A CHRISTMAS CAROL [1951 / 2011] [60th Anniversary Diamond Edition] [Blu-ray + DVD] [USA Release] The Holiday Picture of All Time! Charles Dickens’ Joyous Classic!

Alastair Sim's tour-de-force performance as the ultimate miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, has almost single-handedly made this beloved version of Charles Dickens' story into one of the best-loved Christmas films of all time. Some of Britain's best filmmakers united behind Alastair Sim, who was joined by a delightful cast of accomplished and acclaimed English actors; creating what many today believe to be the best and most faithful production of Charles Dickens' immortal tale.

Cranky and curmudgeonly Scrooge learns the error of his unkind ways and is taught the true meaning of the festive holiday spirit, when he is visited by the ghost of his late business partner Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future. Peter Bull serves as narrator, by reading portions of Charles Dickens' words at the beginning and end of the film; he also appears on-screen as one of the businessmen cynically discussing Scrooge's funeral.

FILM FACT: The film was released in Great Britain under its original title, ‘Scrooge’ [1951]. United Artists handled the U.S.A. release under the title ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ and the film was originally slated to be shown at New York City's Radio City Music Hall as part of their Christmas attraction. However, the theatre management thought the film was too grim and sombre and did not possess enough family entertainment value to warrant an engagement at the Music Hall, in contrast to the 1938 ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which did premiere at Radio City. Instead, the 1951 film premiered at the Guild Theatre (near the Music Hall, and not to be confused with the Guild Theatre which showcased plays) on Halloween night, 1951. The U.S.A reviews were mixed and the film was a box office disappointment. However it was one of the most popular films in Britain in 1952 and has been shown regular on British Television every Christmas, which is now a very British tradition.

Cast: Peter Bull (First Businessman / Narrator), Alastair Sim, Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley, Michael Hordern, George Cole, John Charlesworth, Francis De Wolff (Spirit of Christmas Present), Rona Anderson, Carol Marsh, Brian Worth, Miles Malleson, Ernest Thesiger, Glyn Dearman, Michael Dolan (Spirit of Christmas Past), Olga Edwardes, Roddy Hughes, Hattie Jacques, Eleanor Summerfield, Louise Hampton, Czeslaw Konarski (Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come), Eliot Makeham, Douglas Muir, Noel Howlett, Fred Johnson, Henry Hewitt, Hugh Dempster, David Hannaford, Maire O'Neill, Richard Pearson, Patrick MacNee, Clifford Mollison, Jack Warner, Theresa Derrington, Vi Kaley (uncredited), Moiya Kelly (uncredited), Lualle Kemp (uncredited), Catherine Leach (uncredited), Derek Stephens (uncredited), Tony Wager (uncredited) and Ian Wilson (uncredited)

Director: Brian Desmond Hurst

Producers: Brian Desmond Hurst and Stanley Haynes (uncredited) 

Screenplay: Charles Dickens (adapted from "A Christmas Carol") and Noel Langley (adaptation/screenplay)  

Composer: Richard Addinsell

Cinematography: C.M. Pennington-Richards (Director of Photography)

Image Resolution: 1080p (Black-and-White)

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Audio: English: 5.1 Surround Sound
English: 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio

Subtitles: English and Spanish

Running Time: 86 minutes

Region: All Regions

Number of discs: 2

Studio: Renown Pictures / VCI Entertainment

Andrew's Blu-ray Review: Over the course of film history, few literary characters have been resurrected more often than Charles Dickens' legendary miser and Christmas killjoy, Ebenezer Scrooge. Several esteemed actors, from Reginald Owen and Albert Finney to George C. Scott and Michael Caine, have barked at Bob Cratchit, growled “humbug,” and giddily danced a jig and all with a fair degree of relish. Yet one Scrooge consistently stands apart from the pack. Alastair Sim never achieved much renown in America, but in Britain he was a very big deal, a deft character actor with a basset hound face, a mellifluous voice, and a gallery of bemused expressions. Alastair Sim enlivened many a dreary feature, and if a vote were ever taken to crown the quintessential Ebenezer Scrooge, Alastair Sim would surely win. His take on the crusty curmudgeon who's transformed by three ghosts into a benevolent softie one cold Christmas Eve in Victorian London remains iconic, and the version of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ [1951] is required viewing for countless families each holiday season.

Americans especially revere Charles Dickens' time-honoured tale, but it's no surprise the most engaging adaptation of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ comes from its native England. There's just something about this 1951 version that screams authenticity. Yes, liberties were taken with the original novel, but the mood, atmosphere, and characterizations remain a cut above other films. Noel Langley, one of the writers of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ fashions a tight screenplay, and director Brian Desmond Hurst combines whimsy and melancholy with a hint of creepiness that honours the yarn's ghost story roots. The black-and-white photography enhances the darker elements of the story, adding welcome tension, and the production design exudes a distinctly British look and feel that help immerse us in mid-19th century London.

A wealthy yet bitter man, who would rather count his money than his blessings, Ebenezer Scrooge retires to his stark, run-down flat on Christmas Eve, seven years to the day after his unscrupulous business partner, Jacob Marley [Michael Hordern], passed away. A paranormal disturbance, however, in the form of Jacob Marley's chain-laden ghost, interrupts his tranquil evening. The celestial Marley warns Scrooge that unless he alters his selfish and greedy ways, he is doomed to endure a similar restless, tortured afterlife. The only way Scrooge can possibly prevent such a horrible fate is to meet with three spirits, who will try to humanise the irascible miser by revisiting his troubled past, looking at his unhappy present, and pondering his uncertain future.

All the character actors who portray the supporting parts are perfectly cast, right down to arguably the least annoying and saccharine Tiny Tim [Glyn Dearman] in any version of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ Yet despite their excellent work, they can't compete with Alastair Sim. His Ebenezer Scrooge resonates so strongly because he's always disarmingly real. A palpable sadness and air of regret seem to swirl just beneath the surface of his scowls and sneers, so we sense his vulnerability and root for him much sooner, and his ultimate transformation seems more believable because, deep down, it seems to be something Scrooge sincerely craves.

Brian Desmond Hurst's film employs some rudimentary special effects and adopts a darker tone than most, but relies on good old-fashioned storytelling and top-flight acting to put over this beloved yuletide tale. If you crave flash, music, the Muppets, or in 3D, there are plenty of other adaptations of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ to tickle your fancy, but if you like your Charles Dickens neat, with no frills or embellishments and lots of heart and substance, then this 1951 production is the one for you...and will be for many Christmas’s to come.

‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ is a treasure of spirit and good will with which any holiday season is incomplete. Alastair Sim plays Ebenezer Scrooge so magnificently his performance has become the standard by which all other Scrooges are compared. It's hard to believe now that the film had such a slow start, such an uneven and unheralded journey on its way to becoming a classic. But it did become a classic and for that we can be thankful, forever and without condition. The spirits of Christmas Past, Present and the Future, gave Scrooge the gift of redemption. This 1951 ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ gives the gift of entertainment, laughter and joy to all of us. God bless to one and all, and especially to everyone!

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Blu-ray Image Quality – At first glance, the 1080p image transfer for this 60th Anniversary Diamond Edition of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ doesn't look much different than the one  on the 2009 Blu-ray, but upon closer inspection I'd have to say it makes a few subtle improvements. Clarity is ever-so-slightly enhanced and contrast appears a bit more pronounced, lending the image more vibrancy. Black levels are superb, with marvellous shadow delineation emphasizing the film noir feel of many scenes. The snowy whites also hold up well, maintaining their texture in varying degrees of light. Not surprisingly, grain is fairly pronounced, but seems similar to the previous version; some scenes exhibit more than others, but it never overwhelms the picture. Close-ups are quite nice, often highlighting Alastair Sim's large, expressive eyes, and background elements exude a fair degree of detail. If you're thinking of upgrading your copy of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ based solely on image quality, I'd say it isn't worth it. The enhancements aren't notable enough to merit the expense. But when coupled with the new audio and supplements (both described below), trading in your old copy for this new edition makes good sense. This Blu-ray edition has been digitally restored from a new 1080p encoded image at 24fps high definition transfer master produced from the 35mm negative and fine grain.

Blu-ray Audio Quality – VCI Entertainment puts out some great films on home video, but the company needs some better quality control when it comes to advertising the contents of its discs. Aside from the plethora of new supplements, described below. Unfortunately, the audio options on this Blu-ray are not up to the standards set by the generally excellent image quality. The Two Digital mixes are included, the 5.1 Surround Sound and the 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio. Both choices sadly leave quite a bit to be desired. I frankly couldn't stand listening to the 5.1 sound audio mix for very long, as it is saddled with such bad chorusing and reverb that I personally found it unlistenable, that is why I have informed you above that it is best to set your amplifier to Stereo. That same chorusing effect is still apparent, though less bothersome in the original mono track. The original track, while not egregiously damaged, has noticeable hiss and an overall boxy sound that is evident throughout both dialogue and underscore, though that problem is widely variable. For instance, the opening bass-heavy brass music sounds pretty acceptable, but then the first patch of dialogue has an over- reverbed sound. That use of reverb is similarly variable, and seems to abate once the film moves into its more intimate, interior sections. The 5.1 mix manages a few ambient surround moments, notably some of the music and Foley effects during the Spirits' appearances, but there are really no “wow” moments in the surround repurposing.

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Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:

Special Feature: Introduction by Leonard Maltin [2011] [1080i] [1.78:1] [5:06] Leonard Maltin talks about what an impression this film made on him as a child, and also gives some background on the film. A word of warning, in the menu it says that it is in 5.1 Surround Audio, well do not have your amplifier set this way, as you must have it as Stereo, as in the 5.1 Surround Sound Audio, you get a terrible echo sensation and is very off putting.

Audio Commentary by Marcus Hearn and George Cole: Without a doubt, the most disappointing aspect of this disc is the 2005 audio commentary by Marcus Hearn and George Cole, who plays the young Ebenezer Scrooge in the film. One would think George Cole would have lots to impart about the film's production and its cast, but amazingly, only about a quarter of the discussion has anything at all to do with ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’and the rest focuses on George Cole's career before and after the film, other British actors with whom he worked, random thoughts about Alastair Sim, and observations about making films in general. We do learn that the film ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ was shot in the summer and many scenes were modelled after illustrations from the original book, and that the film received mixed reviews upon its initial release. George Cole talks about his close personal relationship with Alastair Sim, and how the actor mentored him, and calls director Brian Desmond Hurst “very flamboyant.” More scene specific remarks would have been welcome, as well as biographical information about the cast, and facts about Charles Dickens and the original novel. This very shoddy effort left me wondering... Why bother to have an audio commentary at all if the participants are going to largely ignore the film they've been enlisted to discuss? No one with any interest in ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ should waste their time listening to this rambling, unfocused mess.

Special Feature: Dead to Begin With: The Darker Side of a Classic [2011] [1080p] [1.78:1] [26:31] British Film Culturist Sir Christopher Frayling offers an extensive examination of the film and how it ties into the turbulence afflicting post-war Britain at the time of its initial release. He talks about, among other things, the underrated work of director Hurst, the versatility of Alastair Sim, the importance of seasoned character actors to make Charles Dickens' novels come alive, the ominous music score, and rudimentary special effects. Sir Christopher Frayling believes this is a darker telling of the tale than most adaptations and also more adult and substantive. Clips from other film versions of 'A Christmas Carol' from the silent era onward enhance this absorbing and comprehensive piece that's well worth a look. In fact, this featurette is so good, it begs the question... Why wasn't Sir Christopher Frayling asked to do the audio commentary instead? At around 26:31, we learn far more about the film ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ than the audio commentary tells us in triple the amount of time!

Special Feature: Scrooge by Another Name: ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ [2011] [1080p] [1/78:1] [9:47] Film distributor  Richard Gordon reminisces about financing and marketing 'A Christmas Carol,' and how producer George Minter set out to make the definitive version of Charles Dickens' classic. Because the film ended up darker and more serious than other adaptations, it was more difficult to distribute in the U.S.A, which sought more family-oriented fare during the holiday season.

Special Feature: The Human Blarney Stone: The Life and Films of Brian Desmond Hurst [2011] [1080p] [1.78:1] [41:14] Allan Esler Smith, the great-great nephew and biographer of Brian Desmond Hurst, chronicles the life and career of the underrated and largely underappreciated director of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ in this reverent documentary. More film clips illustrating Brian Desmond Hurst's work would have been nice, along with more personal details, but the piece succeeds in shedding light on a figure who accomplished much more than directing a renowned holiday film. The documentary is low budget but it's especially worthy to see his nephew who is in charge of his estate as he displays memorabilia of the director's life from Hollywood to London. Hurst is one of the four directors with a blue plaque and he lived to be 91 years old. Every year around this time, his classic film, ‘Scrooge,’ is shown around the world. It was only a part of his legacy to the film industry but perhaps his most famous and that is worth it in watching for itself. While there are no interviews with other surviving members, it is worth noting that it's mostly a narrative biography.

Special Feature: Alastair Sim Version: Too Good to Be Shown Only at Christmas [2011] [1080p] [1.78:1] [32:00] Fred Guida, author of “A Christmas Carol and Its Adaptations,” provides an insightful and absorbing audio lecture accompanied by film clips and stills from a wealth of Charles Dickens films. Again, much more interesting and informative than the audio commentary, this piece covers the Charles Dickens renaissance that began with David Lean's ‘Great Expectations,’ and adaptations of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ from other countries, the complex character of Scrooge and how this film meticulously reflects it, how the screenplay altered and embellished various scenes from the original novel, the contributions of the fine supporting cast, and quotes both positive and negative reviews of the picture. Fans of this version definitely don't want to miss this enlightening feature.

Special Feature: Scrooge [Silent] [1922] [1080p] [1.37:1] [10:17] This surprisingly entertaining, albeit a very brief silent version of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ was produced in 1922, but not shown in the U.S.A until 1929. Henry Vernon Esmond portrays Ebenezer Scrooge, and the lively film efficiently hits all of the story's high points. Video quality is pretty good for a 90-year-old antique film.

Special Feature: Bleak House [Silent] [1922] [1080p] [1.37:1] [10:14] Dame Sybil Thorndike stars as Lady Dedlock in this is a very truncated 1922 adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel. The acting and filming styles recall the old melodramas of yore, but this is still a fun curio that's worth checking out.

Special Feature: Scrooge Revisited [2011] [1080p] [1.78:1] [2:00] This short piece looks at some of the actual London locations where ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ was shot, and shows how they look today.

Theatrical Trailers [1951] [1080p] [1.37:1] [4:00] Both the Original  British and American Trailers are included. Each runs about 2 minutes, and it's interesting to note the differences between them, most notably that the American Trailer continually emphasises the film's festive and joyous aspects, while the British Trailer provides a more balanced look at the movie. One thing that I thought was bad is the original British trailer; I feel they should have spent some money in upgrading this, especially as it is such a Classic British Film.

Special Feature: Campbell Playhouse: A Christmas Carol [Audio only] [59:22] Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, one of America's fondest holiday traditions was the annual Christmas Eve radio broadcast of “A Christmas Carol,” starring actor Lionel Barrymore as Ebenezer Scrooge. (John Barrymore was scheduled to reprise his popular role in M-G-M's 1938 film version, but an injury forced him to bow out, paving the way for Reginald Owen to portray Scrooge.) Here we have the rare opportunity to enjoy one of Barrymore's signature broadcasts, with a young, pre 'Citizen Kane' Orson Welles as narrator. This very faithful adaptation originally aired on the 24th December, 1939, and is well-acted, atmospheric, and quite involving. Just listening to the distinctive voices of Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles is a treat!

Special Feature: Bibliographic Essay by Fred Guida [15:08] This feature appears on the accompanying DVD. The voice of Fred Guida returns to recommend a litany of books, websites, and videos that focus on Charles Dickens' life and ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ A number of biographies are listed, as well as special collectible editions of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL,’ critical analyses of the story and Charles Dickens’ other work. For any serious Charles Dickens fan, this is an invaluable reference.

Finally, when I first heard about the re-release of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ a mere two years after its first Blu-ray release, I'm pleased to report that this 60th Anniversary Diamond Edition is a big step up from its 2009 counterpart. Improvements include slightly better video and audio track, and a cavalcade of well-produced, substantive extras. The film itself, of course, remains a timeless classic and endearing, inspiring, festive, and just dark enough to add sufficient impact to its themes of redemption and renewal. There never was and never will be a better Scrooge than Alastair Sim and this excellent production showcases his iconic performance to perfection. So throw away that old Blu-ray and pick up this much-improved anniversary edition that's a fitting tribute to one of the world's finest festive holiday films. I have of course found this the ultimate version and I am now so proud to add this to my Blu-ray Collection, as Alistair Sim is again totally perfect as the Ebenezer Scrooge character. The only down side to this excellent Blu-ray, is that with the Region 2 DVD I had in my Collection, you had samples of the colorization they did to the film and it was totally brilliant and such a shame this could not of been included with this Blu-ray disc, but luckily with this Blu-ray you do get a small glimpse of what it looked like in colour. Highly Recommended!

Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado
Le Cinema Paradiso
United Kingdom 

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