A’Caroling We Will Go

A Christmas Carol, that is.

Despite my loathing for the forced merriment of the holiday season, I’ve always had a soft spot for Mr. Scrooge. Even if my take on it is probably closer to Burr Shafer’s than what Dickens intended…

There’s also this tweet that seems to be going viral:

Somewhere between those two sentiments, I think, is the clue to my affection for the story. I don’t really care about the Christmas spirit. What I love about it is someone finally convinces a rich asshole to stop being a jerk to everyone.

Scrape away all the Christmas crap and that’s the core of it. Punish a rich jerk and make him understand why he has it coming. That’s the part that speaks to me. The fact that it takes place at Christmas is strictly incidental as far as I’m concerned.

For whatever varying reasons, the story speaks to a lot of people, apparently, because there have been dozens– maybe hundreds– of versions of the story done for film and television. Of course, I don’t think anyone is ever going to top the 1951 classic with Alastair Sim.

No, not even Patrick Stewart or Albert Finney, so don’t start with me, people. (Even those actors, I think, have acknowledged that Sim owns the role.)

What many people don’t know is that Alastair Sim was Scrooge TWICE. In 1971 Chuck Jones produced a magnificent animated version of the story and they got Sim back to voice the character of Scrooge. (The 1951 Jacob Marley, Michael Holdern, is back as well.)

The drawings were based on the original engraved illustrations for the story and the whole thing is just breathtaking. Fun fact — this originally aired on ABC but then it was released theatrically, which made it eligible for the Academy Awards, and it did actually win Best Animated Short Film in 1972. The idea that a TV show could win an Oscar made so many people angry that a rules change was implemented afterward so that a film originally produced for TV was ineligible for an Oscar.

One of the amazing things about A Christmas Carol, apart from its longevity, is its seemingly infinite adaptability. Variations on it have been a staple of movies and television practically as long as there have been movies and television. My favorite ‘updated’ riff on it is probably Bill Murray’s Scrooged.

Mostly because of the genius of recasting Scrooge as a modern-day television studio exec. Who can forget his wonderful idea for a Christmas special, The Night the Reindeer Died?

Never have I ever so wanted a parody to be real. I would watch the HELL out of that special; it would doubtless go on our personal Christmas classic list along with Die Hard and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Bill Murray’s twisted TV exec is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve seen Scrooge recast dozens of different ways; old, young, male, female, Muppet, whatever. Throughout the seventies and eighties, it seemed like every sitcom did their version of A Christmas Carol at least once. Sanford and Son did one, Family Ties did one, The Odd Couple did one, even The Flintstones and The Jetsons did one. Probably my favorite of these is the episode of WKRP In Cincinnati wherein Mr. Carlson hallucinates a version of the story after eating one of Johnny Fever’s ‘special’ brownies.

That’s not the MOST demented version, though. For the weirdest what-the-hell-were-they-smoking mashup between a television series and A Christmas Carol I think we really have to give it up for The Six Million Dollar Man.

In A Bionic Christmas Carol, cyborg secret agent Steve Austin dresses up like Santa Claus and uses his enhanced abilities to show evil government contractor Horton Budge the error of his ways.

It doubtless helped Steve’s cause that Budge was hopped up on cold medicine and higher than a weather balloon the whole time. Budge is played by Ray Walston, which is why the contract Steve’s trying to save is for a Martian exploration project. (Still waiting on the fanfic that explains Budge was a cover identity for Uncle Martin trying once again to get home.)

Also, Steve ends up in the same toy store as his Kenner action-figure self.

That is some black-belt level product placement, there.

Comics and cartoons have gotten in on the action as well. Of those, I think the cleverest is The Real Ghostbusters, where in one episode Peter Venkman and his crew are transported back to Dickens-era London, where they see three ghosts attacking an old guy. So, naturally, they zap all three of the Christmas ghosts haunting Scrooge…

…accidentally ensuring that the old miser never learns his lesson and eventually the world is Scrooged out, with everyone embracing the spirit of Humbug. So of course the Ghostbusters have to fix their mistake.

And we can’t forget the wonderfully insane Teen Titans take on it from the mighty Bob Haney.

“We’ll haunt you out of your grotty mind!” Isn’t that far and away the most badass line the Silver Age Robin ever uttered? Nick Cardy just drew the hell out of that one, too. It’s gorgeous.

There’s also the very odd Batman: Noël.

This one-off special casts Batman as Scrooge and Catwoman, Superman, and the Joker as the three spirits. In its own grimdark Batman way, it’s as endearingly nutty as the Haney/Cardy Teen Titans version.

Because, come on, if you’re going to do a Scrooge story with Batman, he kind of HAS to be the rich asshole, doesn’t he? “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” really is a Batman-esque thing to say when you think about it….

Anyway, those are my favorites. But you should feel free to sound off on all the ones I missed down in the comments.

Back next week with something cool… and a grudging, miserly happy holidays to you all.

18 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    We’ve seen Scrooge recast dozens of different ways; old, young, male, female, Muppet, whatever.

    Point of order: wasn’t Scrooge played by Michael Cain in A Muppet Christmas Carol?

    even The Flintstones and The Jetsons did one.
    … The Flintstones? Who were around before Christ?

    Catwoman, Superman, and the Joker as the three spirits
    … but which was which? (I should know the answer, I’m aware of this story even if I’ve never read it.) Is it in the order you listed them? (I can imagine the Joker as Future… except I can’t imagine him shutting up long enough.)

  2. Greg Burgas

    “The idea that a TV show could win an Oscar made so many people angry that a rules change was implemented afterward so that a film originally produced for TV was ineligible for an Oscar.” So we have A Christmas Carol to blame for the reason The Last Seduction wasn’t eligible for an Academy Award! Dang it!

  3. My favorite straight adaptation of A Christmas Carol is the 1984 TV version starring George C. Scott.

    Aside from the great performers in the cast, one of the great things about it is the way Scott plays Scrooge; his Ebenezer is not a nasty bitter old man. When he says “are there no workhouses,” he thinks he’s hilarious. He perfectly illustrates that it’s possible for somebody to be a funny, charming, gregarious guy while also being a cold-hearted prick.

    https://youtu.be/92befrZYBLE

    1. Scott’s good–doesn’t replace Sims or Finney for me (I like Finney’s Scrooge for deeply personal reasons) but it is good. Shows the time in which it was written (the emphasis on the poor being deserving poor, not the welfare queens Reagan ranted about) but that doesn’t hurt it.
      I enjoy Cecily Tyson’s Ms. Scrooge simply because Tyson does an awesome job as what could have been a hopelessly over-the-top turn (she literally forecloses on a poor family and turns them out into the snow on Christmas eve).

  4. Edo Bosnar

    You’ve already mentioned what is basically picked my favorite ever adaptation of Christmas Carol: Scrooged. I like that one better than all of them, even the ‘straight’ adaptations. It’s simply brilliant. And yes, I would have watched the hell out of “The Night the Reindeer Died,” but also “Robert Goulet’s Old Fashioned Cajun Christmas” and even “Father Loves Beaver” (by the way, the most recent Film & Water podcast covers Scrooged – just listened to it last night).
    And man, I watched Six Million Dollar Man pretty regularly when I was a kid, but I apparently missed the “Bionic Christmas Carol.” I want to see that so bad now.

    One adaptation I remember liking is “An American Christmas Carol,” a made-for-TV movie starring Henry Winkler as the American Scrooge analog (originally aired in 1980 I think). However, the last time I saw that was when it was rerun sometime in the early ’80s, so I’m not sure what I would think of it now.

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      It’s fine, though rather uneven. Winkler overplays the present, old age Slade; but, is much better in the past, as the younger Sade. David Wayne is great and the scenes with the Thatchers, at the end, are good (and at the orphanage).

      My intro was the animated Christmas Carol, which led me to seeing the original Sim performance, after my older cousins showed it to me.

      There is also an animated one from Air Programs International (an Australian studio) that was shown on tv quite a bit (part of the CBS Festival of Family Classics).

  5. No question Sim’s is #1. Trivia note, the rom-com reworking “A Valentine Carol” has the protagonist named “Ally Sims.”
    Scrooged has a lot to like, but I wonder how well it will age — a TV special that involves the Solid Gold Dancer and Mary Lou Retton must seem incomprehensible to millennials.
    Also it has a weak Christmas future: in Dickens, Scrooge’s nightmare future is that he dies alone, and even his burial clothes are stolen away. Murray’s nightmare is … he dies (The Finney version has the darkest: Scrooge listens to his debtors singing “Thank You Very Much” to him, unaware they’re thanking him for dying).
    I like the contemporary “A Karroll Christmas” for such off the wall touches as making Marley’s ghost the ghost of Bob Marley (Jacob, you see, spent time in the West Indies as a lad, and he had descendants …).
    It’s not just that Scrooge is a complete asshole to others — it’s also that he’s made himself completely miserable. Something the capitalist “Scrooge was right” arguments ignore — he’s not hoarding money to make himself happy, he’s making himself unhappy.

    1. Le Messor

      I like the contemporary “A Karroll Christmas” for such off the wall touches as making Marley’s ghost the ghost of Bob Marley
      I forgot to mention above, but my only disappointment with the Muppet version was that they had Jacob and Robert Marley sing a song, and it wasn’t reggae.

      he’s not hoarding money to make himself happy, he’s making himself unhappy.
      Or the irony that maybe he is hoarding money to make himself happy, but he’s still making himself unhappy by doing it.

  6. Kemlo

    Love the piece, but can’t believe you missed the opportunity to point out that Lee Majors of A BIONIC CHRISTMAS CAROL was also the star of THE NIGHT THE REINDEER DIED!

    “It don’t matter a hill of beans what happens to me but the world couldn’t afford it if anything happened to you. Now stay put!”

    The REAL GHOSTBUSTERS version is a favorite of mine too, although it always bothered me that the 3 spirits were in the room at the same time to be busted all at once. That’s not how the story goes!

    Minor nitpick, excellent episode.

  7. heyman

    My favorite is “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol” which is a reverse version of the story. Rowan Atkinson starts out as a nice, generous person who turns into a scoundrel after the ghost shows him how his terrible anscestors and descendants come out ahead. My wife and I watch it every year right before we watch Diehard.

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