Merry Christmas to all from the management of Orion’s Cold Fire. Now the title of this post is admittedly a stretch. But it is a ghost story and it does take place in an urban center. I guess it would be adding insult to injury to claim steampunk status too, so I won’t. I gladly confess I’m a huge fan of this tale. I first remember running into it as a boy when my older cousin played Mr. Fezziwig in a grammar school production. I don’t remember much about that production other than the fact that Fezziwig was actually wearing a gray wig. Since then I’ve read the short book and attended several professional and amateur stage productions. But the most substantial proportion of my involvement with this story is the hundreds of viewings of the various film versions that have been made over the decades. Discounting such travesties as the episode made as part of the old television series “The Odd Couple” and the one starring the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, I have watched at least seven separate films.
Among the few versions that I still watch, the oddest one is the musical from 1970 starring Albert Finney. With Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley it includes a scene of Scrooge being installed in Hell by his long dead partner. I’m not particularly fond of musicals and Finney hasn’t really got a singing voice so there any number of painful moments in this film but the comical aspect of Scrooge is highlighted and allows this version to serve when children are present and might otherwise become bored.
Until recently I was of the opinion that the best version was the 1951 edition starring Alistair Sim. It had a good British cast and possessed a script that amplified the meager details of the novel with some dramatic details of the back story between Scrooge and his sister on her death bed. It also fills out the history of Scrooge as a businessman and shows us some details of Marley’s death. It remains in my reckoning a very good film.
But as with all other things in life, age alters our opinions and our point of view even about Dickens’ masterpiece. Of late, I have come to favor the 1984 television version starring George C. Scott. The balance of the cast is British with Scott the only American. The script is relatively close to the novel although there are a few touches having to do with Scrooge’s nephew and wife that are innovative. But in several aspects I find this later version to be the best. First is the character of Marley. The actor portraying this ghost is the best of any that have acted the role. The feeling and meaning he puts into his lines is perfect for that part. Next is the child playing Tiny Tim. He is without a doubt the most diminutive and fragile looking child imaginable. He enhances the reality of what we know is Tiny Tim’s probable fate. And finally, there is Scott’s part. He is a powerful man who displays his ruthlessness openly. George C. Scott was a very good actor and it shows. He interacts with the spirits as an equal. He defends his point of view as you might imagine a rational egoist would. You feel his gradual awakening to the error of his world view as a visceral experience and not just a logical progression. He captures the transformation that Dickens was portraying. It’s well done.
So, now why do I enjoy this story? I believe that Dickens’ story captures some essential truth about what it means to be human. He is trying to show us that in order to save ourselves we have to save those around us. And not through some social construct (“are there no prisons, are there no workhouses”), but by touching the lives of those around us and lending a hand to the weak. As a right wing fanatic this is an important lesson to remember. If you object to the idea of the socialist state then you must instead reach out to the people around you and make things better yourself.
So for me this story is a cautionary tale. Don’t forget that the people out there are real and they are someone’s children. And they can hurt. Watch out for them.
I’ll end this on a happy note. As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, every one.”