SCROOGE took the porridge spillover from the critical and box-office success enjoyed two years earlier by Oliver! and ladled up another Dickens adaptation as a musical. This time out, though money was made ($9,100,000, 37th place in 1970), triumph was muted. Partially that’s because the Ebenezer Scrooge of “A Christmas Carol” is too grating a character to kick up heels over, at least in Albert Finney’s hammy, tasking interpretation, but more because the be-thankful-or-be-damned message sags under one of the least memorable slates of songs from the era. They were written by Leslie Bricusse, who also did the screenplay, and while some of them boast undeniably clever lyrics, none pass sing-along scrutiny, let alone the crucial hum-test. *
As for the script itself, if you’re not familiar with the plot, what, you’ve never heard of Christmas? Some of the sets created for (the greatly superior) Oliver! were refigured and costumers sewed and stitched to suit. The team managed four Oscar nominations—Art Direction, Costume Design, Song Score, and Song (“Thank You Very Much”), but these nods all fall into the Academy’s perfunctory pile.
Critics divide over whether Finney’s hunched-up nasal attack on the title role was inspired or insipid. From this corner of the hovel, it starts at harsh and mostly stays there, with just a few slices of relief in the second half. Luckily, charity arrives via supporting work from Alec Guinness (being odder than usual), Edith Evans (eating syllables like crumpets) and especially Kenneth More, fine and gusty beneath beard and wardrobe.
Directed by Ronald Neame, whose credits range from distinguished (Tunes Of Glory) to disastrous (Meteor), it falls in the middle ground: decent, dutiful, dull. The overall effect is forced, the whimsy frantic and hollow, though there are some individual scenes and moments that work: Finney, easing off the throttle a bit, is touching when showing Scrooge’s regret over a lost love, and the descent-into-purgatory sequence is neat, kudos to the art direction contingent.
With David Collings, Michael Medwin, Laurence Naismith, Gordon Jackson, Kay Walsh, Roy Kennear. 118 minutes.
* Quick, name a really good—or halfway good—song from The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Half A Sixpence, Star!, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Darling Lili, The Happiest Millionaire, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, or any Elvis flick after Viva Las Vegas. Times up: you lose. Put a farthing in the cap and be gone to your chimney sweeping.
** Certainly Bricusse (all hail “Goldfinger”), Finney, Neame and company gave it the “Over-the-top, lads!” go, but the Queen, her consorts and we crumb-subsisting commoners are better off with Alistair Sim and 1951’s A Christmas Carol (still the go-to version) or the 1984 made-for-TV version with George C. Scott.