Archives For Alistair Sims

Here is a “re-post” from last year, “At this festive time of the year…”

There has been some chatter on blogs that I follow that  centers on discussions of the many film versions of Charles Dickens’s novel A Christmas Carol. The networks always feature these films during the holidays. Additionally,  Dickens’s  200th birthday will be celebrated in  2012. A website dedicated to the celebrations marking his birthday is at http://www.dickens2012.org/

Dickens’s association with Christmas is best known through his characterization of Scrooge, a cultural icon whose name conjures visions of a cold-hearted, seemingly unredeemable money-lender.

For many film critics, the best portrayal of Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge was by Alistair Sims in the 1951 version Scrooge (Re-released as A Christmas Carol) filmed at Nettlefold Studios, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England.  Sims, a Scot by birth, was an elocution and drama lecturer at the University of Edinburgh before leaving for the stage as a character actor; his low voice was often described as critics as particularly “ghoulish”.

So why is his portrayal the best?

Watch Sims’s performance in black and white (heavens, not the colorized version!) and see how his Scrooge takes thrift to a new low in a pub where he huddles over a bowl of thin soup:

Ebenezer: Waiter! More bread.
Waiter: Ha’penny extra, sir.
Ebenezer: [pauses] No more bread.

Watch a terrified Sims, wedged protectively into a tufted high-backed chair, challenge the ghost of Jacob Marley who has come to chide Scrooge’s avarice:

Ebenezer: You see that toothpick?
Jacob Marley: I do.
Ebenezer: But you’re not looking at it!
Jacob Marley: Yet I see it, notwithstanding.
Ebenezer: Well, then, I’ll just swallow this and be tortured by a legion of hobgoblins, all of my own creation! It’s all HUMBUG, I tell you, HUMBUG!

Watch Sims, barefoot, shivering, and exceedingly rumpled, stumble out of bed to reluctantly confront the gentle Spirit of Christmas Past:
Ebenezer: Are you the spirit whose coming was foretold to me?
Spirit of Christmas Past: I am.
Ebenezer: Who and what are you?
Spirit of Christmas Past: I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Ebenezer: Long past?
Spirit of Christmas Past: No, your past.
Watch Sims, stunned by the largess celebrating the arrival of the Spirit of Christmas Present, rub his eyes in disbelief:
Spirit of Christmas Present: So! Is your heart still unmoved towards us, then?
Ebenezer: I’m too old and beyond hope! Go and redeem some younger, more promising creature, and leave me to keep Christmas in my own way!

And watch the following two minutes of the most touching moments in the film. Here, a redeemed Scrooge travels to his nephew Fred’s home on a snowy Christmas night. He is greeted by a wide-eyed maid who takes his hat, scarf and coat. Without saying a word, Sims shifts from his characterization of a brusque Scrooge to a Scrooge who is hesitant, filled with trepidation. The ballad of Barbra Allen plays in the background when Sims turns to the maid and pauses for several seconds; she nods to encourage him. A sheepish smile passes his lips as he reluctantly turns and opens the double doors to Fred’s parlour. The party inside immediately stops, all eyes turn to Sims, who with a new found grace and humility charms all with the following apology:

Dickens understood Christmas, and  he brilliantly committed to paper the emotional tug the holiday has on those who celebrate. In The Pickwick Papers, he writes “And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families, whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then reunited, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual goodwill, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight; and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilized nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future condition of existence, provided for the blessed and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!”

Merry Christmas, Charles Dickens. Merry Christmas, Alistair Sims. Thank you for A Christmas Carol and for Scrooge. My holiday favorite, hands down.