Monday, July 12, 2010

Christmas in July: Scrooge (1970)

After seeing Alastair Sim in the 1951 A Christmas Carol, I'm definitely holding all other versions of this oft-filmed story to a higher standard. I've never been particularly enamored of the story, but Sim and director Brian Desmond Hurst managed to make it feel real and complex, more than just a simple parable or a celebration of manufactured Christmas cheer. Ronald Neame doesn't get to that same place with 1970's Scrooge, starring Albert Finney as the title character, but he does a decent job nonetheless. Unlike Hurst, he doesn't seem to be aiming for bleak realism: This version is a bright and vibrantly colored musical, and even its darkest moments are relatively comical and cartoony.

As such, it's entertaining enough; Scrooge never seems particularly menacing or depressed, just cranky, and the musical numbers are all fairly lightweight (even the song "I Hate People" is lively and fun). Finney gives a broad performance that finds him with a constantly pinched face and strained voice, like Scrooge's only real problem is a bout of constipation. Neame and screenwriter/songwriter Leslie Bricusse focus a lot on Scrooge's romantic regrets, even giving his former lady love an entire musical number of her own during the Ghost of Christmas Past sequence. The songs do little to move the plot along, and the giant production numbers can seem at odds with the scolding tone of the story. But they're well-staged and energetic, and probably more entertaining than the familiar run through the story.

This movie also gets to some of my pet peeves about the Scrooge story, turning him from a successful businessman into a profligate weakling, forgiving all the debts owed to him by various people and promising money to seemingly everyone in town. How is he going to have the money to be a generous benefactor if he conducts his business so poorly? These are the things that bug me about silly Christmastime musicals.

The True Meaning of Christmas: Embrace life, give stuff away.

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