Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Most of you have seen it, but if you haven't, this is the real thing:

All honor to Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol -- the recent replay of which was sadly truncated to remove the theatrical framing device. (Did NBC think revealing it to be a stage production starring trouper Quincy Magoo would limit its appeal? Maybe they worried somebody would find the fun over Magoo's blindness offensive.) And there are things to like in many other versions.

But this production with Alastair Sim is in a ripe melodramatic style that I imagine Dickens would have appreciated. It is decidedly not modern. Michael Holdern's Marley's Ghost is eerie as much for his Delsarte presentation as for his predicament -- moaning, keening, "Lon Chaney big." (He even presses the back of his wrist to his forehead and he's not kidding.)  The lower- and middle-class characters are perfect expressions of type, individuated only by the ingenuity of the actors, who have this sort of thing down cold.  And Sim is for me the only Scrooge. His style is big, too, but so is his insight: That Scrooge is at bottom a terribly frightened man whose unsociability and hardness were formed as defenses against pain. He spends half the film in abject terror and dejection. In some versions Scrooge seems to be educated by his Spirits, with some shocks thrown in to underline the lesson, but Sim is emotionally flayed by his, and the Scrooge that's revealed is wonderfully child-like ("I'm as light as a feather! I'm as giddy as a schoolboy!"); in fact, he's sort of a jokester. (The little fright he gives Mrs. Dilber by ruffling his hair on the staircase is one of many sublime moments.) This is redemption through repentance, and appropriate for the feast of Christ.

If that's not your style, there's always Kurtzman. Or have both -- what the hell, we embrace multitudes. Merry Christmas!


  1. You're exactly right here. First time in years I haven't watched but it never fails to wring a tear without the feeling of being manipulated. It reveals, it doesn't preach. Flawed, obviously shot on a tight budget (who wanted to spend a lot on that story so soon after the war with rationing still in effect?), but still transcendent.

  2. DocAmazing1:17 PM

    When I was a kid, I was a fan of silent movies--Lillian Gish directed by D.W. Griffith was my idea of a good time. I'd like to think my own mannerisms and gestures were not informed by that grand and demonstrative style of acting, but i do have a tendency to knock things off of shelves. With my eyebrows.

  3. lawguy1:24 PM

    Its good, but how can you ignore the George C. Scott version, which I just finished watching a couple of minutes ago? It is wonderful.

  4. MatthewMikell1:26 PM

    Also on YouTube: Chuck Jones' astounding Oscar-winning cartoon version from 1971, also featuring Sim. (The HD 16mm rip is beautiful.) Incredibly trim at twenty-five minutes, yet touching all the bases and getting the point across.


    "Have they no refuge? No resource?"
    "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"

    ...Here we are, Twenty-First Century and everything, and we're still having that conversation.

  5. Poicephalus1:49 PM

    My favorite is Francis de Wolf as the Ghost of Christmas Present. He is so full of joy that the revelation of Ignorance and Want are even more chilling.

  6. ChrisVosburg2:09 PM

    Hear hear, and thanks for the mention of Magoo's Christmas Carol.
    I'm absolutely appalled to learn that NBC chose to hack it up, and thank God I saw it in its entirety on MeTV last year, and it is very very good.
    There is a way to stop clowns from butchering classic films, and it's fairly simple: just nominate the film for inclusion in the National Film Registry maintained by the Library of Congress, which seeks to insure the preservation of classic American works.
    Yes, even animated shorts and features. WB classics Duck Amuck, What's Opera Doc, and One Froggy Evening are in there, and I see no reason why Magoo's Christmas Carol shouldn't be there as well-- this is UPA at the top of its game (UPA's Gerald McBoingBoing made it into the registry, by the way).
    Inclusion in the registry does not guarantee that a film broadcast will not be edited for time or altered (colorized, for example), but it does make it extremely unlikely, bestowing a sort of imprimatur of classsicism-- essentially saying don't screw with it.
    You can view the list of films so designated < a href="http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2012/12-226.html">here (A Christmas Story made it in this year), or nominate a film for inclusion here, which I heartily encourage you to do if, like me, you'd like to discourage hackwork of Magoo's Christmas Carol.

  7. ChrisVosburg2:36 PM

    Much as I love Chuck Amuck, I gotta point out that Director Richard Williams (and his animation staff) deserve the credit here. As Executive Producer, Chuck Jones was essentially putting up the money, and as you can see from the short, this is far from his style. Loved it, by the way.
    1966's Grinch-- now that's Chuck!

  8. geraldfnord3:31 PM

    'Uncle Scrooge, we're needed!'

  9. geraldfnord3:37 PM

    Oh, and Scrooge here is a beautiful example of what a rabbi meant when he said, 'If a rich man lives on meat, he will know that the poor need bread; if he lives on bread, he will think that the poor can live on stones.'

    Scrooge at the beginning is still the very mirror of all those who, while begrudging anything's being done at their expence for 'losers', be it ever so mean, believe that its provision leaves them completely free of any further obligation.

  10. Leeds man4:50 PM

    Scott is good, but especially towards the end (the giddy, light as a feather scene), he is channeling Sim.

  11. Leeds man4:58 PM

    My first memory of Sim is as the headmistress in The Belles of St. Trinian's. Comic genius.

    What he gives Scrooge is the utmost humanity, even when he's a rotten bastard. He quivers with it. One of the few actors I can say I love.

  12. montag27:49 PM

    Here's a Christmas present:


    It's sort of like a video game with a target-rich environment.

  13. parsec8:31 PM

    My buddy Steve always said Sim's was the best version. He died several years ago. A gruff ex-jock, he was smart and had good taste. Most of the time.

  14. M. Krebs8:38 PM

    By the way: Charles Durning, R.I.P.

    I had no idea of the man's incredible life story until I read the obit.

  15. AGoodQuestion9:04 PM

    "The only reason you're still living is because I never kissed you."

    We won't be forgetting him any time soon.

  16. AGoodQuestion9:15 PM

    Thank you for putting this up. It's been quite some time since I've seen Sim's Scrooge, but his performance still haunts me. Scrooge being shown around by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sticks with you for life.

  17. redoubt9:47 PM

    And Sim is for me the only Scrooge

    Agreed. I know nothing about movies, but I watch this one at least four times a year (thanks to DVD) 'cause I like to see Sim show me how Scrooge became Scrooge.

  18. Lurking Canadian9:56 PM

    Channeling Sim he may be, but he's better. The George C. Scott Christmas Carol is the platonic ideal.

  19. Leeds man10:05 PM


  20. hells littlest angel10:08 PM

    He's got Ayn Rand's eyes.

  21. DocAmazing11:53 PM

    That article rounded out my image of Jonah Goldberg.

  22. M. Krebs11:59 PM

    Heaven help us. The liberal conspiracy goes all the way back to Dickens.

  23. asim ahmed2:07 AM

    The Best Porn Stars in the World, Latest hot Beautiful Girls and Top Bollywood hot Actress


  24. montag22:33 AM

    Which makes it all the stranger when contemplating his affection for Scientology figures.

    Too bad there's no more comprehensive mention of his role as the corrupt Irish contractor in "True Confessions," because that was one of his best performances on film, bar none. That was meaty stuff, and he sunk his teeth into it.

  25. Baron Elmo3:51 AM

    Just finished taking in the Scott version hours ago. Must say that the lion's share of this remake is inferior to the Sim version -- the overbearing music, the awful alterations in Dickens' dialogue and especially the supporting cast, with the exception of Frank Findlay as Marley's ghost. David Warner is utterly miscast as Bob Cratchit, and the kid playing Tiny Tim (bedecked in heavy drag-queen eye makeup, mistakenly meant to make him seem haggard) is so sickly-sweet that I found myself longing for Scrooge to kick his crutch away.

    Funny thing, though -- George C. Scott is so wonderful in the part that he makes the film worth watching. A hugely different approach to the role from Sim, but equally successful. Scott's breakdown at his grave is reason enough to see it.

  26. fraser7:37 AM

    At least some of the changes (it's been a while since I saw it) were to reflect the Reagan years--all the emphasis on the poor in workhouses being Deserving Poor and not barouche-driving welfare queens.

  27. chuckling8:12 AM

    Thanks, that's a lot of fun. But it's not all crazy. Lileks (who knew he was still alive) seems to have found reality: “we’re the stupid people, we’re the yokels, we’re the dumb, we’re the racists, we’re the hicks, we’re against everything that’s hip and cool.” Right after he called for exiling 50 million democrats to certain death in a subzero environment without oxygen, of course.

  28. satch8:38 AM

    And Ralph Reed dresses pretty much as I thought he would.

  29. satch8:43 AM

    Speaking of Christmas movies, anyone love "The Lion In Winter"? The original, that is, with O'Toole and Hepburn. The perfect convergence of written dialog and people who can deliver it.

  30. lawguy9:01 AM

    Can't agree with you there the supporting case seems to me for the most part to be excellent.

  31. Leeds man10:41 AM

    Which one is the iguana?

  32. The_Kenosha_Kid10:52 AM

    Heh. Indeed. It never occurs to these Jacobin Luddites on Fleet Street that Tiny Tim could have all the rashers of bacon he wanted if he would only get a job.

  33. HumboldtBlue12:19 PM

    My mother would watch no other Scrooge and drilled into our heads we should never do so either. You give us an excellent description of Sim whose character sticks with you, partly creepy, angry and then taking great joy in finding a sliver of happiness.

  34. BG, ribbons in my hair12:49 PM

    The best version, BY FAR! I have loved it since I was a kid. Couldn't find it broadcast anywhere this year. Fortunately, I have it on DVD.

    Alastair Sim was exactly as you described him. That scene near the end when he goes to his nephew's house chokes me up every time I see it.

  35. My father felt the same as your mother, and after watching several other versions I heartily agree with both.

  36. zencomix2:36 PM

    When Bill Murray made the press rounds for "Scrooged", he invariably mentioned "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" as an inspiration. I think it's on a TV in the background of one of the Scrooged scenes.

  37. I saw a stage production of A Christmas Carol here in Atlanta a few weeks ago, and the actor who played Scrooge was a classically trained Shakespearean actor who basically played Sim playing Scrooge. But he pulled it off well enough and I quite enjoyed it. Scrooge is easy to play hammy. It's always a pleasure to see an actor who can make him believable.

  38. Halloween_Jack10:05 PM

    Oh, Jimmers:

    After dinner was a program called the “Light Side of the Right Side.” A frenetic, tightly wound man named James Lileks, a National Review columnist from Minnesota, warmed up the crowd with one-liners: “If we can put a man on the moon, we can put 50 million Democrats up there as well!”

    Can't you just imagine Bob Hope or John Wayne saying the exact same thing at the '72 RNC? Or check this out:

    After a break for cookies came the 4 p.m. panel, “The Media: How Deep in the Tank?” Lileks, the energetic Minnesotan, was apoplectic that the mainstream media castigated Michele Bachmann for suggesting without evidence that Hillary Clinton adviser Huma Abedin’s had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.

    It's not as if I need anything more to add to the pile of things that I can point otherwise-sensible people to when they stick up for Lileks on account of past glories such as the Gallery of Regrettable Food or guesting on Rifftrax, but that will do nicely. He's about right for something like an NRO cruise, and I suppose that it makes for a nice break from his important duties writing things like , sprinkled throughout with imitation humor bits and--I know that this will come as a shock to the alicurati--getting yet another post out of his trip to a retail outlet and out of his daughter.

  39. geraldfnord3:24 PM

    (Patrick McNee played Scrooge's nephew, about a decade before heplayed John Steed [and about a decade before he played a self-hating werewolf pop psychologist].)