I’m sure everyone has read or heard the story of “A Christmas Carol” several dozen times by now, be it as a play, a book, or a movie. My introduction to it came back in 1984 with the television movie starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. My parents got my brother and I to this movie back when we lived in Thousand Oaks, California. Back then, I had no idea what I was in store. All that was going through my head at the time as the movie began was, am I staying up later than Santa Claus would like? I sure didn’t want to miss out on any presents, and it was way past my bedtime. Please keep in mind, I was nine years old at the time.
What makes this particular version of “A Christmas Carol” stand out is how down to earth the actors are in their performances. These days when I see this story, it is usually at a play typically acted and directed with incredible theatricality. But with movies, things are done in a far more intimate fashion. Director Clive Donner doesn’t have any of the actors over-emoting anything and, as a result, these characters end up feeling like our next-door neighbors. Forget how this is a period piece; some things about humans never change.
Ebenezer Scrooge reminded me of the meanest bullies from school, especially those determined to make themselves feel stronger by belittling and excluding others from social gatherings. But seeing him go through the heartaches of life made this particular bully all the more sympathetic to me regardless of how cold he was to people around him. I was already feeling bad for Scrooge before the story’s midpoint. Plus, I thought it was inexcusable for the Ghost of Christmas Present to leave Ebenezer in the freezing cold instead of bringing him home to await the next ghost. Some people can be so inconsiderate.
I first came to discover actor George C. Scott in the movie “Taps,” but this is the role I will always remember him for best, and that’s even over his Oscar winning performance in “Patton.” Scott showed how Scrooge can truly be the role of a lifetime as he takes the character from being a hopeless curmudgeon of a human being to the ultimate fun-loving guy by the story’s conclusion. The moment where he realizes that what the Ghost of Christmas Future was not actually real and promises from there on out to always keep Christmas in his heart is an amazing piece of acting, and this moment remains strong in my memory so many years later.
It is Scott’s brilliant performance which made this particular “Christmas Carol” such a memorable experience for me. Now I don’t know about the rest of my family, but I found myself being pulled from one giant emotion to another. There were times where things got a little too dark for me where I almost cried, and I have always been an infinitely sensitive human being, but all those feelings made for one of the most gloriously happy climaxes in any motion picture I have ever seen. Seeing Scrooge meet up with the fully recovered Tiny Tim brought a big smile to my face. It all reminds me of how Robin Williams, in an interview he had with David Frost, talked about a Russian he once met who told him how we have to live with pain in order to feel pleasure.
It has now been over 30 years since we all watched this version of “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott, but the experience of watching it remains ever so vivid in my mind as was my fear of Santa not coming down our chimney if I stayed up so late.
For the record, Santa did come by and left me and my brother plenty of presents… or so I was told.