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The Greatest Christmas Carol

by
Gary North

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by Gary North:
Ron
Paul’s Inaugural Address, Written by His First (and Only) Speechwriter


lg share en The Greatest Christmas Carol

I have written
before
about Dickens’ marvelous story. It is time to write about
Sim’s marvelous performance.

Perhaps a cable
TV channel will show Sim’s version of A
Christmas Carol
. If not, watch it here.
Watch it – not just for old time’s sake, but because everyone
needs to remind himself that good things happen, but they must start
from within.

That is also
the message of that other Christmas classic, It’s
a Wonderful Life
.

In both movies,
the bad guy is a money-lender. In both movies, the crucial agents
of transforming self-awareness are supernaturral. This is also true
in the second-tier Christmas film, The
Bishop’s Wife
. If the range of angels really is from Henry
Travers’ Clarence to Cary Grant’s Dudley, then there is a bell-shaped
curve in heaven, too. (As an aside, Carol Kane’s ghost of Christmas
present set the standard in Scrooged.
Her winged
angel
is surely at the far end of the bell-shaped curve for
angels.)

I can remember
where I first saw the film. I sat alone in a theater in 1951. My
parents rarely took me to the movies, but they let me go, and in
1951, I went a lot. We had moved to Denver that year, and there
was no television in Denver yet. I was nine years old. I had become
a TV addict, beginning in 1949. We had TV in Los Angeles. So, I
had learned the delights of moving shadows on a screen. I used movies
as a kind of artistic methadone in 1951. Movies reduced the withdrawal
symptoms.

That same year,
I had been captivated by Jose Ferrer’s portrayal of Cyrano. I went
back to see it several times. The year closed with Sim’s Scrooge.
My standards for acting were set by those two films. Ferrer won
the Oscar. Sim was not mentioned. But Sim’s performance is the greatest
in any Christmas movie, so it endures and will endure.

What makes
Sim’s portrayal so memorable is his ability to move before our eyes
from seemingly inveterate spiritual darkness through regret to sympathy
to fear to redemption. He becomes a changed man. Sim’s portrayal
of this transformation is believable. We do not perceive that we
are watching a masterful performance. We are watching a man go from
darkness to light.

Scrooge is
a man who is driven by economic concerns. These concerns have consumed
him. Yet there is deliverance. His environment does not change overnight.
His self-awareness does.

What is striking
in the story but especially on the screen is the degree to which
the environment does not change. This setting is the heart of the
story. His economic environment on the day before Christmas is just
like the day after Christmas. But Scrooge is not the same. Personal
redemption takes place within the context of economic continuity.
The economy does not change. Scrooge changes.

I know of no
example in popular literature that is more hostile to Marxism’s
economic determinism than this story. Published in the same year
(1843) that Moses Hess converted both Marx and Engels to communism,

A Christmas Carol
reminds us that it is not the economic
mode of production that serves as the substructure of society, with
religion, art, culture, and philosophy as the superstructure built
on top. It is the other way around. Men change dramatically. Environments
change slowly.

Year after
year, Scrooge‘s nephew invites him to a Christmas dinner: continuity.
Year after year, he declines: continuity. Then he shows up: discontinuity.
Why? A greater discontinuity. A revolution. But not a social revolution.

If Marx and
Engels had been converted by Charles Dickens rather than Moses Hess,
our world would be a very different place. There would have been
no Lenin and therefore no Hitler. There would have been no Mao.

Both men had
celebrated Christmas in their youth. Both went through a two-stage
conversion: first to materialism (Feuerbach), then to communism
(Hess). This produced a series of political revolutions that changed
the world. The superstructure was a pair of very bad ideas.

Continuity
prevails, 1843-2011. No cable station will be showing Reds
this weekend.

There is no
Christmas carol in the story. No one sings a song of the birth of
Christ. Yet Dickens saw the story as having the major function of
a Christmas carol. It is a song of an overnight transformation.
It is a secular Christmas carol.

Scrooge is
transformed in his cotton nightshirt. He sees representative days
of Christmas past, present, and future as an onlooker in a nightshirt.
A nightshirt was a mark of wealth in 1843. Not many people in the
world could afford a nightshirt. We do not think of this when we
see the movie. In 1823, an American poem, A
Visit from St. Nicholas
, had described the wealth:

‘Twas
the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

A cheap cotton
nightcap was the product of the Industrial revolution. By 1823,
this wealth was becoming visible. It affected Christmas. It made
Christmas celebrations more bountiful. It lowered the cost of celebrating
. . . and everything else.

Sim does not
let us forget the magnitude of the transformation. There was never
a greater master of the scowl. The scene in the restaurant where
he will not pay for another piece of bread has been etched into
my mind for 60 years. The contrast between that scowl and his leaping
up and down the next morning could not be greater. “I’m as giddy
as a drunken man.”

(This scene
has so infused me with the Christmas spirit that I have decided
not to curse the SOB who colorized it. Merry Christmas, you humbug.
But I am not going to wish you a happy New Year. There are limits.)

gary The Greatest Christmas CarolThis
emotional contrast is why Sim’s portrayal set the standard for the
role.

If you have
ever seen George
C. Scott’s performance
, you see the extent to which Sim set
the standard. The scene where Scott calls out the window to the
boy, to get him to go buy a turkey, is a knock-off of Sim’s performance.
Scott was no artistic thief. But in this case, he just could not
improve on the scene.

This role was
Sim’s greatest. I loved him in The
Green Man
– the most delightful comedy portrayal of
a paid assassin that I have ever seen. But Sim is Scrooge. I think
he will still be Scrooge in a hundred years.

December
24, 2011

Gary
North [send him mail]
is the author of
Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible
.

Copyright ©
2011 Gary North

The
Best of Gary North


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