where Bob Cratchit visits his grave that much more heart wrenching. Speaking of Bob Cratchit, I really love the portrayal of a father doing his best to make the most of a bad situation and that reflecting in the attitudes of his children to be one of this films great strengths and David Collings deserves all the praise in the world for it. Now you may be saying to yourself "Luke you've talked about everything but the damn music so far, how's the music" to which I respond, simply fantastic. I for the most am not a fan of musicals, at times I would even go as far to say I've detested the genre, but Scrooge is not only one of my all time favorite Christmas movies but one of my all time favorite musicals, to the point where every now and then I find myself humming tunes like "I Hate People" and "Thank You Very Much" well outside of the season. Heck for a few years I would even regularly post "December the 25th"on my facebook page as a Christmas tradition. If I had to point to why this musical resonates with me far more than others I think it's because it nails the flow between dialogue and music in a very natural way, whereas with a lot of other musicals the marriage between the two feels greatly divorced. The same can be said for much of the films choreography, which for as big and bombastic as this film can be is, outside of one or two sequences, is largely subdued and very much in contrast with the tropes of the classical musical. The best example of this is the song "Christmas Children" and how the filmmakers use it to emphasize the difference between the haves and the have nots as well as Cratchit's attitude towards the holiday. This sequence is followed with perhaps my favorite song of the film I hate people which I proudly present to you to close out this review.
1970's Scrooge is simply a masterpiece and I hope in someway this review was able to capture just a little bit of its majesty in my review. There is so much more I could go onto detail but as is the goal with all my other reviews I endeavor for to go out and experience this film for yourself, seeing veteran actors try and keep up with the performance of Albert Finney is well worth the price of admission. Anyway, Happy Belated Christmas everyone, I hope you all enjoyed your holiday and I will see in the New Year with the start of my Satoshi Kon retrospective and my end of year best of list. Cheers.