JUST IN TIME for Christmas, the NW Film Center dusts off the classic 1951 film adaptation of A Christmas Carol, with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. This is perhaps the best-loved screen interpretation of Charles Dickens' overly familiar tale—at the very least, it's better than the 2009 motion-capture version with Jim Carrey—and its appeal comes from a light comic touch and an emphasis on Sim's versatile facial expressions. He's a Scrooge you love immediately, despite his miserliness. The ghostly special effects are incredibly silly, and Tiny Tim isn't as tiny or adorable as one would like (he never is). But this Christmas Carol, with its brittle, British comedy and its mild spookiness, never gets too glopped down in Christmas cheer, thank goodness.
A Christmas Carol aside, it seems an appropriate time of year for Chuck Dickens in general, and the Film Center has rounded out the week with a couple other screen adaptations. 1946's Great Expectations has acquired the distinction of a classic, and director David Lean boils down the lengthy work—one of Dickens' shorter novels, actually—to a sensible storyline. The first part, of Pip's impoverished childhood, is equal parts gothic gloom and genuinely funny comedy (complete with talking cows). Once Pip comes into his money, the second part of the film seems dipped in treacle, although Lean is careful to show that all of Pip's frilly clothes and wealthy friends still leave him empty. There are problems with John Mills in the leading role—namely, that he's as interesting as a bowl of cold gruel—but the supporting cast is perfect, including Francis L. Sullivan as the attorney Jaggers, Finlay Currie as the convict Magwitch, and Bernard Miles as the blacksmith Joe Gargery.
Rounding out the run is 1947's Nicholas Nickleby, a relatively rare treatment of the novel, screened in a 35mm print on loan from the British Film Institute.