Hidden Gems: Scrooge
By Stephanie Star Smith
December 20, 2006
There are at least 4,763 versions of Dickens' A Christmas Carol that get trotted out each and every holiday season. A goodly portion of those dramatize Dickens' classic tale of redemption through the Christmas spirit; a fair number more are so-called updated or modernized versions, where Ebenezer Scrooge is a woman, or a network TV exec, or there's some other twist on the way the protagonist was originally portrayed. Some are animated, including one starring Mr Magoo and one featuring Disney characters; some are shorts; there are even several silent versions, both live-action and animated. Some use the title of Dickens' book; some use Scrooge's name for their title; and some are variations of one or both. Some were made for the silver screen, some for TV, and there's even a Brazilian TV series that ran for two(!) years.
But there's only one that's a full-length, feature-film musical. It hasn't appeared on television, be it broadcast network, basic cable channel, or premium cable channel, in decades (although you can get it on DVD). And it's high time something was done about that, because Scrooge is a great film that doesn't deserve its seeming relegation to obscurity. It not only provides an original avenue for exploring the familiar story, but the acting, the production values and the songs, especially the songs, make it a cut above many of the "dramatic" versions. It is the songs that set Scrooge apart from the 4,763 other versions of the time-honored classic, the songs that make it a hidden gem worth seeking out at Christmastide.
For it is through the songs that we stray ever-so-slightly from the well-trod path of A Christmas Carol's storyline and learn about Scrooge the man. The songs show us the hopeful, bright young gentleman who worked for Fezziwig, and how that ambitious youth became the lonely, bitter old wretch we see before us, whose name has become a synonym for miserly. It is from the songs that we learn how many times Scrooge has turned away the human love and companionship offered him in favor of that worship which is the root of all evil. It is the songs that tell us how he alienated all who wanted to be close to him by his pursuit of wealth, the songs that show us how friends, family, and, finally, the woman who very nearly won his heart away from its ultimately ruinous affair with lucre, are one by one locked out of his life and heart by his pinchpenny ways. It is the songs that demonstrate to what extent the wizened tightwad is despised by most of those who know him in his present day, and that also reveal there are still, against all reason, those few who try to love the old skinflint, who try to show him that there is so very much more to existing on this planet than making as much money as one can grasp in greedy hands. And it is through the songs that we begin to see the transformation that will lead to the glorious dénouement we all know so well, where the old misanthrope awakes on Christmas morn, ready to mend his wicked ways and avoid the sad and lonely end that awaited him before his fateful Christmas Eve journey, a change which is, of course, celebrated through song.
If you haven't gathered this already, it is the music for Scrooge that is really its selling point. The songs are catchy without being too pop-oriented; they advance the plot without sounding forced or out of place, as sometimes happens when music is used to propel a story forward; and they offer the filmmakers some excellent call-back points that are employed in wistful moments later in the movie. Leslie Bricusse, a composer of some talent who has supplied many famous songs for many films, wrote the music for Scrooge and is also listed as the scripter, which, considering how the score is such an integral part of the storytelling, makes sense. The cast of Scrooge is a veritable who's-who of British actors, with Albert Finney heading up the lot as the eponymous moneygrubber, and Sir Alec Guinness and Dame Edith Evans leading a supporting cast that includes such stalwart English character actors as Roy Kinnear and Kenneth More. Each and every member of this excellent company, from the name-recognition characters to the tertiary players, does an exemplary job of portraying his or her character to the best advantage. As previously mentioned, the production values are lavish, and the special effects, though not spectacular, are pitch-perfect for a movie that is really more about the human heart and spirit than it is about dazzling CGI.
But in the final analysis, it is the songs that place Scrooge head-and-shoulders above other versions of Dickens' classic Yuletide tale. It is the songs that will stick with you long after the tinsel and mistletoe have been put away for another year, the songs that make Scrooge a fitting addition to your Christmastime video tradition, and the songs that may well earn Scrooge a place in your heart, and a spot next to A Christmas Story, the Boris Karloff-narrated How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and It's a Wonderful Life on your list of holiday viewing musts.