Aren’t we all pretty fed up with the same versions of A Christmas Carol being rammed down our throats like Razzleberry Dressing every Christmas season while many of the clever but lesser known variations of the Dickens Yuletide classic languish in obscurity? I’m one of those people who begin wallowing in the dozens of versions of this Industrial Age epic myth right after Thanksgiving and don’t let up until New Year’s Day. With the obsessive and semi- psychotic zeal of a Trekkie or an X-Phile I purchase every offbeat variation and adaptation of A Christmas Carol that I can lay my hands on.
Drawing on the extensive, albeit geeky, expertise that I’ve gained in this subject over the years I’d like to spread the word about some of the versions of the story that can be found in the remote hinterlands of home video or audio. This will be a look at variations of the actual Dickens story, set in London in the 1840′s. An entirely separate article could be written about adaptations of A Christmas Carol set in different time periods and locales, like Rod Serling’s anti-war parable Carol For Another Christmas, or the 1975 conservation short The Energy Carol or even the year 2000 Brazilian version depicting the Scrooge figure as a drug lord who repents. Just think of me as the Ghost of Christmas Carol Obscurities. After reading this list you’ll hopefully conduct your own search for versions of the Carol beyond the limited world of Mr Magoo, Alastair Sim and George C Scott (“Dickens, you magnificent bastard! I read yer booooook!”) .
Marcel Marceau Presents a Christmas Carol (1973) – Marcel Marceau is possibly the only name that comes to mind if you try to think of famous mimes. In fact “Famous Mimes” would make for one easy Jeopardy category because the response would always be “Who is Marcel Marceau?” Anyway, this BBC presentation featured Marceau acting out a pantomime of the Carol and playing every role. This was accompanied by narration by another actor who once portrayed Scrooge, Michael Hordern. If you prefer versions of the Carol devoid of any and all speaking there are several silent movie Carols available out there.
Shower of Stars Christmas Carol (1954) – This Carol may suck from the dramatic angle but it’s a wonderful oddity well worth owning because of its cultural kitsch value. This is a recorded version of what was first presented as a live broadcast and the barely sixty minute production provides a nice example of what live, single sponsor broadcasts were like way back when. The original advertisements are included so getting to see three-figure (yes, three-figure) sales prices for new vehicles will have modern audiences smiling. Fredric March plays Scrooge, Basil Rathbone plays Marley’s Ghost and there are some enjoyable songs scattered throughout the show.
A Christmas Carol (opera) (1982) – Thea Musgrave is one of the few true giants in the opera world from recent decades and she did a magnificent job with this opera version of the Carol. The familiarity of the Dickens story makes this presentation accessible even to viewers who are generally bewildered when it comes to operas. In addition to this Granada television production there are two other opera versions of the Carol on video. The 1978 version was sung in Welsh and was first broadcast on the Welsh network HTV on Christmas Day. The 1962 opera was in English like Musgrave’s work and debuted on British television but was later shown on PBS in the United States.
Anglia Television’s A Christmas Carol (1970) – This is a very nice change of pace for viewers weary of more familiar approaches to the Carol. Paul Honeyman, who also served as producer, reads aloud from a very slimmed-down version of the Dickens story while a series of beautiful watercolor paintings of scenes from the tale are shown on-screen. The paintings were the work of the artist John Worsley.
A Christmas Carol Ballet (1993) - As with the opera versions mentioned above the familiarity of the Carol makes this presentation fun even for people who don’t like ballet. The Northern Ballet Theatre performs a beautiful and touching rendition of the holiday classic. The music and dancing stay with you, as do the eerie segments set during the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Leyenda De Navidad (1947, remade in 1966) – This production of the Carol was made in Spain but is set in 1840′s London. This hard-to-find treasure features some very imaginative touches, like having Marley’s Ghost walk out of a life-sized portrait of Jacob Marley on Scrooge’s wall to deliver his famous warning about the three spirits. The ghosts are depicted “teleporting” Scrooge to the sights they want him to see rather than resorting to cheesy flying effects and this production adds a romantic touch to the finale by having Scrooge become reunited with his long lost love on the morning after his conversion. (Be advised this film is in Spanish) You might also enjoy the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol from France’s TF1-TV and the 1988 Portuguese television version titled Conto De Natal.
See Hear Presents A Christmas Carol (1987) – See Hear was a program on the BBC and BBC2 that presented programming geared toward the hearing impaired. This marvelous and heart-warming production of the Carol features the actors conveying their lines through sign language. Doug Alker and Dorothy Miles starred in the program and child performers from the Heathlands School were featured.
The Stingiest Man in Town (1953) – This is not the Rankin-Bass cartoon version from 1978. This is the original live NBC tv broadcast of the famous musical from December 23rd, 1953. This rendition includes longer versions of the songs from its animated counterpart and those songs are performed by the likes of Basil Rathbone (playing Scrooge this time), Vic Damone, Johnny Desmond and the Four Lads. This production is far superior to the Shower of Stars version.
Read-Along Christmas Carol (1995) – This cartoon version of the Carol features very limited animation but makes up for any visual shortcomings through its educational value. Word balloons, like the kind from comic books and comic strips, appear over the heads of the characters saying their lines, so this is a terrific production for anyone with children who are learning to read. The kids can watch a cartoon and get introduced to a literary classic, all while sharpening their reading skills.
Patrick Stewart’s One- Man Show of A Christmas Carol (1991) - I saved the best for last. This is not the so-so TNT movie Stewart starred in. This is his one-man stage show from the 1980′s recorded on audio in 1991. Stewart acts out an abridged version of the Carol all while doing incredible voice work to perform all the parts himself and even adding some very memorable sound effects. All of the lines come straight out of Dickens’ text, making this the most faithful version of the story as well as the most touching. Patrick Stewart clearly is a scholar of the Carol himself and retains all of the essential, emotion-charged dialogue that many versions omit. If you can listen to this without crying several times throughout the performance you don’t have an ounce of tenderness in you.
FOR FULL-LENGTH REVIEWS OF EACH OF THE VERSIONS MENTIONED ABOVE CLICK HERE: http://glitternight.com/category/a-christmas-carol-2/
It seems like every year at least one new version of A Christmas Carol comes out, so no doubt many more memorable presentations of the Yuletide classic will be produced in the years to come. If you regard Dickens’ book as a children’s story just because of how simple-minded some of the variations of the tale are, give the Carol another chance with one of the above-mentioned versions, or better yet, hunker down and read the original work. Merry Christmas!
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.