Movie Review - A Christmas Carol (1951)

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I don’t know if there’s ever been a book made into more film adaptations than A Christmas Carol, and at present I’m rather skeptical as to whether there ever will be. Somehow I think that there will continue to be new Christmas Carol movies every few years for quite some time yet—each movie a little different from the ones before, each choosing different ways to be faithful to the original story, or to improve on it, and in all probability not one of them improving our opinion of Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s true, the man’s more famous by far than Bob Cratchit or Tiny Tim, and had more influence on our culture’s understanding of social ills than the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, Future and of Jacob Marley put together. In fact, he’s risen in prominence from being a mere proper noun to a very distinguished common noun in countries all around the world. And, despite all the happy endings of all the Christmas Carols out there, he’s still known as a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner. Such a sad and strange fate, even for a fictional character from a nineteenth-century novella, to be remembered better for his sins than his redemption! Well, there is one film adaptation of A Christmas Carol that isn’t guilty of adding to the tragedy of Scrooge’s reputation—and whatever else it may be guilty of, a preference is a preference, and this version happens to be my favorite.

Even my favorite version has ghosts in it, unfortunately, which makes the worldview less than completely satisfactory. The Ghosts of Christmas are easy enough to deal with, of course: they’re either dreams or they’re symbolic (even if they can “do anything”). The ghost of Jacob Marley is a more questionable element, despite his portrayal in this movie leaving ample room for the possibility that it was only a dream (or a slight disorder of the stomach). As in the original story, Marley’s ghost briefly tells Scrooge that the spirits of dead men are required to walk abroad, and that they seek to interfere in human matters, but have lost the power. That last part is correct, of course, but it’s not just referring to the idea of sending a Lazarus back to witness to the rich man’s brothers*, but to helping those who are suffering from poverty here on earth. And ghostly wanderings aren’t mentioned in Scripture.

Even Bob Cratchit has a questionable line about life in eternity. After Tiny Tim’s death, Bob tells his wife that, at the cemetery, he felt Tim’s hand slip into his own. “He was telling me, you see, in his own little way, that he’s happy—truly happy now, and we must cease to grieve for him and try to be happy, too.” It’s not presented in a confident, doctrinal sort of way, but it warrants putting in the review.

There are even some generally good things that may need clarified for younger viewers, because they are so unusual, not just in A Christmas Carol, but anywhere else—things like images of conviction without repentance, and repentance without faith. Marley’s dying words were “We were wrong… Save yourself.” And, despite his conviction that Scrooge’s “Nobody’s perfect… We’ve been no worse than the next man,” was not right, or not enough, he passes into eternal torment. And at the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge himself declares, “even in my fear, I must say that I am too old! I cannot change! I cannot! It’s not that I’m impenitent, it’s just… Wouldn’t it be better if I just went home to bed?” I don’t ordinarily point out topics for family discussion, but, really, children who have not already learned what “believing” unto salvation truly means, should have it explained to them, whether they watch the movie or not.

Despite the Ghost of Christmas Present’s assertion that the Spirits of Christmas live three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, a debtor’s plea that “it’s Christmas!” and the as-yet-unchanged Scrooge’s “What’s Christmas got to do with it?” might, perhaps, add to the popular (but wrong) message that December the 25th is a day when undeserved lenience is to be expected, just because it’s December the 25th.

Violent and Intense Content:
As I said, even my favorite version of A Christmas Carol still has ghosts in it. Marley’s ghost is more theatrical than spine-chilling in this particular adaptation, but his wailings can still be somewhat startling, or even scary, depending on how old you are; and the wailings of his fellow ghosts definitely add creepiness to the scene.

Marley’s death, with its connection to his eternal destiny, and Scrooge’s sister’s death, preceded by mild delirium, are neither of them especially intense, but sensitive viewers ought to know they are there.

A side character, who was invented expressly for use in this particular film, cavalierly jokes (in another line that might need explaining to children) that “I also beat my wife and skewer innocent babies…”

Cultural Stumbling-Blocks:
“…when in my cups.” And in Christmas Present, the Cratchit family boasts of two toasts’ worth of gin punch, while another reference to punch leaves its contents unidentified.

Sexual Content:
If you’re paying close attention, you’ll see a doll in a shop window that is wearing a low-cut dress. If you’re paying even a moderate amount of attention, you’ll notice that Nephew Fred’s wife is revealing all of her shoulders and most of her chest. Black and white helps a bit on that account. It’s doesn’t help with the kiss, though, and you’ll probably notice that whether you’re paying much attention or not. Ebenezer and his lady love in Christmas Past sit side by side, arms around each other, while she initially declines his proposal of marriage (you might also want to note the incongruity, there). There is some dancing, but it’s the polka, not the waltz, and it really doesn’t have any romantic overtones.


There is some of the usual, “Good heavens,” and “Oh, goodness!”, one possibly sincere “Dear God,” and one “The devil you have!” Mrs. Cratchit, understandably but unkindly, refers to “horrid old Mr. Scrooge” as “the old ogre.”

So I’m writing with a bias this time (actually, I write with a bias all the time, I just do a better job of hiding it in other reviews). I’ll readily admit that the 1951 A Christmas Carol isn’t the most magnificent one, exactly. It’s rather behind earlier films in visual quality, I know. And it isn’t the version most faithful to the book, for those of you who care about those things. But Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion in 1951 simply can’t be topped—it will never be topped, in my opinion—in part because this version is one of the few that does not leave us wondering if Scrooge’s change of heart was only a spark of humanitarianism. The Scripture readings, the command to seek “the Child born in Bethlehem,” and Scrooge’s own perfect and undeserved happiness at the end of the film, all leave us rejoicing along with him—and remembering his salvation more than we do his sins.

Because of the ghosts that are, unfortunately, part and parcel with any version of A Christmas Carol, I only recommend this particular adaptation to a ten-and-up audience—first, because of the worldview issues they bring in, and second, because they really might alarm younger children.

* Luke 16:22-28

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