Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim), is visited by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and learns the meaning of Christmas.
This British, B&W version of the well-known story is generally considered to be the finest version by critics and viewers alike, and I agree.
If you’re reading this, chances are you are well acquainted with Mr. Dicken’s ghostly tale of redemption and Christmas cheer. You may have seen it presented by the local high school, or watched a comedic take on a top rated sitcom. The story has been done to death (dead, like a coffin nail). So why watch another version? When a story is so well known and so often filmed, there must be something special, something that brings greater insight into the themes of the tale, or presents something new and unexpected, to make it worth your time. Most renditions don’t have that something special. While the 1999 Patrick Stewart and the 1984 George C. Scott takes on A Christmas Carol are satisfactory, there’s no compelling reason to seek them out. The 1951 version does supply that something special, in the form of an intelligent script, sharp editing, but mainly in Alastair Sim. Sim’s Scrooge is not just a grumpy old man. He’s cruel, but with a self-satisfied grin. There is humor locked away under that grim exterior. An extended back-story (well, extended compared to most versions) lets us see what happened to Scrooge and how he made mistake after mistake. While this material made it easier for me to care about the skinflint, it was more Sim’s performance, his puppy dog eyes and stuttering voice, that caught me as no other Scrooge has. When he finally finds the meaning of Christmas, his manic joy is contagious to the viewer. I laugh while watching this, something I never do with any other film adaptation of A Christmas Carol. I suspect you will too.
Don’t think that humor is the only thing making this the definitive version. If you are the type to shed a tear or hide in fright while watching a movie, then be prepared to do both. There’s emotions to spare. We all have holiday film traditions; I suggest you make Alistair Sim as Scrooge one of yours.
While titled A Christmas Carol in the U.S., it is called Scrooge in Britain and the rest of the world.