Scrooge (1935)

One year ago, almost exactly, I wrote about Scrooge (1951), one of the many cinematic interpretations of Charles Dickens’ famous story A Christmas Carol. That version is only one of several available at the Internet Archive. Today, the turn has come to the very first sound version of the story, also titled Scrooge.

Oscar Asche and Seymour Hicks in Scrooge (1935)

A Christmas Carol is one of those stories that has been filmed again and again. And quite often, the resulting product has been really nice. Hence, there are a good many actors that have made classic Scrooge interpretations. Alastair Sim in the 1951 version is certainly one, and Seymour Hicks in 1935 is another. Hicks is excellent as the miserly old money-lender, and he is among the very best in his terror of the ghost of Jacob Marley, as well as of the three spirits of Christmas. Like many other Scrooge actors, he lets himself be carried away, and is a bit too manic as the reformed kindly old man. But this is a minor problem and goes with the genre.

I find it difficult to choose between the 1935 and the 1951 versions. Both have good scripts and excellent actors. The former is a bit less advanced in terms of special effects (ghostly apparitions, and that sort of stuff), but since it cleverly avoids many of the technical difficulties, using instead simple means like shadows and good acting, this is not really a problem. The 1951 version is perhaps a trifle stronger in the camerawork, whereas the 1935 movie has many little humourous details. In the end, it may come down to technical aspects, and in that respect the 1951 version is blessed with a better copy at the Internet Archive. However, both are well worth watching.

The 1935 copy mainly linked to from this post is the one at the Internet Archive with the best image quality, but the download file is well over 3 GB in size. Fortunately, there is another version, made from the same source. Image quality is almost as good, and file size is much smaller. This is a good option if your bandwidth is limited.

This film is best enjoyed when you need a bit of feel-good in your life, or when you just want to experience a good old classic British costume film.

Donald Calthrop, Barbara Everest and Philip Frost in Scrooge (1935)

Scrooge
Download link
Year: 1935
Running time: 1 h 18 min
Director: Henry Edwards
Stars: Seymour Hicks
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (3.7 G)

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Imagine being kicked in the shin. Repeatedly, over and over again, for almost two hours. That is what it feels like to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special. I normally try to stay away from writing about bad movies on this blog (although on occasion I make an exception or two), but this is one you just need to experience because, you know, you have to see it to believe it.

Patty Maloney, Micke Morton, Paul Gale and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) in The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Everyone knows that the first Star Wars film premiered in 1977. Less well known is that The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was actually not the second part of the saga. That honour goes to The Star Wars Holiday Special, which made its TV premiere for the Christmas season of 1978. Here, you will see Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader) reprising their roles from the first film. However, none of these are the main characters. Instead, the action centres around Chewbacca’s family – his father, wife and son – living in a tree house that would have made Johnny Weissmuller green with envy.

This is where the Holiday Special’s problems start. Through much of the film, these relatives just walk around, howling their lungs out in poor imitation of wookie language (which, embarrassingly, was created by Ben Burtt himself). The so-called story, about Chewie having to make it back home in time for celebrating the all-important Life Day holiday, is stupid enough in itself, but every step of the execution just keeps making it worse, and then worse again.

There is actually one segment of the Special that is rather good (when compared with the rest). About halfway through, there is a ten-minute animated short film. The inclusion of this is incredibly silly, plot-wise speaking, but when seen in isolation, the animation (which is not in any significant way connected with the rest of the plot) has a number of redeeming features. Sure, the animation is a bit too cartoonish and the voice actors (also the original cast, as far as I can tell) certainly did not put their souls into the job. But on the other hand, and very much unlike the rest of the Special, it has a lot of nice Star Wars-esque alien planet environments. The story is simple but not bad. As an oddity under the Star Wars brand, this short is well worth exploring. Also, it is the first-ever appearance of Boba Fett.

Since The Star Wars Holiday Special has never been restored and officially released after the original airing, copies found online tends to be of really low quality. The main copy at the Internet Archive is the best I have seen, with almost-decent technical quality. There is also another version available, with worse quality, but on the other hand it comes with all the commercials from the original airing. They provide a welcome break from the inanities of the Special, and also add some unintended entertainment of their own.

This film is best enjoyed because you know that pain is your friend. Besides, what does not kill you will make you stronger. George Lucas has allegedly gone on record saying that, if he could, he would smash every existing copy of this film with a sledgehammer. This in itself is reason to watch it. Also, when properly applied it can actually be useful. Carrie Fisher has stated that she always puts this film on when she wants her late guests to leave the party.

R2D2, C3PO (Anthony Daniels), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

The Star Wars Holiday Special
Download link
Year: 1978
Running time: 1 h 48 min
Director: David Acomba, Steve Binder
Stars: Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew
Image quality: Poor
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (597 M)

Scrooge (1951)

Christmas is rushing closer by the minute and the panic is definitely here. Bottle of spumante wine for mother-in-law, some nice book for daughter, no idea even what to get for wife (she claims she likes film, but never watches any, so DVDs are out of the question). And then we need to pack for the trip to the family, and we have not even had time to put up much in terms of decorations in our home.

Well, that is the way it goes, but in the middle of that rush, what could possibly be better than to grab a mug of mulled wine and sit down in front of a nice old film. A film like Scrooge.

Alastair Sim and Francis De Wolff in Scrooge aka A Christmas Carol (1951)

Scrooge, sometimes released with the title A Christmas Carol, is a breathtakingly beautiful film. The actors are good, and Alastair Sim in particular is marevellous as the aging miser who is reformed through divine intervention. Special effects are simplistic, but that is not really a problem. Dobule exposure and effective lighting go a long way when it comes to creating ghostlike gosts.

Charles Dickens’ classic tale has been filmed a great many times, and many of the versions are good. The versions available at the Internet Archive are too many for me to list them all, but I would like to mention just two short silents. The very first film adaptation of the story, Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901) is available. Like many early literary adaptations, it requires a good deal of knowledge about the original, or it will be completely impossible to comprehend. It is a truly historic film, especially considering that it has been said to be the first film with intertitles, and anyway it is only about three and a half minutes long. The other interesting silent is a really good ten-minute adaptation from 1910, titled simply A Christmas Carol. That one is a small masterpiece in compact story-telling and well worth the ten minutes it takes to watch it.

The 1951 film is best enjoyed around Christmas time, to get in the right mood. Pathetic? Why, certainly, but just a wee bit, and not so much as to ruin it.

Alastair Sim, Olga Edwardes and Brian Worth in Scrooge aka A Christmas Carol (1951)

Scrooge
Download link
Year: 1951
Running time: 1 h 24 min
Director: Brian Desmond-Hurst
Stars: Alastair Sim
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (978×720)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.0 G)

Santa and the Three Bears (1970)

When Santa and the Three Bears was first offered as a Christmas special to various American TV networks, they declined, saying that it did not include an antagonist. This goes to show just how stuck people often are in the preconceived Hollywood notions of how a story is supposed to be told.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

So there is no evil nemesis in Santa and the Three Bears. Just an old and kindly park ranger and a bear mother with her two cubs. The cubs learn about Christmas and want the ranger to tell them more about it. So they decide to wait up for Santa Claus, instead of going into hibernation. Sounds boring? It is not. Not unless you are absolutely allergic to a bit of sentimentality which, admittedly, this film has its share of.

The film is also filled with music. Original music, yet it fits perfectly with the Christmas theme. If you love Christmas music, then you are going to love the music for this film.

Santa and the Three Bears is certainly not the most polished piece of animation. It looks mostly like some low-budget Hanna Barbera cartoon. But that is easy to forget and forgive when the beauty of the story starts to kick in.

This film is best enjoyed while getting into the mood for the Christmas season, especially if you fancy the American variety of Christmas.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

Santa and the Three Bears
Download link
Year: 1970
Running time: 46 min
Directors: Tony Benedict, Barry Mahon
Stars: Robert Hal Smith
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (700 M)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

In a recent poll about the worst ever Christmas movie, the Swedish film site Filmtipset nominated Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as one of the candidates. It is not the first time the film has been mentioned as one of the worst Christmas movies ever, or indeed one of the worst movies ever, period. Among many other accolades, the film currently holds 87th place on IMDb’s Bottom 100 list.

And, well, yeah, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a bad film and a true turkey. But is it really that bad? Read on and find out!

John Call, Victor Stiles, Donna Conforti, Bill McCutcheon and Leila Martin in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

The story is, it must be admitted, pretty inane. Martian kids are far too serious and just watch a lot of Earth television. After consulting a wise man, some Martians decide to kidnap Santa Claus from Earth, and they happen to bring a couple of Earth kids along as well. Santa agrees to help build a workshop for making Martian Christmas presents, but some of the Martians think that this is a bad idea, and want to close down Santa’s business.

So, if the story is that bad, and the special effects and sets are on par, then how come lots of people enjoy the film? The truth of the matter is that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is an enjoyable film to watch not mainly because of its faults. After all, many films have been made that are infinitely worse than this one, and in most cases watching them is just painful. But Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, in spite of its many faults, also rests on a solid foundation of good. The pacing is adequate, and the actors do the best job possible with the material they have to work with (even though John Call as Santa Claus is a terrible case of bad casting). It is this foundation which makes it possible to enjoy the spectacularly bad qualities of the film rather than choke on them.

This film is best enjoyed with good company. Some nice chatting and commenting will not spoil this one. Quite to the contrary.

John Call in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Download link
Year: 1964
Running time: 1 h 20 min
Director: Nicholas Webster
Stars: John Call
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Windows Media (917 M)

Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

Christmas is a time of year when everyone is expected to feel good, to socialize with family, and to relax from the pressure of everyday life. In reality, for many people it tends to be the other way around.

Beyond Tomorrow is in many ways a typical Hollywood feel-good movie. But at the same time it touches upon many serious topics. The social demand of being surrounded by good friends around Christmas time, for instance. So what do you do when your invited Christmas dinner company does not turn up? The three old and rich industrialists George, Allan and Michael are the victims of such a calamity, and they decide to play a little game. They each toss out a wallet with money and a business card, and make a bet of whether anyone will turn up to return one of the wallets in time for dinner.

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Two persons, the Texan Jim and the child nurse Jean, do arrive at the door to return two of the wallets. Thus begins Beyond Tomorrow, and thus begins the love story between Jim and Jean. Needless to say, there will be many trials to test their true love before we arrive at the inevitable happy ending.

In all honesty, Beyond Tomorrow is a very, very sentimental film. Almost sentimental to a fault. But at the core of that sentimentality there is also an earnestness about the themes that are treated. About loneliness, about friendship, and about death. I think that this earnestness is what, after all, saves Beyond Tomorrow from turning pathetic. To top that, the actors are very good, especially Harry Carey, Aubrey Smith and Charles Winninger as the three old men.

This film is best enjoyed when you feel a bit down and need to be reminded that there is a purpose to everything and that every good story has a happy ending. Unless, that is, you happen not to have a soul…

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Beyond Tomorrow
Download link
Year: 1940
Running time: 1 h 24 min
Director: Edward Sutherland
Stars: Richard Carlson, Jean Parker
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (498 M)

A Christmas Without Snow (1980)

Movies about choirs (or, rather, the individuals in them) are not all that common, but if you watch a lot of film you have probably seen a couple, such as Swedish As It Is in Heaven (2004) or English Song for Marion (2012).

Being myself a choir singer, I have definitely seen my share, and I have come to the conclusion that the majority of such films are built around a common template or structure. In terms of dramaturgy, they share a number of traits and characters. I will describe these traits and exemplify with an old TV movie, A Christmas Without Snow.

Early in a choir film, often just at the beginning, we see the Change. Something happens, usually an external force, that takes the choir in a new direction, or even causes its creation. Such Change is usually connected with the Leader, typically the conductor. In A Christmas Without Snow, this Change is the arrival of Mr. Adams, a retired musician, to take over as the Leader of the small and rather bad choir in a San Francisco church.

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Almost immediately, Mr. Adams announces his intention to perform Händel’s Messiah for Christmas. This is the film’s Goal, which is often closely connected with the Change. This announcement is followed by a period of Consolidation where the choir grows and improves. During the Consolidation we get to know many of the other members, including the Soloist Mrs. Kim, who sets a good example for everyone with her exceptional voice and personality; the Dissenter Mrs. Burns, an old opera singer who creates tension through her egotistical personality; and the Disharmonist Inez, a well-meaning old lady who no longer manages to sing in tune.

It would be a boring film indeed if there was not a Crisis to upset the order and, seemingly, make the Goal impossible to reach. A Christmas Without Snow has no less than two separate Crises. First the church organ is vandalised, and there is no money to repair it. But the choir decides to do the job themselves; a Turning which resolves the Crisis. But then Mr. Adams has a stroke only days before the concert. He survives, but cannot lead the choir. Again, of course, there is a Turning to make things right. Arrives finally the day of the big concert. The church is full and the choir makes an excellent performance in the Accomplishment of the Goal.

Now, if you think I ruined A Christmas Without Snow for you by spoiling all the crucial parts, not to worry. There is plenty of plot going on in addition to the “template” events, so this nice (if a bit overstuffed) movie still offers much to discover. Not least the main story about Zoe and her frustration of having to leave her son behind while she is looking for a new job.

The structure I have outlined above, with a Change, a Goal, a Consolidation, a Crisis, a Turning and an Accomplishment, is one you will be able to recognize in almost any choir movie you watch. There may be slight variations. Song for Marion, for instance, conforms to the basic structure, but has no Disharmonist and no clear Dissenter.

This choir film structure is one that can also be seen (although usually not quite so dramatically intense) in most real choirs, as the choir builds itself for the next concert performance. This real-life drama is perhaps one of the reasons why choir singing is such a popular pastime. But there are also fascinating parallels with another genre of movies, namely sports films such as The Bad News Bears (1976), where the new coach has to take the league’s worst team to the top. It is interesting to speculate about the reasons for these parallels.

This film is best enjoyed if you are a choir singer yourself, but should work for anyone who wants to get in the right mood for the Holidays.

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A Christmas Without Snow
Download link
Year: 1980
Running time: 1 h 35 min
Director: John Korty
Stars: Michael Learned, John Houseman
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (496×384)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Divx (699 M)