Friday, December 21, 2007

Scrooge (1935)

I mentioned with an earlier movie that films like "It's a Wonderful Life" are so much a part of our cultural Christmas experience that it's hard to believe they ever weren't. "A Christmas Carol" goes even farther; it's almost as much a part of our cultural holiday canon as Santa Claus. The trinity of past, present and future, the theme of sin and redemption, the contrast between material and spiritual benefit... it all is soaked into our subconscious that it's hard to imagine a Christmas without some reference to it.

A quick run-down on IMDb shows 53 different versions on film, and I'm sure there are more. I remember seeing Henry Winkler do a good retelling of it in the 70s, and Bill Murray deserves a medal for "Scrooged". ("Staple the antlers on!") The 1935 Scrooge, though, is probably the best I've seen so far. It's a straightforward rendition, without comical characters and the winking inside jokes that you have to put in today because the story line is so familiar. It also doesn't get into Scrooge's childhood in an attempt to explain his loathesomeness. He's just a rotten person, that's all, without any excuse.

But the theme of repentance and change is stronger here because of that. There's no cute Tiny Tim at the end, saying "God bless us, every one," but Scrooge's change of heart is a complete 180. It sticks to the book about the way I remember reading it. The acting is a little heavy-handed, probably because the actors were stage-trained and talkies were still kind of new. But the intensity is unmatched.

This is far and away the best Christmas movie I'll be posting here. Do yourself a favor and see it. It's a straight-up, 200-proof Christmas Carol, the way Dickens would have wanted it done.

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