With Christmas looming large on the horizon, it is my honor and pleasure to report that this posting is basically a plug for a new DVD release of A Christmas Carol. Now in and of itself this is not startling news. It is, after all, a rare December that does not produce at least one new film or television adaptation of Dickens’s “Ghostly little book.”
However, this year we are not talking about just any ordinary Carol. Absolutely not. Instead, we are talking about the ultimate, definitive and totally transcendent Carol featuring the ultimate, definitive and totally transcendent Scrooge. It is, in fact, the standard by which all other Carols are measured.
And unless you’ve just landed from another planet, or have been holed up in a cave for the past sixty years, then you know that no further introduction is necessary because we can be talking about only one film: the 1951 British classic from Renown Pictures starring the one and only Alastair Sim.
The big news is that a spectacular 60th Anniversary edition has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray by VCI Entertainment. And in case you’re wondering why anyone needs yet another copy of the same film, here is a rundown of what’s included in the Standard DVD release:
- An all new, state-of-the-art, high definition restoration of the film featuring a special introduction by Leonard Maltin. This amazing film, of course presented in its original aspect ratio, has never looked better. And unless you have access to a pristine 35mm print, and a projector to show it with, it’s not going to get any better.
- English and Spanish Subtitles.
- Original British and American trailers.
- Audio commentary by Marcus Hearn and George Cole.
- Dead To Begin With: The Darker Side Of A Classic, a fascinating documentary examining the film and the cultural context in which it was made, presented by historian Sir Christopher Frayling.
- Scrooge By Another Name: Distributing A Christmas Carol, a behind the scenes look at the film’s production and release in the United States, presented by its American distributor Richard Gordon.
- The Human Blarney Stone: The Life And Films Of Brian Desmond-Hurst, presented by Allan Esler Smith, the great, great nephew and biographer of Hurst.
- Scrooge Revisited: Locations Of A Christmas Carol, a short commentary by Allan Esler Smith.
- The Alastair Sim Version: To Good To Be Shown Only At Christmastime, an audio essay by Fred Guida, with visual accompaniment, adapted from A Christmas Carol and Its Adaptations: Dickens’s Story on Screen and Television.
- Two exciting bonus films: Rare silent versions of Scrooge and Bleak House that are unavailable elsewhere! Both are 1922 British shorts presented here in the one-reel condensed form in which they were distributed to American audiences in the late twenties. Scrooge stars Henry Vernon Esmond in the title role and Bleak House features Sybil Thorndike as Lady Dedlock. (Watch for details on both in a future posting.)
The Blu-Ray release features the film in a stunning Blu-Ray version as well as the Standard DVD version. It also includes all of the bonus items contained in the Standard DVD release as well as a bonus DVD containing the following:
- A digitally remastered recording of the 1939 Campbell Playhouse radio adaptation of A Christmas Carol, narrated by Orson Welles and starring Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge.
- An illustrated audio essay by Fred Guida that offers general audiences some suggestions regarding sources and resources related to Dickens himself, his works in general, and A Christmas Carol in particular.
- And finally, VCI was able to scan a press kit from the American release of the film that I have in my collection and turn it into a very cool little fold-out facsimile.
The list price of the Blu-Ray edition is $19.99 while the Standard DVD is $14.99. Since my bibliographic essay appears only on the Blu-Ray edition, I suppose I can’t claim to be objective here. But, in my opinion, the Blu-Ray package is a great buy with two versions of the Carol (Blu-Ray and Standard DVD) and a bonus disc as well!
To add a final punctuation mark of sorts to this discussion, let me confess that the subtitle of my audio essay – Too Good To Be Shown Only At Christmastime – was stolen from Leonard Maltin. And while I promise not to make a habit of quoting myself on this blog, let’s end this posting with the essay’s last paragraph:
“And so, with an eye toward assigning the ‘Alastair Sim version’ its rightful place in the pantheon of classic cinema, let’s give the last word to film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. In his annual Movie Guide, which is by far the best and most reliable film and video reference book available, we are told that this “superb film is too good to be shown only at Christmastime.” That really does say it all. In fact, Dickens himself couldn’t have said it any better!”
VCI Entertainment is also the exclusive DVD source for the excellent 1952 British adaptation of The Pickwick Papers. It was produced by Renown Pictures, which of course also produced the “Alastair Sim version.” And while it may not be an absolute masterpiece like its illustrious predecessor, it is still something of a minor gem that deserves to be more widely known and appreciated. More in a future posting.