Based on the acclaimed author Charles Dickens' book from the 19th century (1843 to be exact), this is just one of several adaptations of what is perhaps the greatest Christmas story of all time. And while many gravitate towards the Muppets' version of the tale (and don't get me wrong, I absolutely love that version too), I will forever and always claim the 1951 version of the story, also well-known as simply 'Scrooge', as, by far, the best version of the classic story apart from the book itself... which is actually a bit of a chore, if I'm being honest.
Unless you've been spending a lot of time under a rock, chances are you've seen some version of this and, therefore, know the basic story. But since I have a whole review to write, let me just give my audience a brief synopsis. Ebeneezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim) is a greedy old miser of a man with no Christmas spirit. He treats the poor with little to no respect and is rather ignorant of the concepts of family and friends and loved ones visiting over the holidays. He has a cold numbness towards it all, often being quite harsh about it.
One Christmas Eve, Scrooge returns home from a meal to find the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern), who was just as miserly and miserable as Scrooge was in his life, haunting his home. Having passed seven years ago that night, Marley has since been constructing and linking heavy chains as punishment for his life's wrong-doings, and he warns Scrooge that he must change his ways or suffer the same fate. To achieve his salvation, Scrooge is to be visited throughout the night by the ghosts of Christmas Past (Michael Dolan), Christmas Present (Francis De Wolff), and Christmas Yet to Come (Czeslaw Konarski).
This movie is still quite an amazing film by today's standards as far as good storytelling, a likeable cast of characters, and I might even argue a few of the effects which mostly include the transparency of the spirits against some backdrops and set pieces that really set the mood the film is going for at any given time. But what really sells this movie above everything else is Sim's portrayal of Scrooge. This man's range is remarkable, and I hate to say it, but I find that he's more impressive than many big-time recognizable actors from a more present time, like Michael Cain or Patrick Stewart in the same role.
The big stand-out performance considering Sim's range is what I like to call "the morning after scene." I would consider this a spoiler that is no longer a spoiler, considering the story's overall fame, but this is the scene when Scrooge has learned his lesson and does a complete 180 in his behaviour, becoming pleasant, cheerful and charitable as a result of his visit. Not only will he make you laugh out loud with his behaviour, but he may even bring tears of joy. He sincerely sells how much he has been changed, and it leaves one with the warmest of feelings deep down inside.
There have been so many remakes of this story; it's kind of insane. But to this day, I still claim this version to be the Golden Standard for the story's adaptation, and that's for several different reasons, not the least of which is the "morning after" scene that I just described. The film's music, contrasting acting, and moody sets give it a classic feeling and take us back to the time and place the story was written, the 1840s in London, England. It strikes me as a Christmas movie one should watch next to a roaring fireplace with all the lights off.
As far as the classics go, this one should be on everyone's list who prefers the classics to anything present-day. I also think this is a version of the story that everyone needs to see if they haven't. It may feel dull at points, but stay focused on Scrooge's progression and enjoy Sim's portrayal, and it will all come together in the end. It's one that hits every emotion, and in the end, a Christmas movie so beautifully done that leaves you with a warmth I could only compare to 'Wonderful Life'.