Good things just keep getting better.
Several years ago I reviewed VCI's "A Christmas Carol" on DVD, and since VCI have recently provided the film with a new cleanup and remastering, I thought it was time to revisit this favored classic.
Of the half dozen or so filmed versions of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," this one from 1951 with Alastair Sim as Scrooge is the most faithful to the spirit of the book. Yes, this is THE Christmas classic. I first saw it when my father took me to a Moose Lodge Christmas party presentation in 1953, and I believe I have seen it every year since. The movie is a pleasure to watch, especially on DVD, a treat I hope to continue for a very long time.
I doubt there is anyone reading this review who doesn't know the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, his Christmas Eve visit by the ghosts of Christmas Past (Michael Dolan), Present (Francis De Wolff), and Yet To Come (C. Konarski), and his subsequent conversion to the true meaning of Christmas and love. All of the familiar Dickens characters come to life in this delightful screen adaptation, but it is Alastair Sim in particular who is most perfectly cast. Not only does he make a fine curmudgeonly skinflint as Scrooge, but his changeover at the end of the story is a joy to behold. He is a man reborn, a man who had lost his way along the paths of life and finds an exuberant return to a course of redemption.
Then, one cannot forget Scrooge's underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns), whose relationship with the old man is really at the heart of the story. Or the little crippled boy, Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman), who helps Scrooge to learn the value of kindness; or Scrooge's old partner, Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern), returned from the dead shackled in ledgers and cash boxes; or Scrooge's first employer, dear old Mr. Fezziwig (Roddy Hughes); or Scrooge's nephew, Fred (Brian Worth), and his family.
The all-British production was produced and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst ("Dangerous Moonlight," "Tom Brown's Schooldays"), and the music was composed by Richard Addinsell (whose most enduring composition was the "Warsaw Concerto"). This "Christmas Carol" is not a particularly extravagant production, to say the least, but it perfectly captures the flavor of Dickens' London, no doubt due to its being shot partly on location in very Dickens-like areas of the city.
Incidentally, the movie was released in England under the title "Scrooge" and only in the U.S. under its alternative Dickens title. I don't know why. The print used for this DVD transfer is the restored English version, and, thus, the movie is here introduced in the opening credits by its original British title, "Scrooge"; however, the keep-case cover continues to call it by its inspiration, "A Christmas Carol." A rose by any other name, it's still a great motion picture.
VCI Home Video may have established a first in this DVD offering a few years ago. They furnished the original black-and-white version of the film on one side of their disc and a colorized version on the other. Now, they offer the B&W and the colorized versions on separate discs or together on one disc, as reviewed here. Anyway, I am not a fanatical purist on the subject of colorization, but in most instances I have found the primary black-and-white renderings superior. I can't even imagine colorized accounts of "Casablanca," "The Maltese Falcon," or "Citizen Kane." Yet I rather liked the colorized treatment of Jose Ferrer's "Cyrano de Bergerac." Go figure.
In the case of the present film, I much prefer the film's original black-and-white, and, more important, I like VCI's new transfer. Since the darker tones of the B&W version look more appropriate for the mood and atmosphere of the picture than the colorized hues due, it's only proper that VCI should bring out these contrasts more prominently in their present remastering. Where before things were slightly faded, the blacks are now far more solid and set off the lighter portions of the screen much better. Moreover, there appear to be fewer flecks and specks than before. Not that this is a frame-by-frame, fully restored print or anything, but VCI did go to the trouble of cleaning it up a bit more than before. Still, the overall image is rather on the soft, slightly blurry side; perhaps that will be the next improvement the studio makes; we'll have to wait and see.
I also watched parts of the colorized version and did not feel entirely betrayed. Of course, the computerized-color version is not as vivid or sharply delineated as a real color film would be, and the black-and-white account, as soft as it is, is nevertheless relatively crisper and clearer. Perhaps that made the difference in my greater enjoyment of the B&W. The visual presentations in both instances were better than I have ever seen them on tape or TV broadcasts or VCI's previous DVD edition, the B&W deriving from the same recently found print as before, but now not appearing as worn as it did, with occasional flecks and scratches largely eliminated. Certainly, the lucidity of DVD reproduction makes every flaw, no matter how petty, that much more noticeable, so every care that can be taken in spiffing something up for disc reproduction is appreciated.
Of course, if you already own the previous VCI edition, I cannot recommend that you go out and buy this new one; you might not find as much difference as I did. But if you don't already own the movie, you might consider doing yourself and your family a favor by checking it out.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural sound seems identical in both the B&W and color versions of the film and pretty much the same as it was in the previous edition, somewhat limited in frequency and dynamic range and a little noisy, but fairly respectable, nonetheless. Dialogue is the main thing here, and one can easily overlook the slight background clatter.
In addition to the main feature, VCI give us director Max Fleischer's 1944 Technicolor cartoon "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." It shows its age by being a bit darker in color than it should be, but it's in reasonably good condition otherwise and makes an appropriate companion to "A Christmas Carol." To round off their presentation, VCI also provide an introduction by actor Patrick Macnee; some production notes; a number of cast biographies; English and Spanish subtitles; an optional narrative for the blind; and twenty scene selections.
"A Christmas Carol" is a holiday tradition. If viewed back-to-back with "It's a Wonderful Life," also available on DVD, I guarantee there won't be a dry eye in the house. I could hardly recommend a film more highly. "And so, as Tiny Tim observed, 'God bless Us, Every One!'"