No Christmas story has been told more than Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Whether by plugging in the beloved Mr. Magoo (voiced by the equally beloved Jim Backus) as crotchety old Ebenezer Scrooge, TV’s “Odd Couple” (Tony Randall and Jack Klugman) or Michael J. Fox’s money-obsessed Alex P. Keaton on the long-running NBC hit sitcom “Family Ties,” it’s both cop-out and must-see.
But it’s less about it being formulaic than the story just being so perfect. Think about it: A person - miserable for whatever reason; I’ve never felt it had to be money — goes to bed in a foul mood on Christmas Eve, only to be visited by three ghosts. (After a visit — and a head’s up — from a dead former friend and business partner. Obviously.)
The first, “The Ghost of Christmas Past,” is there most assuredly to show him or her how happy they once were, and ultimately whisk them away to good old days that were, yes, good — but also old. Many decades old, in fact. Ebenezer is shown to have loved and lost two times over — a sister and lover, respectively. Our protagonist’s ill-temper could easily come off as justifiable. It probably even has to many for over 150 years now.
The second, “The Ghost of Christmas Present,” makes him or her privy to what is going on in the homes of co-workers and family, where the Scrooge character is either mocked, mused about, or maybe not even mentioned at all.
Here the protagonist also learns about struggles they are facing that he otherwise would have no way of knowing about.
The third, “The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come,” has the shortest stint of the lot. We’re talking temp worker territory. Without even speaking, the entity points at a tombstone our “hero” sees that their time on earth has indeed lapsed, and that it doesn’t even look as if anyone is visiting the future grave.
Who wouldn’t wake clearly rattled? Yet also clinging to the day — the new day — wherein all wrongs could be made right, something the recently-slumbering Scrooge was certain not to be inclined to do — before his ghostly visitors, that is.
Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is not only my favorite Christmas story, it is also my favorite Christmas movie. I loved the “Mr. Magoo” version as a kid (and still do to this day), the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim (as opposed to the 1938 version starring Reginald Owen), and am blown away every year when my kids and I pop in the 2009 3D computer-animated version with Jim Carrey as Scrooge and Oscar winner Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchit. Heck, I even enjoyed a TV movie from the mid-80s where The Fonz himself, Henry Winkler, played the time-honored character. I even had the pleasure of chatting with Winkler about that recently on my morning radio show on 960WELI.
However, I was often outvoted in my childhood home when it came to the family sitting down to watch a Christmas movie.
“Miracle On 34th Street,” starring Edmund Gwen, won handily every time out, and I can’t say that I minded. His Macy’s Santa who says he’s the real one remains engaging to this day, no remake necessary. My siblings and I got a real kick out of Jack Albertson’s small but pivotal role in the film, as the mail clerk who decides to forward every letter to Santa to the local courthouse where Gwen’s character is on trial, thereby inadvertently saving the day. I’ll never forget the first time we all realized it was Albertson — albeit a very young Albertson — who we all not only had just loved in “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” but were also in the throes of enjoying every week on the sitcom “Chico & The Man,” starring he and Freddie Prinze.
Yes, “It’s A Wonderful Life” was always in play, too. But it often came with a hearty discourse about how the story could have easily been set during any time of the year - from a Rockwellian Autumn in New England to a sultry 4th of July in Texas. The story first and foremost always came off as one man truly not knowing what a blessed life he was living, which could have been revealed to him at any time. Debatable as this may be to you, dear reader, its status as Christmas classic was never in question, but the aforementioned back-and-forth accompanied it every time nonetheless.
Other movies would come, and will continue to come, from “A Christmas Story” to “The Polar Express” to “Elf,” and that’s all well and good. But in this Dickens’ fan’s opinion, “Decrease the surplus population.”