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From the earliest days of the silent era up to the present, Charles Dickens's timeless story A Christmas Carol has been adapted to film, television, and stage many dozens of times. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who learns to change his ways and value the true meaning of Christmas through a series of ghostly visitations, has been played by a number of actors throughout the world, including Reginald Owen, Kelsey Grammer, George C. Scott, and Alastair Sim, who appears in probably the best known version from 1951, seen frequently on TV during the holidays. Scrooge has also been portrayed in animation by the cartoon characters Mr. Magoo, Fred Flintstone and (to be released in 2009) the voice of Jim Carrey; opposite the Muppets by Michael Caine; and in more loosely adapted versions by Bill Murray, Cicely Tyson, and Vanessa Williams.
Albert Finney's performance in Scrooge, the 1970 film musical version of the story, is one of the most critically acclaimed, but despite a number of nominations for the film and a Golden Globe Award for Finney as Best Actor, this is less well known than other versions of the Dickens classic. Some say the film was overshadowed by the release of Oliver! (1968), the big budget musical version of another Dickens novel, Oliver Twist. Whatever the reason, Scrooge is worth another look, thanks to Finney's delightfully over-the-top work in the title role, as well as a cast that includes many of the finest British actors working at that time.
Most of the credit for this film must go to composer Leslie Bricusse, who produced it and wrote both the screenplay and the Oscar®-nominated music and lyrics. Although only the nominated song "Thank You Very Much" has had much life beyond this production, Bricusse's achievement is remarkable by virtue of his inability to write music. As he had done with the hit songs he composed with his sometime-partner Anthony Newley ("What Kind of Fool Am I?," "The Candy Man") and other composers (including theme songs from Doctor Doolittle , and several James Bond movies such as Goldfinger  and You Only Live Twice ), Bricusse either sang or plunked out on a keyboard the melodies he composed in his head, and music supervisor Ian Fraser put them down on paper and arranged the score.
Casting proved to be one of the biggest challenges in the production. Bricusse and director Ronald Neame needed someone who could play both the old Scrooge and, in flashbacks, his younger self. Bricusse wanted Finney to play the part from the start, but the actor initially turned it down. Richard Harris then accepted the role but had to back out when the picture he was filming in Israel, Bloomfield (1971), ran into trouble and he had to step in as director to complete it. With less than a month left before principal photography was to begin on Scrooge, there was still no lead. In December 1969, Rex Harrison finally signed on after an involved negotiation to release him from the run of a play he was doing in London. Around this time, Finney's business partner, Michael Medwin, was cast to play Scrooge's nephew Fred. Through him, Finney got a glimpse of the new script and decided he really wanted the part after all. Bricusse and Neame were eager to get their first choice, of course, and so behaving "rather badly," as Neame later put it, they told Harrison they were not able to come up with the money to buy him out of his stage contract.
Another actor who initially turned down the role, Alec Guinness, was finally pressured by Neame, who had directed him in three previous pictures, to take on the part of Marley's Ghost. Guinness really didn't want to do it. "I thought it was a rotten part," he later said. "I accepted since it was only going to be a very short bit of work and I had nothing in particular to do at the time." Guinness likely regretted the decision. He had to be fitted into an uncomfortable harness so he could fly, which gave him a double hernia. However, he never complained about it to anyone, even though he had to go through painful surgery and recuperation after completing his role in Scrooge.
Production designer Terence Marsh recreated an impressive semi-replica of Victorian London on a sound stage at Shepperton Studio in England, the largest in use at the time, complete with sloping streets and alleys, houses and shops, railings, and snow created by firefighting foam and Epsom salts. For his efforts, he received nominations from both the U.S. and British film academies. Scrooge also received an Oscar® nomination for costume design and Golden Globe nods for Best Picture, Score, Song, and Screenplay.
Veteran British actors in the cast also include the 82-year-old Oscar® winner Dame Edith Evans, Kenneth More (best known in the U.S. for his starring role in the most faithful version of the Titanic disaster, A Night to Remember ), and Laurence Naismith, who played Merlin in the film musical Camelot (1967).
Director: Ronald Neame
Producer: Leslie Bricusse, Robert H. Solo
Screenplay: Leslie Bricusse, based on the story "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Editing: Peter Weatherley
Art Direction: Robert Cartwright
Original Music: Leslie Bricusse
Cast: Albert Finney (Ebenezer Scrooge), Alec Guinness (Marley), Edith Evans (Christmas Past), Kenneth More (Christmas Present), Laurence Naismith (Mr. Fezziwig).
by Rob Nixon