Growing up in Boston in the ’80s and early ’90s, one of my favorite things on television was “The Movie Loft” on WSBK Channel 38. The program was Dana Hersey who, with his deep knowledge of films, introduces that evening’s movie. He would also drop in and out of commercials with little bits of trivia or interesting information on that night’s feature presentation.
“The Movie Loft” was a terrific introduction to movies like “Trading Places,” “48 Hours,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Man with Two Brains,” and countless others. Not only did I get a good movie each night, but I learned something along the way too. The Lost was also the place that where I first saw one of my favorite holiday movies, 1951’s “A Christmas Carol” starring Alastair Sim.
Released as “A Christmas Carol in the U.S., and as “Scrooge” in the United Kingdom, the movie is often considered the definitive film version of the Charles Dickens classic. I’d even say this is the one that other versions are compared to even to this day. Might be why nearly 70 years since its release, the 1951 film is still shown regularly around the holidays.
From the start, Alastair Sim is simply amazing as Ebenezer Scrooge. Even before Marley’s ghost shows up, Sim’s take on Scrooge is the perfect mix of cranky, mean, and scary. To his credit, Alistair Sim plays the part so well that I was a young kid, didn’t like him, and couldn’t see how this man could be turned to good by the film’s end.
But it works in part because the film focuses on how Scrooge arrived at his current disposition by spending more time with the Ghost of Christmas Past (Michael J. Dolan), and by adding a few scenes that were not from Charles Dickens’ story. Doing this helped me better understand this version of Scrooge, his fear of loneliness and loss, as well as his need for money.
This is a very complex version of Scrooge, but I liked seeing his younger days play out in more detail. I particularly enjoyed how much time the film spent on Mr. Fezziwig and his impact on Scrooge. This included Scrooge putting Fezziwig out of business, which shocked me as a kid. It was also strange seeing a very young Patrick Macnee in one of these scenes as a young Marley.
I will say that with so much time spent with the Ghost of Christmas Past that the other spirits get a little shortchanged. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Francis de Wolff) doesn’t get as much screen time as in other versions, but he still manages to make an impact. His scene with them to kids to cling to him still creeps me out today.
Meanwhile, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Czesław Konarski) feels like a fly by. He gets the shortest amount of screen time out of the three spirits, which sucks because he’s easily the scariest version of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I don’t know if the hands you see are Czesław Konarski’s or a make up job, but either way, they get the job done.
There’s also Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit. He’s a little bit older and pudgier than some other Cratchit’s, but Johns gives the part so much joy that you can’t help but like him. You also feel for him when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge the aftermath of Tiny Tim’s death. Also worthy of praise is Kathleen Harrison as Mrs. Dilber. I can’t get enough of her reaction when she sees Scrooge trying to stand on his head, or her asking if he’s giving her a Christmas present to keep her mouth shut.
There are of course plenty of versions of “A Christmas Carol” out there for you to enjoy. Everyone’ got the favorite, and even I have other film versions I enjoy every year. But I don’t know that anything will ever top the 1951 version of the memories I have of watching it on “The Movie Loft.” There’s simply no beating watching Scrooge dance around his house out of sheer joy.