For some reason, the definitive version for me as a child was the 1984 George C. Scott version. Scott plays Scrooge as someone who seems to enjoy being mean to people. He likes dancing on other people’s joy and belittling their situations. Scott’s Scrooge is bitter and proud, and a bit spiteful. But I think what always made the movie for me was the Marley sequence. It was terrifying.
It still is. Scott sits in the corner, huddled by a small fire. Above the flames, Marley’s tormented visage starts to fade in and out. Then, the bells start to ring. And Scott turns towards a loud thump at the bedroom door. Slowly, the locks come undone and the door swings open. Marley (Frank Finlay) fades in as he marches into Scrooge’s room. He faces Scrooge, unties a bit of cloth around his head and his jaw falls to his chest. Marley is horrifying as he stands there, mouth agape and covered in chains. And his voice is loud and tortured. Every word seems labored. Marley is walking sorrow and regret. And he convinces you that this is no mere figment.
The first ghost is oddly youthful, yet ageless (Angela Pleasence). She takes Ebenezer from past Christmas to past Christmas. Scrooge is defensive at these moments. The Ghost even mocks him a bit cruelly. When she denounces Fezziwig as a silly man, Scrooge (who is caught up in fond memories) defends him to her. You begin to see the cracks in Scrooge’s armor as he goes through each moment. Finally, he can take no more and tries to snuff out the light of the Ghost’s truth. Scrooge is visited next by the host of Christmas Present (of course).
This incarnation (played by Edward Woodward) is boisterous, yet hides an ominous side. He seems to relish every opportunity to use Scrooge’s own words against him. At one point he angrily (yet with a hint of a smile) tells Scrooge that it may be that in Heaven’s eyes he is worth far less than the people who he has no time to help. His words sting both viewer and Ebenezer. Then he leaves Scrooge to wander a lonely part of town.
Then Ebenezer sees the final Ghost. What I find so interesting is that we only get little glimpses of the Ghost of Christmas Future. We see it at a distance (with waves of fine fog cascading across the ground.
The few close ups are from behind or of the Ghost’s almost crippled and deformed hand. Mostly, though, we see the long shadow it casts into the street and doorways. It’s all used to powerful effect. Scott again shows a new side of Scrooge, this time terror and desperation. And even though it never speaks, this ghost has its own moments of cruel mockery. When Scrooge demands to be shown some human emotion in regards to the death of a man (unwilling to accept the truth of who the dead man is), he is brought to a seedy part of town where people jovially mock the deceased why going over goods stolen from the deceased’s home. Even upon seeing his own watch, Scrooge refuses to accept the reality. Only when forced to look upon his own grave does he accept the inevitable. And that’s when Scott’s Scrooge loses it. There is no doubt that he fears all is lost, and the night is a waste. He finds himself at his bedside, praying out loud, begging in tears for another chance. And then morning comes to find Ebenezer still on his knees, but having fallen asleep from exhaustion. Scott is very convincing in his turn to a man of generosity.
He comes across as a man excited to repent of his past and to make up for lost time. His excitement is infectious. One interesting note is that Scott is a departure from the typical Scrooge. Often Scrooge is a frail looking slender man. Scott, on the other hand, is more stout and robust. It’s very effective with his gruff demeanor and slightly gravelly voice.
Throughout the film, Scott bounds between arrogant pride and a fear of the reality that beats back against his coldness. It is a wonderful performance, and a large reason in the end why this remains my favorite and most recommended version of a Christmas Carol.