There are approximately twenty-three zillion versions of and variations on this story available on home video and as TV movies, and every year brings a bunch more. They recreate the classic Charles Dickens story and setting as well as transplant it into modern settings (Scrooged) or implement it using unusual casts (Mickey's Christmas Carol, A Muppet Christmas Carol). It's an annual tradition for many to watch the movie, so Hollywood tries its best to give it to us in a new package (or two or three new packages) every single year.
However, among them all, the 1951 black-and-white version starring Alistaire Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is by far my favorite. It's almost fair to say it's the favorite, seeing as it's still selling and showing on television fifty years after its release and long after color television and CGI special effects have rendered it quaint. My mom watched it on PBS every year when it came on. I bought a tape of it when I had the chance, and now that I'm living on my own, I pop it in whenever the season is right for it. It's one part nostalgia, two parts homage, because no modern version of this story will ever feel as "classic" a Christmas story as this one does.
One thing about the modern movies of this story that's immediately different is the attractiveness of the actors playing Scrooge. Patrick Stewart couldn't help but be lassoed into the role, but he's just too good-looking for the part. Sim makes Scrooge wrinkled, bent, bland, clearly more interested in hoarding his money than in spending it. He's the ugliest Scrooge I've ever seen, and this fact alone turns the story from a seasonal fairy tale into something believable.
There's the script, also. The characters' lines are nearly letter-perfect with Dickens' story throughout the movie (only a few liberties are taken with the ending). And why would you want to mess with Dickens? Sure, the language is a bit archaic, but it's supposed to be a period piece. Let it be archaic, let the accents be thick, let the references be a little obscure. Anything to keep this story from becoming just another myth.
But without a doubt, Alistaire Sim's acting is the key to it all. He howls when he's frightened, he barks when he's angry, he cowers when he's scared, and he hops and dances and sings when he's joyful. Throughout this story Scrooge actually spends more time being terrified of what the spirits are showing him than he does being bitter and miserly toward people around him. And no actor I've seen yet has been able to convey that sense of gibbering, weak-willed, cowardly fear on which Scrooge's life pivots as well as Sim does. It makes his laughter, his giddiness, his generosity, and his surprises at the end so much more effective -- and these, too, Sim does with excellence.
If you're not offended by the idea of watching a movie in black-and-white in this digital day and age, look up this version. Encourage your kids and friends to watch it, but you don't have to force them. Just let it be in the background year after year, telling the original story in its own original way.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
by Charles Dickens
I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book,
to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my
readers out of humour with themselves, with each other,
with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses
pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant,
Stave 1: Marley's Ghost
Stave 2: The First of the Three Spirits
Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits
Stave 4: The Last of the Spirits
Stave 5: The End of It