George Minter, founder of Renown Pictures in 1938, was primarily a UK film distributor of modestly produced independent moves. Apparently he wished to better Renown’s offerings with a truly A-list movie. And that Mr. Minter accomplished when, in 1951, he personally produced the best of the nearly 20 film versions–before or since–of Charles Dickens’ beloved tale of moral reclamation, A Christmas Carol. Renown retitled their version of the holiday classic as Scrooge, as other film makers (a total of five) had done before and have done since, believing, perhaps, they needed to differentiate their product from the dozen or so that had been filmed in the past and released as A Christmas Carol.
Minter engaged Belfast-born film director Brian Desmond Hurst (born Hans Hurst), who had learned filmmaking as a protégé and close friend of one of Hollywood’s master directors, John Ford. Minter’s choice of screenwriter Noel Langley was equally fortuitous. Langley’s adaptation of Dicken’s novella loses very little of its essence despite its condensation into an 85-minute movie.
Of course, the success of Scrooge resides chiefly in the success of the performance by the lead actor, and critics are nearly unanimous that honor belongs to Scottish actor Alastair Sim. (Sim’s Scrooge is the best I’ve ever witnessed.) The toughest chore in any actor’s stage or screen characterization of Scrooge is demonstrating his gradual empathetic awakening as the miserable miser is guided through the past, present and future by spirits–especially when his redemption has been achieved within an hour and a-half of screen time. But Sim excels, and one never doubts the sincerity of his conversion.
Alastair Sim (1900–1976) was never less than a consummate performer in all his 60 films, whether comedic or dramatic, made between 1935 and 1976. And never in my recollection did any contemporaneous theatre critics find any flaws to cite in his equally extensive stage work.
Producer Minter also engaged a remarkable supporting cast of British favorites headed by Michael Hordern as Marley; Kathleen Harrison as Scrooge’s housekeeper; and Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley as Mr. and Mrs. Bob Cratchit. George Cole appeared as young Scrooge; Glyn Dearman played Tiny Tim; jolly Miles Malleson was Old Joe; and the lean and hungry Cassius-like Ernest Thesiger was perfectly cast as the undertaker. All accounted, a superior cast in a superior film.
Noel Langley’s and Director Hurst’s version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol is not a cheery Hallmark greeting card movie. At least a few of the Seven Deadly Sins are on display in the grey chilly damp of Victorian London and the city’s unlovely contrast of privilege over poverty.
But Dicken’s presents us with a spiritual awakening that banishes the pall of greed, callousness and—not the least—the London fog, that had prevailed through much of the engaging plot, so one joins the carolers to wish Scrooge and the Cratchit family the finest of Christmases and many happy New Years.
Ghostly atmospherics serve the production well, as does the camera-work and music scoring. All in all, a warm and uplifting Christmas present to any movie audience.
IMDB rating: 8.1 of 10. Rotten Tomato critics rate it at 90% and RT audiences rate it at 85%.
To watch Scrooge, free of charge, in its full-length, go to
Movies in the Mountains in Exile is a joint program of The Independent, The American Vaudeville Museum and East Mountain Public Library in Tijeras.