12/17/2012 05:47 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2013

A Christmas Carol : Adaptable, Unbreakable

FROM THE BEGINNING, it was a performance piece.

A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843. By February 1844, it had three London stage productions. Charles Dickens himself did 127 readings from it.

There are more than 20 movie versions. The Wikipedia article on adaptions left out the one starring Barbie and the 2012 gay version shot in Chicago. Somewhere in this world there is a mime version starring Marcel Marceau.

Dickens knew what he had in A Christmas Carol, judging by this letter to a friend (where for some reason he refers to himself in the third person):

[He] wept and laughed and wept again, and excited himself in a most extraordinary manner in the composition; and thinking whereof he walked about the black streets of London, 15 and 20 miles many a night when all the sober folks had gone to bed... Its success is most prodigious.

The first printing of the illustrated pocket-sized edition sold out in one day.

Have you read it? Amazon has a free Kindle edition.

The George C. Scott Movie (1984)

The first thing I liked about this movie was the cold, obscuring fog. That is straight from Dickens:

It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal... The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already -- it had not gone light all day -- and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole...

Less faithful versions of this tale are just as powerful and sometimes more entertaining. But this movie made an heroic effort to stay close to the text. It even includes two Christmas Past scenes that rarely make the final cut: Scrooge as a lonely little boy finding friends in his books and Scrooge as an old man looking at the happy home life of Belle, his former fiancee.

There is a scene where a spectral hearse passes silently through the streets of London as Scrooge makes his way home on Christmas Eve. I thought that was an invention, but it is not. Dickens's hearse glided up the stairs in Scrooge's wretched old house, but it is there.


Below are three instances where the movie swung away from the book:

The last scene. Tiny Tim is healed of his lameness. Dickens did not -- repeat, DID NOT -- ever say Tim was cured. He said that Tim did not die.

Scrooge conducting business on Christmas Eve. Scene where he bullies a couple of businessmen into paying a high price for a shipment of corn is a screenwriter's invention.

The ringing bell that announces Marley's ghost. Here the filmmakers one-upped Dickens. Dickens doesn't use that bell to any particular effect. The filmmakers do.

The movie bell is shrouded in cobwebs. It obviously has not rung in years, if ever. Of course not -- Scrooge hates people. That unused bell emphasizes his loneliness.

This clip is long -- about 10 minutes. At 2:24 is the ringing bell:

In a longer version of this blog, you will find out why the 1951 Alastair Sim version was rejected for a Christmas run at Radio City Music Hall. You will learn what story elements were cut for the 1938 Reginald Owen version. You will also learn what Smoking Bishop is and how to make it.

Read it at Home Projectionist.