A Christmas Carol – 5 Ghosts of Christmas Past

Posted by: Shel 19 Comments

A Christmas Carol - 5 Ghosts of Christmas Past

Some people collect stamps. Some people collect art. My husband and me? We collect movie versions of A Christmas Carol. You knew there was more than one, right? We have them in black and white, technicolor, animated, satired, new, old, musical – we’re always on the lookout for one we haven’t seen before.

Just in case you’re the one person in the world who is not familiar with A Christmas Carol, let me give you a quick introduction to this classic. Charles Dickens’ novella was first published in London in 1843. It’s the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old man that cares about nothing but money. He has some ghostly visitors one Christmas Eve that show him his past, the present, and shadows of the future. The impact they had on Scrooge was life-changing. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you in case you really haven’t seen it, but let’s just say his transformation will put a smile on  your face. OK – so I gave a little hint about how it ends – but it’s really the stuff in the middle that’s so captivating. When done well, that is.

The story has never gone out of print, and the movies keep getting made. Henry Winkler, Kelsey Grammer, Patrick Stewart (yes, from Star Trek) and George C. Scott are just a few of the big names that have taken on the iconic role of Scrooge. Here are five versions that merit discussion.

Scrooge, 1951 with Alastair Sim in the title role. This version is considered a classic – in spite of the fact that it took some liberties with the original A Christmas Carol - 5 Ghosts of Christmas Past text. One of the reasons I like this version is because  some of the familiar backstory we see in most versions has new facts tossed in and expanded roles of some characters. It’s a little more fleshed out than some of the earlier editions. While it was released in color in 1989, I’m still clinging to our black and white VCR copy. (Don’t snicker – there’s no shame in still having a working VCR, people!)

A Christmas Carol - 5 Ghosts of Christmas Past Scrooged, 1988 with Bill Murray. You know when you see the name Bill Murray we’re dealing with a comedy. While I found Carol Kane obnoxious and shrill in the role of Christmas present (similar to the character she played in the TV show Taxi prior), I found the fresh spin of this classic-turned-love-story and Murray’s zany wit a lot of fun.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol, 2009 with Jim Carrey as the voice of A Christmas Carol - 5 Ghosts of Christmas Past 2009Scrooge. This computer-animated version can’t be beat for special effects. It combines humor with the drama. Even if you don’t have the 3-D version, you feel like you’re right there in some of the scenes. While I’m not generally much a cartoon fan, I think this is a must-watch!

A Christmas Carol, 1938 with A Christmas Carol - 5 Ghosts of Christmas Past Reginald Owen. We just watched this version for the fist time recently and it’s one of our new favorites. It’s well-done, has a joyous vibe to it, and some nice surprises. Like the Lockhart family roles (remember June Lockhart – the mom in Lassie? Well, she’s just a kid in this movie!) The DVD we have has some fun extra features such as a cartoon that takes you back in time, the original movie trailer, and a vignette called Jackie Cooper’s Birthday Party which included the big-name stars from that era.

 A Christmas Carol, 1954 with Basil Rathbone. Here’s one you can SKIP! We excitedly sat down to watch this version a christmas carol badwhich stated in the cover description (in reference to the character who played the ghost of Scrooge’s partner) “many consider this to be the best and most chilling portrayal of Marley ever.” The only chills we got were the nails-scraping-the-chalkboard type with all that high-pitched singing. In addition to the seemingly unrelated songs that would not stop, the ghost of  Christmas Present came across as a morph of Will Ferrell and Jethro Bodine. I know – you’re probably wondering what I really thought of it!



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  • Shel it is a great story and I use to love the Bill Murray version when I was younger. The kids enjoy the more recent one. I have memories of waiting for all the great christmas movies to come on the TV, we did not even have a video when I was real young. Those memories of the family sitting together watching one of these classics makes me smile Thank you.

    • Shel Harrington

      There was something special about the times when we anticipated the movies then family-watched – because we only got one shot at it! Playing them over and over on a loop – as some cable stations do – dims the sparkle a bit. Merry Christmas, Kath!

  • I confess, I’ve only seen the 1951 version. I’ve never been big on remakes and this one is perfect for me. My favorite Christmas movie is White Christmas. I’ve already watched it three times this season. 🙂

    • Shel Harrington

      WHAT? Only one version?? You know that the 1951 option IS a remake, right? I’m pretty sure you’d like that 1938 one, too, Jill. I was waaaaaaaay behind the curve on Christmas movies – I never saw either White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life until I was well into my 30s. But I’ve made up for lost time with both!

  • I have to agree with Rebekah about the Patrick Stewart version, Shel, but I’ll be friends with you anyway. 😉
    Two years in a row in the early 90s I was one of the judges for Colorado-created teen-written one-act plays on the past, present or future lessons of Christmas. I could only do it for two years, but even so it almost ruined my love of the real play to read and watch performances of 40-50 plays each year.

    • Shel Harrington

      Thank you so much, Marylin – I don’t know WHAT I was thinking not covering that celebrated version! So glad you’re not holding it against me – permanently. 40-50 plays two years in a row?? Hmmmm – I wonder if overdoing-it-ruins-the-desire thing would work on chocolate usage. In case we don’t connect next week, Merry Christmas!

  • My all-time favorite Scrooge is the one portrayed by George C. Scott. Back in the eighties–before Christmas was banned in the public schools–I would show that version to my high school classes. I had one class that broke out in applause at the end of it!
    I’m going to put that Jim Carrey version on my “to be watched” list. Oh, and…Merry Christmas!

    • Shel Harrington

      That was a good one, Dee Dee. Between leaving out a summary on his version (which I think had the most opulent, joyous, yet dramatic Christmas Present) and the Patrick Stewart version, I may need a Part 2! I’ll miss you at the tea – Merry Christmas, my friend!

    • I loved the George C. Scott version, too, Dee Dee. It was the first one I ever saw, and will always be the “definitive” version for me.

  • I’ve been wanting to see the Patrick Stewart version for years. I have such a crush on him, and I think he’d be a perfect Scrooge!
    And who could forget “How the Grinch Stole Christmas?” Same story in a different package.

    • Shel Harrington

      He IS a good Scrooge, Maria – I got more than one indignant note about not including a summary of that version in the lineup! Thanks for the Grinch reminder! Merry Christmas!

  • Gosh I’m way behind the ball game here! The only one I’m familiar with is the Alistair Sim version – which I loved and am a bit afraid to watch again as I don’t want my bubble burst. I used to love him and saw as many of his movies as possible when I was [VERY] young back in the days of B&W TV.

    I need to track down the Patrick Stewart version as I am quite fond of him too 🙂 My daughter loves Bill Murray and watches it pretty much annually. I need to get me the Jim Carrey and Reginald Owen [whom I have never heard of previously] versions too, but will give Basil Rathbone a miss. 🙂

    • Shel Harrington

      One more to add, Pauline – the George C. Scott version. Now THAT should keep you busy for the next holiday or two!! In spite of your proclamation elsewhere that Christmas was cancelled, I say a hearty MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, Pauline, and the happiest of New Years!! Please know that you have brightened my 2014!

  • Shel, as usual your blogs are refreshing and this one is certainly no exception. I must admit (shamefully) the only one I’ve seen is the original old version. But we’re going to fix that this weekend. I’ve never been a fan of Jim Carrey. Please folks, don’t send hate mail. He makes me nervous.

    But I love Bill Murray (been a fan since Ghost Busters – hearing the music in my head right now). However, I think we’ll look for the 1951 version with Alastair Sim.

    No more blogs for me today, baking season begins at the Gates household. The oven is already warming…and may go on forever.

    FYI… had the most wonderful idea from a friend last year. I love antique glass and have spent two weeks shopping for just the right pieces for friends. Today I will fill them with everything from bundt cakes to cookies.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Shel Harrington

      Mmmmm – I knew I smelled something good, DiAne! Glad you’re expanding your A Christmas Carol experience. There’s so many good versions out there. As other friends pointed out, I have been derelict in my duties by not mentioning the Patrick Stewart or George C. Scott versions – maybe a “Part 2” is needed! I haven’t seen the Murray version in years – I probably should have viewed more recently to check out the too-cheesy factor (do you feel the disclaimer here??).

      I love the idea of antique-glass-filled goodies. You can’t beat beautiful AND yummy for the perfect gift combo!! Merry Christmas, DiAne!

  • I don’t know, Shel, I may not be able to be friends with you anymore…

    The hands-down best version of A Christmas Carol is the one made in 2000 with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. It’s pretty much perfect.

    If you haven’t seen it, you really need to fix that travesty.

    Otherwise… coming in at a close 2nd is the live stage-production of it that they do at Silver Dollar City. My husband and I were able to see it several years ago (and have been trying to find a way to go back for Christmas at SDC ever since, but it just hasn’t happened), and even my bah-humbug husband enjoyed it!

    • Shel Harrington

      Sincere apologies for not including the Stewart version, Rebekah. I have that version, but haven’t seen it in a couple of years so it wasn’t fresh in my mind. We rotate through the collection watching 2-3 a year. This year I wasted one of my efforts on #5. But please notice, I didn’t call this the best versions of the classic – just five worth talking about. I think I need a “Part 2” to cover the Stewart and G.C.Scott movies!

      • I’ve only seen the Stewart version twice, and I think I finally convinced hubby that we needed to own it, so I’m 99{2303b849a176fc4c55cbcb5b49f44c0b6a86ba83e746fb3d962701d1b8d54085} sure it’s going to be under the tree Christmas morning.

        I think I saw part of the Basil Rathbone one, once many years ago, and was not impressed, even as a youngster.

        I want to see the 2009 one, too, though. CG fascinates me, and the possibilities for it with A Christmas Carol are certainly endless!

        • Shel Harrington

          It’s always fun to get something like that as a gift – watching it together seems like an extension of the gift itself! Merry Christmas!

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