I often wonder whether Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is the most adapted novel in the history of the movie scene. Over the years there has been just about every sort of adaptation possible even a musical version with Kelsey Grammer. But Grammer's 2004 version was not the first musical adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" as the 1970 adpatation called "Scrooge" is not only the better known musical version but also one of the more popular versions of the Dickens' story. It is very much the classic tale, barely altered from the original tale and at times a little dark but with the bonus of musical scenes cropping up every once in a while to embellish the story.
Christmas is coming and money lender Ebenezer Scrooge (Albert Finney - The Bourne Ultimatum) is in no mood for celebrating even begrudging his assistant Bob Cratchit (David Collings) Christmas Day off. But having returned home on Christmas Eve Scrooge is visted by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley (Alec Guinness - Doctor Zhivago) who warns him that unless he changes his ways he faces an eternity of misery and to help him change his ways 3 spirits will be paying him a visit. Initially sceptical Scrooge is shown the past, present and future thanks to his 3 spectral visitors, but will he change his ways or will he stay a curmudgeounly old miser, loathed by many.
Now there have been so many versions of "A Christmas Carol" over the years and it can be difficult to know what has come from Dickens' story and what has been added or changed in adaptation. But from what I know "Scrooge" stays very close to Charles Dickens original with the most noticable difference being that the woman a young Scrooge fell in love with is here Mr. Fezziwig's daughter. Aside from that the storyline is as you would expect delivering what has been the basis of movies both prior to this 1970 version and those which have come after.
But one thing which does grab you, especially if you've only seen the more recent versions, is that not only is "Scrooge" a more classical, serious production it is also darker. Whilst not scary there are elements such as the face of the Ghost of Christmas Future and a scene with phantoms flying through the skies where it takes you by surprise. But whilst classical and more serious it still manages to capture that spirit of joy and awakening as we watch Scrooge transform from a miser into joy giver.
But the real point of "Scrooge" is that it is a musical adaptation but one where unlike the more recent version use the musical element as an embellishment rather than the main focus. As such for the most "Scrooge" comes across as just another adaptation but then you get the joy of Albert Finney singing "I Hate People", Kenneth More singing "I Like Life" and Anton Rodgers singing the wonderful "Thank You Very Much". But what is so good about these musical numbers is that whilst they provide an injection of pace they all aid in telling the story and fit in with the classical styling of the story. Even the big song and dance scenes, so to speak, feel right and have an almost "Oliver" quality to them.
As for the performances they're all enjoyable be it Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley's Ghost or David Collings as Bob Cratchit. But of course central to "Scrooge" is Albert Finney as are favourite curmudgeon Ebenezer and he leads the movie brilliantly. When the focus is on the story telling Finney, who was only in his 30s when he made this, delivers the miserly nature of Scrooge perfectly restraining it so that he never becomes a pantomime character. But he also gets this across in his musical numbers and takes us on the journey of transformation building Scrooge into this jovial character by the time the movie wraps up.
What this all boils down to is that "Scrooge" is a very good version of "A Christmas Carol" and is still for me the best musical version. It gets the blend spot on so that we have the story which is then embelished by a musical scene. And rather than allowing the music to make the movie too jovial there is a darkness to it as well and is very different to more recent versions of the story, with its classical feel.