Musical Monday: Scrooge (1970)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

scroogeThis week’s musical:
Scrooge” (1970)– Musical #399

National General Pictures

Ronald Neame

Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, David Collings, Michael Medwin, Kenneth More, Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Suzanne Neve, Richard Beaumont

A musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ story of “The Christmas Carol.” Bitter, old Ebenezer Scrooge (Finney) has no time for happiness and good cheer on Christmas. A series of ghosts visit him in the night and take him on a journey of self-exploration of his past, present and future.

Awards and Nominations:
-Nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration by Terence Marsh, Robert Cartwright, Pamela Cornell
-Nominated for Best Costume Design by Margaret Furse
-Nominated for Best Music, Original Song for the song “Thank You Very Much” by Leslie Bricusse
-Nominated for Best Music, Original Song Score, Leslie Bricusse, Ian Fraser, Herbert W. Spencer

-Richard Harris was originally cast as Scrooge. He had to bow out due to the film “Bloomfield” (1971). The role was then offered to Rex Harrison, who also had to back out, according to Behaving Badly: A Life of Richard Harris by Cliff Goodwin
-Albert Finney was 34 when he played the elderly Ebenezer Scrooge
-Alec Guinness’ Jacob Marley had a large number called “Make the Most of This Life” which was cut from the film
-It took three hours to put on Finney’s his Scrooge make-up
-This musical version was adapted into a stage musical in 1992 starring Anthony Newley as Scrooge

Young Scrooge with old Scrooge, both played by Albert Finney

Young Scrooge with old Scrooge, both played by Albert Finney

Notable Songs:
-“I Hate People” performed by Albert Finney
-“December the 25th” performed by the chorus
-“Happiness” performed by Suzanne Neve
-“You…You” performed by Albert Finney
-“I Like Life” performed by Albert Finney and Kenneth Moore
-“Thank You Very Much” performed by Anton Rodgers & Ensemble

My review:
Since 1901, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted for film 20 different ways: from silent shorts to animation with Mickey Mouse and featuring Muppets (Note: not spoofs like Scrooged, but following the Dickens story). On television, nearly 30 different TV specials and plays have aired since 1944, and more than 60 TV and film parodies have been made: from “Scrooged” to “My Little Pony.”

This 1970 film version takes Dickens’ story and adds music. This version and “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) are the only two feature film versions of “A Christmas Carol” that are musicals.

Starring Albert Finney, this 1970 film comes at the tail end of the musical era, which began to die in the mid-1960s. There are a few show-stopping numbers, such as “Thank You Very Much” while everyone is dancing down the street and a finale that recaps most of the songs. I have actually had “Thank You Very Much” in my head since I re-watched this on Saturday.

I don’t feel Albert Finney isn’t the strongest film characterization of Ebenezer Scrooge — my pick is George C. Scott — but his Scrooge is a little different from those played by the likes of Reginald Owens and Alistair Sim. I felt sorry for Finney’s Scrooge. We get a better sense of Scrooge’s unhappy and painful life through his unhappy childhood, which ultimately drove away his love Isabelle.

Albert Finney as Scrooge

Albert Finney as Scrooge

We see how much Isabelle leaving Scrooge hurt him, as older Scrooge cries about the incident after reliving it with the Ghost of Christmas Past (Edith Evans). I was struck with a thought about the Dickens story for the first time: Is Scrooge a person who handled a breakup really badly and let his life and home deteriorate to this?

Finney’s Scrooge isn’t a very old man with white hair. He is probably in his 50s or 60s and we get a sense that his aging is due to bitterness. I also feel the set in this film truly depicts how rundown and desolate Scrooge’s home is. Almost as bad as Miss Haversham in Great Expectations, with curtains so old and dirty the fabric is practically crumbling and cobweb’s caking the wall.

Finney’s singing isn’t amazing. It’s more of a talk/grumble to the tune than singing, similar to Rex Harrison’s talking style. I do enjoy Finney singing “I Hate People.” His talking can also be hard to understand with his “old man voice,” which can grate on my nerves at times. Richard Harris was originally set to play the role of Scrooge, which I would have been interested in seeing. I almost feel Harris would have done a better job, as he also did sing.

While the characterization of Scrooge was more sympathetic, this was maybe my least favorite characterization of Bob Cratchet and his family (my favorite being Gene Lockhart and his real family in the 1938 version). Tiny Tim was almost too…sweet for my tastes and always beaming.

As for the ghosts, Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Kenneth Moore as the Ghost of Christmas Present are wonderful. Evans is sympathetic, but like a stern grandmother and Moore is appropriately jolly.

Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past

Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past


Kenneth Moore as the Ghost of Christmas Present

I can’t forget to mention Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley. I was excited to see his name there, thinking I would love his characterization as much as I loved Basil Rathbone’s on a “Shower of Stars” TV version. But I didn’t love it. Guinness was fine, but his voice was odd and he walked with a weird movement. Almost like he was a child pretending to be a ghost. Guinness would have been better suited as Scrooge than Marley. Actually, Peter O’Toole would have made a cool Marley, but that’s another discussion.

Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley

Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley

We see Marley two times in this film. This is the only film adaptation that we see Scrooge actually go to hell and Marley is there to greet him. Really bizarre.

While this isn’t my favorite “Christmas Carol” adaptation, it had some interesting points. I do just wish Richard Harris had been Scrooge.

What’s your favorite film version of “A Christmas Carol”?

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