Ellen Gray: 'Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol' Mr. Magoo isn't Scroogin' around

Of the myriad iterations of Charles Dickens' classic Christmas tale, this version is fondly remembered.
Of the myriad iterations of Charles Dickens' classic Christmas tale, this version is fondly remembered.
Posted: December 21, 2012

* MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL. 8 p.m. Saturday, NBC 10.

I USED TO BE a little embarrassed that my favorite Scrooge was Mister Magoo.

The adult choice, I knew, was Alastair Sim, the Scottish actor whose 1951 portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is considered the gold standard for holiday-movie misers.

Sim, who has one of the more entertaining entries on Wikipedia - really, you should check it out - is probably a worthier candidate than, say, Bill Murray, a fascinating actor whose "Scrooged" wasn't exactly one for the ages. And yet Murray's is easily better than the hundred or so "Christmas Carol" ripoffs cable networks visit upon us every year.

But you never forget your first.

And for me, "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol," which marks its 50th anniversary this week with a Saturday night presentation by NBC - which hasn't shown it in decades - will always be my "Christmas Carol."

And I'm no longer shy about saying so, having been encouraged by my colleague Chuck Darrow to take another look at the baby-boom relic (said by the trivia-crunchers at Wikipedia to be the first animated Christmas special produced specifically for TV - if you don't count a 1950 production involving marionettes).

Thanks to Chuck, and the Internet (including Amazon.com, where I streamed what appeared to be the uncut version), I now realize that the songs that would stick in my head for decades were from composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill.

Styne and Merrill were also at work at the time on Broadway's "Funny Girl," the hit musical that would help launch Barbra Streisand on the path that would eventually lead to her playing Seth Rogen's mother in "The Guilt Trip."

Streisand got to sing "People," but Charles Dickens' characters received the "razzleberry dressing" from "The Lord's Bright Blessing," the gleeful "We're Despicable" and the doleful "Alone in the World."

"Freely adapted" from the Dickens original by Barbara Chain, the uncut "Mister Magoo" version, which NBC may not show because it would leave too little time for a 2012-level commercial load, is about a theater production of "A Christmas Carol." And so it opens with the poorly sighted Magoo (Jim Backus) singing, "It's Great to Be Back on Broadway" and almost missing the show because he misses the stage door.

His eyesight issues occasionally pop up: The Ghost of Christmas Present remarks, "You're the one who's too tight with a penny to buy himself a pair of spectacles." But they don't get in the way of Scrooge's story, which is rearranged a bit but not dumbed down.

I see now why I've remained a little fearful all these years of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

"Ghost of the future, I fear you more than any specter I have seen," says Backus' Magoo/Scrooge, and I still shiver as he's abandoned in the cemetery.

Yet think how much scarier it would have been if he'd instead been shown a montage of all the bad holiday TV movies yet to come.


Email: graye@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: EllenGray.tv

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