Director: Clive Donner
Writer: Charles Dickens (novel) and Roger O. Hirson (screenplay)
Cinematographer: Tony Imi
by Jon Cvack
Contrary to more recent versions, this rendition is incredibly true to the source material. It’s very much a remake of the 1951 version, which I was going to say was the original until I looked it up on WikiPedia and found an entire Christmas Carol Adaptations page which showed that there were twelve versions of this movie before the ‘classic’ (loosely used) 1951 version. In fact, the first feature film adaptation was actually made in 1916, retitled "The Right to Be Happy". Why the title change is unknown. According to IMDb the film is lost. Though it has an equally bad-ass-as-George-C-Scott poster.
George C. Scott is exactly as great as you hope he’d be. He provides a highly realistic and hard look at the man, so much in fact, that I was nervous that the concluding redemption would be a tough sell. Scott is such a tough and scary guy who’s very existence is a disassociation from compassion (though Angus ('94) challenges this limitation, but that’s another essay), but this film demonstrates his incredible range.
For its harsh and direct criticism of capitalism, this story has remained strangely exempt from politics. Of course, capitalism was a different beast in Dicken’s age, serving as a fresh and growing economic system that was producing results and progress, albeit at the expense of child labor, long hours, unsafe working conditions, etc. Both this film and It’s a Wonderful Life are extremely political in nature, and only recently did I see what I believe was Bill Maher doing a parodied trailer of the film which was running on Fox News; where they celebrated Ebenezer's ruthless nature and shunned his socialistic redemption.
What the Scott version includes that others leave out are moments at the Exchange he frequents. We see the way money moves in the environment. There are no products, it is simply about moving capital from one place to another, with no concern for the workers involved or what they go through to achieve profit. Money is worshipped by the men, solely concerned with how much more they can get, rather than the benefit it could provide. We are introduced to Ebenezer's colleagues at the local Exchange, who discover that even they face the wrath of Ebenezer's greed, as after delaying a deal on some corn futures, Ebenezer has raised the price by 5%, stating that business is not about fairness and demonstrating that Ebenezer's worship of money is strong enough to preclude friendship. Later, in the classic scene, Scrooge is visited by his former partner Jacob Marley (Frank Finlay), who demonstrates what such a life philosophy results in; where ruthless self-seeking ambition doesn't just result in alienation from the world, but in an indefinite period in purgatory, possibly doomed to burn for all eternity in Hell. For anyone who thinks the story is apolitical, I can't point to a more direct critique.
I imagine if a story or film like this came out today - not a new version, but a story that so heavily indicts an entire economic system - would indubitably receive a battering of criticism and extreme political divide. Somehow it has transcended politics, demonstrating the story's universal strength. I assume most don't view the story as political, but rather about greed-itself. But even in this post-Gordon Gecko era, when Greed is considered Good and not some ironic proclamation, people continue to look to this film as a classic reflection of the Christmas Spirit. George C. Scott embodies the spirit of the source material. This is one of the best versions out there.
BELOW: At the Exchange - a scene that's often left out of most versions, but one of the most revelatory
Thoughts on films, old and new
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