Saturday, December 25, 2010

Scrooge (1970)

          Throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s, producers created ever more lavish productions while vainly trying to re-create the box office magic of The Sound of Music (1965), resulting in a string of bloated musicals that nearly bankrupted the Hollywood studios. Yet while it’s tempting to paint all of these projects with the same brush, especially since key films like Dr. Dolittle (1967) are indeed quite awful, some of these megabudget musicals are actually watchable. Scrooge is a good example. As the title suggests, it’s a tune-laden take on Charles Dickens’ indestructible story “A Christmas Carol,” and the perfection of Dickens’ narrative goes a long way toward explaining why Scrooge is rewarding: Even when the movie succumbs to excess, the underlying story is so strong that it’s easy to get swept up in the narrative. Albert Finney gives an energetic performance in the title role, looking like he’s thrilled to step away from the demands of being a leading man and submerge himself into painstaking character work as literature’s favorite curmudgeon. In the film’s many nonmusical scenes, he’s appropriately disagreeable and tortured, and in the musical vignettes, it doesn’t really matter that he can’t sing; Finney expresses himself in an idiosyncratic fashion that fits his character, and more often than not he gets support from a chorus and/or a duet partner.
          Director Ronald Neame, a former cinematographer whose best films are light comedies, delivers the story of skinflint Scrooge learning the true meaning of Christmas with a heavy serving of Victorian atmosphere, thanks to opulent sets and playful special effects. It doesn’t hurt that he recruited Alec Guiness, the star of his acclaimed ’50s movies The Horse’s Mouth and Tunes of Glory, to contribute a memorably overwrought performance as the ghost of Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley. The film’s original songs, by Dr. Dolittle composer Leslie Bricusse, are mostly twee and forgettable, but they move the film along well enough, and the Oscar-nominated standout, “Thank You Very Much,” exists somewhere on the border between catchy and insidious. (In other words, you’ll be humming it for days afterward—it’s the gift that keeps on giving.) While Scrooge is far from the best filmed version of Dickens’ tale, it’s a great-looking film that spares no expense in terms of production values, and Finney’s Golden Globe-winning star turn is one of the most engaged and unusual performances of his eclectic career. Plus, since I’ve got a little Grinch blood running through my veins, it warms my two-sizes-too-small heart when Scrooge warbles a tune titled “I Hate People.” Preach on, brother Ebenezer—and Merry Christmas!

Scrooge: FUNKY

1 comment:

Tommy Ross said...

This is my personal favorite adaption of the Dickens novel, although the 1951 would be a close second. Albert Finney is outstanding in this, the songs are catchy and clever, and the film does a really cool thing with the third ghost that's not in any other adaptions, as Scrooge literally gets to take a glimpse of what his future looks like IN HELL!