With the one-two-three punch of Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music raking in tens of millions of dollars for their respective studios in the mid-1960s, Hollywood jumped once again on the musical bandwagon, and over the course of the next half dozen years, put as many film musicals into production as they could possibly manage. They borrowed most heavily from Broadway and London (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Camelot, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Half a Sixpence, Sweet Charity, Finian’s Rainbow, Oliver! Funny Girl, Hello, Dolly! On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Paint Your Wagon, Song of Norway) but also put forth musical biographies (The Singing Nun, Star!) and musicalized previously non-musical properties (Doctor Dolittle, Goodbye, Mr, Chips). Those latter two films were set to the music and lyrics of Leslie Bricusse and while neither was a box-office success (despite some glorious work on their scores, particularly the former), he next embarked on a musicalized version of A Christmas Carol. Not only did he pen the music and lyrics for the piece but he also wrote the screenplay adaptation of the Dickens classic and served as the film’s executive producer. The result was one of those rare miracles: a musical treatment that is so right that it lifts the original material into another dimension. While there are those who may prefer the versions of the story which star Alister Sim or George C. Scott (or Mr. Magoo for that matter), the 1970 version of Scrooge is for many the definitive screen adaptation of the vintage tale.
Scrooge (1970) (Blu-ray)
Directed by Ronald Neame
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p VC-1 codec
Running Time: 114 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch
Region: no designation
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Review Date: October 7, 2011
The story is the same as it’s always been. Pitiless miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Albert Finney) thinks only of making money, indifferent to the pleas of the poor, the poverty of his overworked clerk Bob Cratchit (David Collings), and the imploring of his nephew Fred (Michael Medwin) to become one of the family. On Christmas Eve, he’s visited by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley (Alec Guinness) who in order to save Scrooge from a dire afterlife has arranged for three spirits (Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Paddy Stone) to visit him and show him visions of the past, present, and future which may alter his viewpoint and help him to begin to live life in a different way.
Bricusse’s script stays remarkably faithful to the original story, but the genius of it lies in his use of song and dance to enhance the images Scrooge is forced to watch. From Scrooge’s opening soliloquy “I Hate People” to Bob Cratchit’s bittersweet “Christmas Children” sung as he spends his few puny shillings on making the best Christmas that he can for his large family, the songs fit into the story like a glove. The past scenes of his lonely life as a schoolboy, his happy employment as a clerk under Mr. Fezziwig (Laurence Naismith), and his engagement to the enchanting Isabel (Suzanne Neve) all serve up memorable melodies. “A Christmas Carol” (which also serves as the main title music) is a sweet ditty sung by the school children (with strains of “London Bridge” and “Mulberry Bush” cleverly mixed in), but it’s the masterful combination of the jaunty “December the 25th,” “You, You, You,” and the eerily romantic and poignant “Happiness” that really distinguish the first of the visions, and Bricusse segues from one tune to the next with such élan that you’re hardly aware a new tune has begun.
The second vision involving Scrooge’s visits in present time to the homes of his employee and his nephew highlight two completely different tunes. The jocularly sarcastic Christmas Present’s jaunty “I Like Life” and the seriously ill Tiny Tim’s (Richard Beaumont) heartbreaking and ironic “The Beautiful Day,” a song about a hopeful future which he will likely never see, both further weaken Scrooge’s hard heart. Incongruously to some, Scrooge’s funeral in the third vision leads to the movie’s most toe-tapping tune (Oscar and Golden Globe nominated) “Thank You Very Much,” the film’s most elaborate and successful production number. The climactic turning point for Scrooge in “I’ll Begin Again” makes the character’s transformation a truly sentimental and triumphant one.
Filmed on leftover sets from Oliver! at a cost of less than $5 million, Scrooge was one of the few musicals of the period that actually made money. It’s not hard to understand: a timeless classic filmed in color and widescreen for the first time with a pitch perfect cast and fluid direction that never misses a trick. Does the film have flaws? Certainly. “See the Phantoms,” the song for Marley, is rather tuneless and unnecessary, and Bricusse takes Scrooge to hell in a segment that isn’t in the original story and seems there only to give Alec Guinness another scene as the ominous specter. Bricusse also uses the megamix philosophy at the end of the film by reprising many of the songs we’ve heard earlier stretching out the conclusion because he wants the audience to experience once again “I Like Life,” “Father Christmas,” and “Thank You Very Much” (all four verses again but in reverse order from their original presentation), a bit too much of a good thing.
Albert Finney won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor (Comedy/Musical) for his inspiring performance as Scrooge. Intelligently cast because he could play both the young and the old Ebenezer at various points in the story, Finney is a marvel, enhancing his performance by giving a very believable enactment of physical old age with Scrooge’s crooked posture and sometimes stiff fingers and showing off a melodious singing voice even though he sings very much in character throughout. David Collings brings hope and heart to the optimistic Bob Cratchit while Kennth More’s Ghost of Christmas Present is the definitive interpretation. Anton Rodgers gets to strut his stuff showily as Tom Jenkins in all those verses of “Thank You Very Much,” while Suzanne Neve’s lovely Isabel has both a soft, beautiful voice and impressive dramatic moments in the final confrontation with Scrooge where she weighs her merits versus those of his gold. Richard Beaumont’s sweet Tiny Tim has a pale but clear voice to do justice to Bricusse’s treacly tune.
The film’s Panavision aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the VC-1 codec. Though the main titles may led one to believe the transfer will be less than optimum, it’s a delight to report that the transfer is mostly first-rate. There are a few dust specks here and there, but overall, sharpness is excellent, and color saturation is beautifully rich and consistently maintained. This is by far the best Scrooge has ever looked on home video enhanced by deep blacks and excellent shadow detail. The film has been divided into 14 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix does a glorious job with the musical portions of the program. Individual instrumentation in the orchestrations can be easily heard in various channels, and the split channel vocals give the soundstage an impressively broad range. Ambient sounds like ringing bells and swirling wind can also be heard in various front and rear channels though you aren’t going to get the greater sophistication of modern musical soundtracks in this one. Dialogue is also well recorded and appears clearly in the center channel. The LFE channel offers nice bass support for the music, and those thunderous rumbles in the hell sequence also offer some nice opportunities for your subwoofer.
It’s true: the overture which ran about four minutes on the previous DVD release of Scrooge is not present on this disc. The exit music is present placed with a still of the Scrooge main title card from the opening credits.
The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p 1.78:1 and runs for 3 ½ minutes. After seeing its shabby quality, you’ll be even more impressed with the way the main feature looks.
4.5/5 (not an average)
Scrooge is not only a Christmas classic; it’s a film classic that impresses more with each passing year. The Blu-ray release does present a mostly gorgeous picture and glorious lossless sound, and while the lack of real bonus material is regrettable, most fans will be thrilled to be able to add this to their collections.