Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol is one of the most familiar and beloved stories in the English language. The tale of a greedy old miser who barks out “Bah, humbug!” in response to holiday greetings and grumbles at giving his employee Christmas Day off continues the author’s interest in the plight of the poor and the welfare of children in the time of the industrial revolution in 19th century England and celebrates generosity as the answer to misery. The story, first published in December of 1843, was an instant success, popularizing traditions such as the Christmas Tree and the singing of carols and turning the name Scrooge into a descriptive term for the uncaring and miserly. The book has never been out of print and has been the basis for film adaptations almost as long as films have been made; the first short film version was made in 1901, the most recent big screen incarnation was Robert Zemeckis’ lavish 2009 version, utilizing motion capture to create a dizzying animated incarnation with Jim Carrey playing Scrooge and all three ghosts.
The 1970 Scrooge was not the first film to take the name of the story’s protagonist but it was the first musical version on the big screen (following a couple of original TV musical versions) and the first in color. It is also a thoroughly British picture, from cast to crew to production. Victorian England is recreated on the biggest stage at Shepperton Studios, covered in fireman’s foam and Epsom salts to simulate snow and filled with cheery faces and dancing choruses in bright, colorful winter costumes. The screenplay and original music is by Leslie Bricusse, a Tony and Oscar nominated composer, lyricist, and writer (and an Oscar winner for the song “Talk to the Animals” from Doctor Dolittle, 1967). Cinematographer Oswald Morris, a regular John Huston collaborator, had also shot such British films as Look Back in Anger (1959), The Spy Who Came in the from the Cold (1965), and Oliver! (1968), another big, bright, musical adaptation of a Dickens classic.
Plays Thursday, December 19 on TCM, and again on Monday, December 23.