Balladeer’s Blog’s TENTH Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon continues with this review.

Guthrie Theater Christmas CarolTHE GUTHRIE THEATER PRESENTS A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1982) – Stage performances of any story getting filmed for video are pretty hit and miss, but this production is much more of a hit than a miss. The Guthrie Theater Presents A Christmas Carol was filmed at the famed Minnesota theater of the title and aired on The Entertainment Channel in 1982 before being released on VHS.

This presentation of the Dickens classic uses the framing device of Charles Dickens (Marshall Borden) himself being persuaded by Christmas party guests to treat them to his most famous Yuletide ghost story. Dickens is at first reluctant since he’s feeling a bit harried and stressed out, so he huffily clears the room.

Needless to say the act of recounting A Christmas Carol to us viewers winds up restoring his holiday cheer. By the time he closes the framing device at the end of the play he’s as jovial and hearty as Nephew Fred and delivers the whole “good old city, town or boro in the good old world” speech with memorable panache.

If only the play didn’t make us wait much too long for the final “God bless us, everyone” I’d say it was the best finale to any of the filmed stage versions of the Carol. But the basic concept of this framing device is solid and pleasantly reminded me of E.T.A. Hoffmann being encouraged to regale the Halloween tavern crowd with his “Tales” in my favorite Halloween opera. 

I’m not saying Barbara Field, who adapted this for the stage, was imitating Offenbach’s opera, I’m simply saying it was just as much fun.

This version’s Scrooge  (Richard Hilger) ably projects a certain air of being preoccupied and lost in his gloomy, bitter thoughts along with his usual obsession with money. He is very good in his exchanges with his Nephew Fred (Robert Nadir) – with an unnecessary flourish involving a paperweight that Scrooge throws at Fred turning out later to have been a gift from his beloved sister, Fred’s mother.

The charity collectors scene is adequate but also throws in an unnecessary change by having one of the collectors be hard of hearing and playing it for some humor. It’s less out of place than the paperweight nonsense so it’s easier to take.

The visit from Marley’s Ghost (Oliver Cliff) may well be the best I’ve ever seen in any of the versions of the Carol except for Patrick Stewart’s one-man show available on audio. Oh, and the elevated portion of the Guthrie stage doubles as Scrooge’s work-desk AND as his bed at home in a utilitarian touch. 

The Ghost of Christmas Past is played by an actor (Jonathan Fuller, who does double-duty as Topper at Fred’s party) who looks like he’s done up as a glittery version of the old movie host Son of Svengoolie, complete with top hat. We get treated to the scene between young Ebenezer and his sister Fan, but with the paperweight from earlier jammed in.

This Guthrie Theater production combines the Christmas of Fezziwig’s party with the Christmas when Scrooge’s love Belle (Keliher Walsh) dumps him. In a so-so bit of business it’s presented as the very first time the increasingly sour Scrooge ever says “Humbug!” (The senses-shattering origin of Scrooge’s signature saying!)

The actor portraying the Ghost of Christmas Present (Peter Thoemke) has the appropriate gravity for the role but unfortunately the sights he shows Ebenezer are littered with too many additions that aren’t in the book and just interrupt the flow. The scene at the Cratchits feels like a reality show called Hangin’ With The Cratchits because we get unnecessary invented details about them.

Look, I’m not saying I want nothing but verbatim adaptations from the novel but you’ll notice Shakespeare fans generally don’t have to put up with this. I’ve never seen a production of Hamlet which makes up additional backstory for Hamlet’s father or anything like that.  

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come portion is nicely handled and packs an emotional punch that was missing in the Christmas Present segment.

SPOILERS: (I’m kidding!) Scrooge’s Christmas Morning conversion seldom fails to move me and this rendition is pretty good. The hard of hearing charity collector and his friend make their reappearance and things hum along to Ebenezer ribbing Bob Cratchit when he’s late the day after Christmas. On the minus side the actor playing Bob (Mark Murphey) is so bland it’s like he’s the Invisible Man.

Charles Dickens takes us out with the wrap-up of the framing storyline but the pointless tease before we finally get Tiny Tim’s four-word sendoff is as annoying as I mentioned above.

Overall, this is a very, very good version of A Christmas Carol, so kudos to Director Paul Miller. I like it better than the American Conservatory Theater’s VHS version but not as much as the VHS tape of Thea Musgrave’s opera version. +++     


© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2019. 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.






  1. Thank you for visit and like ! 🙂

    Alioșa ! 🙂

  2. Cara

    I finally read the book thanks to your repeated posts, and it was very sweet. If a book doesn’t have wooings, weddings and clothes made of either sheer silk or chiffon and fragrant flowers mentioned every few pages at least, I usually can’t tolerate it. But Dickens of course knowing the audience, put in descriptions of Christmas feasts and family scenes which made me able to keep going.

    I know you totally fall for Scrooge’s sudden change on Christmas morning, and I sort of believed it too, but it was rather funny. The way he called everyone ‘nice’ and called the servant girl who answered Fred’s door, “my love”. I had a good laugh over that.

    I’ve never seen a stage show or movie of it, but I could see what an entertaining stage show it must make – what with the spirits and all.

    I still think your ardent and all consuming devotion to it 10 years in a row is extremely suspicious and deserving of investigation.

    • Ha! I like that remark about the need for an investigation into my Christmas Carol obsession! I’m glad you got a chance to read the book. For me it has always seemed like the one true Epic Myth of the Industrial Age and with Scrooge’s conversion it also hints at the coming New Year and New Year’s resolutions.

      • Cara

        I have to confess, Balladeer, that given how careful one must be these days, what with the danger of white supremacists around every corner and Nazis and you name it, and then the fact your avatars on this blog never have a shirt on, I have spent an inordinately unusual amount of time investigating your Christmas Carol obsession.

        You should know I passed high school with an average of 80% which was excellent back then because they didn’t give you grades for being black, white or brown or autistic or sportistic or having psychological problems.

        And I have had a deep think about it, and I have to tell you… I see collusion with Russia in there.

        If it weren’t for the fact that I have to work, cook, clean and such, if I had just a littttle more time, I think I’d have unearthed intimidation of Ukraine as well.

      • Very funny! You are always such a character with your comments! It’s always entertaining.

  3. Cara

    P.S. Please note – I refuse to join your Christmas Carol cult (unless paid to), but I do reluctantly agree it is the only book I’ve read that could be called an Epic Myth of the Industrial age.

  4. Garrett Kieran

    Hope you don’t mind me commenting on some of these AFTER Christmas, but it was hard making the time beforehand. Anyhow, I was lucky enough to get hold of this version on VHS via inter-library loan a few years back. It was pretty enjoyable overall. I didn’t particularly mind the whole paperweight bit. I thought it was a nice touch. Plus, it made an excuse for a great line from Charles Dickens when one of the boys threatened to hold his breath until he told the story: “breathe or I shall crown you with the paperweight!” It’s funny though, I don’t offhand remember any of these additional details about the Cratchits you mention. And you say that this interpretation of Marley is the best screen depiction EVER? Hmm. Interesting.

  5. Everett

    This was a better review than this movie deserved. I thought it sucked.

  6. Gandolf, Jr

    You are your own Ghost of Christmas!

  7. Darren

    Old television Christmas Carols are sometimes the best ones!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s