CHRISTMAS CAROL OBSCURITIES

Ghost of Christmas PresentAren’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 Christmas 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!”) . 

The man all mimes aspire to be ... damn them.

The man all mimes aspire to be … damn them.

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. FOR MY FULL-LENGTH REVIEW OF THE OPERA VERSIONS CLICK HERE:  https://glitternight.com/2011/12/14/christmas-carol-a-thon-2011-three-opera-versions-of-a-christmas-carol/

Anglia Television version

Anglia Television version

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. FOR MY FULL-LENGTH REVIEW OF THE SPANISH VERSION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2012/12/20/christmas-carol-a-thon-2012-spains-1947-film-version/

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. 

NOT the Rankin Bass cartoon version

NOT the Rankin Bass cartoon version

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. FOR MY FULL-LENGTH REVIEW OF THIS VERSION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2012/12/01/christmas-carol-a-thon-2012-1953s-the-stingiest-man-in-town/

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: https://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. 

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34 Comments

Filed under A CHRISTMAS CAROL

34 responses to “CHRISTMAS CAROL OBSCURITIES

  1. The Marcel Marco joke was funny!

  2. That See Hear one sounds kind of awesome!

  3. The one with watercolor pictures is my favorite! Sounds awesome!

  4. You are actually the only place Ive found that covers some of these.

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  13. Lee

    Where have you found some of these versions? I have 18 different versions but have never found the Mr. Scrooge, Scrooge (Canada) and this one, among others, that you have detailed. Believe me, I am usually strong in tracking down information, but you have me stumped. Any insight is appreciated.

    • Hello! Can you list all the versions that you are searching for out of the ones I’ve reviewed? I’ll tell you how I got each one.

      • Lee

        I definitely appreciate it. Among those I have seen you mention that I am looking for:

        Leyenda de Navidad (1947)
        The marionette version (1948)
        Mr. Scrooge (1964)
        Christmas Carol (1964 — HS students)
        Anglia Television’s version (1970)
        The Marcel Marceau Presents a Christmas Carol (1973)
        Canadian TV version (1978)
        WNEO version (1978)
        American Conservatory Theater (1981)
        French TV-1 version (1984)

        I have never seen you review the Guthrie Theater version (1982). I know you have made reference to it, and I do have that one, but hope to see a full-fledged take on it.

        Thanks again,

  14. Hello! Taking them in order:

    Leyenda de Navidad – A friend bought a copy for me when she was in Argentina where it was available with English subtitles. I then had it converted to American DVD Region 1.

    Marionette Version – That one I’m only familiar with through books and really old newspaper articles plus articles about the overall history of the Rose marionettes.

    Mr Scrooge (1964) – If I tell you what I did to get that one you wouldn’t believe me. Suffice it to say it happened back in the days before everybody had some kind of online presence that made investigating them as easy as a few clicks. Back when a PO Box listing yourself as a business could get you things that were not released to individuals but were to other businesses for (very high) fees. I was younger then and didn’t think twice about blowing an amount of money on it that I wouldn’t spend today.

    1964 High School one – Bought off e-bay years ago from a Twin Peaks fanatic who had tracked it down somehow. He was obsessed with the show and had sought it out just because of Badalamenti’s involvement.

    Anglia Television 1970 – GOOD NEWS – I bought this one long ago from Amazon-UK and last time I looked they still sell it. When I bought it they only sold it in the UK’s Region format, so I then paid a Video Company to convert it into Region 1 for me.

    Marcel Marceau – Bought off e-bay from a British woman who had recorded it from some BBC oldies channel. Maybe BBC Gold. I don’t remember.

    Canadian TV Version (1978) – Bought off a collector site around 1999 from a guy who had taped it off PBS years about 10 or 15 years earlier. I don’t remember the name of the site or if it is even still around. They dealt in a lot of video rarities and you could trade or buy.

    WNEO Version – My review of that one has the looong story about how I got it if you’d like to read it.

    American Conservatory Theater version – I taped it off cable television myself in the 1990s.

    French TV-1 Version – Bought from an old site that sold a lot of European tv shows. Things like British shows that weren’t available in the US like Counterstrike, plus their version of the Quiller secret agent stories, plus French and Italian shows like the French cartoon series about Nick Carter. I bought the French TV version and the Portuguese version from them around the late 90s or very early 2000s. If I can remember the name of the place I will post it here.

    That’s all the ones you listed. If you are interested in the ballet version Amazon-UK still sells it. Again, if it’s not Region-free now or Region One you would have to have it converted to Region One by a video place unless you have an all-Region DVD player.

    There was a 51 minute or so new version just this year (well, 2015 I mean) that you can buy streaming online from Amazon. It was British and was narrated by Colin Baker of Doctor Who fame.

    Yes, I do have the Guthre theater version and it is one of the many versions I still need to make myself write a review for.

    Hope this helps!

    • Lee

      Thanks!
      Sorry for the late reply, but, yes, it does help. I appreciate you pointing me in the right direction.
      It has become a tradition in our family to gather as many Carols as possible and watch them between Thanksgiving and the Feast of the Epiphany. We also pool our ratings on one aspect each year of watching — best Ghost of Christmas Present, Best Tiny Tim, Best Fezziwig party, etc. — and watch them worst to best the following year.
      It started as me trying to find a Carol my Mom had seen as a child — still haven’t found that one, yet, and wondering if that was just a Pittsburgh-area production — and just collecting ones in general, even if they didn’t air in the mid-to-late 50s.
      So I’m hoping for more to put on the watchlist next year.
      Once again, I appreciate the help.
      Oh, and on an unrelated note, I love the sports rankings as well.

  15. Heath Waterman

    Just read the comments for this one, I’ve been searching for several of these and have been going out of my mind. Would you ever cover TV episode versions (Camp Candy, Avenger Penguins, etc.). And would you ever consider trading?

    Leyenda de Navidad (both)
    Mr. Scrooge
    The Trail to Christmas
    The Marcel Marceau Presents a Christmas Carol
    French TV-1 version (1984)

    Other than these, I got about 184 versions. Driving me crazy not being able to track these other ones down.

  16. Hello! I haven’t forgotten about the info, I’ve just been really swamped lately. I hope to get to it this week.

  17. Heath Waterman

    Oh no worries whatsoever! Thanks

    • Hello!

      MR SCROOGE was one of those I got LONG AGO when all you needed was a PO Box address and you could pose as a business. I spent lots of money on a theatrical copy, renting it under the name of that fictional business. One of my A/V oriented friends converted it to a VHS copy for me and I then sent back the rental copy to the parent company and paid them their “share” of the box office. I’d never blow that kind of money on something like that these days.

      I’ll have the others you asked about up a little later tonight.

      • Heath

        Wow, I’m very impressed! The most I’ve done is monitor ebay/stores in other countries or post some ads. I got most of my TV versions that way.

      • Heath

        I’m so impressed with your level of committment. Most I’ve done is bought off foreign ebays.

      • Thanks for the kind words! It was the same type of obsessiveness that led me to track down episodes of the Texas 27 Film Vault years ago, too. (It was basically MST3K but BEFORE MST3K came along in 1988)

        And again Very Very sorry about the delay again. It turns out those episodes of Texas 27 Film Vault I acquired long ago maybe the only copies still in existence of complete episodes, so I’ve been swamped by people with different offers for the tapes I have. I’m not a filmmaker so some of them are trying to work with me on some kind of documentary if they can have access to them, etc.

        Not your problem, of course, but oddball things like that and the other rarities I write about at this blog always keep me swamped with inquiries about how to obtain these rare videos, books, etc.

        ANYWAY – TO FINISH ANSWERING YOUR QUESTION –

        Marcel Marceau I bought on e-bay from a woman in England who taped it from BBC Gold or a similar channel long ago.

        Leyenda de Navidad – A friend bought a copy of the 1940s version for me when she was in Argentina where it was available with English subtitles. I then had it converted to American DVD Region 1. I don’t have the 1960s remake.

        French TV-1 Version – Bought from an old site that sold a lot of European tv shows. Things like British shows that weren’t available in the US like Counterstrike, plus the British tv version of the Quiller secret agent stories, plus French and Italian shows like the French cartoon series about Nick Carter. I bought the French TV version and the Portuguese version from them around the late 90s or very early 2000s. If I can remember the name of the place I will post it here.

        Trail to Christmas – I bought it about8 or 9 years ago in one of those DVD boxes where you get a zillion old tv shows. If I can remember which offer it was I will add it here. You may want to try Classics2DVD if they are still in business.

        Sorry again! I’m not trying to sound like a bigshot but every day people can leave questions regarding things I’ve written from 2010 all the way up to today. Thanks for your patience!
        If you liked MST3K you may enjoy my blog posts about Texas 27 Film Vault.

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