A Christmas Carol (1934 - 1953) (Part 1)
I give you fair warning--this one is going to be a bit of a foggy street to wade through on our way to see Mr. Marley in the door-knocker.
As mentioned at the start of the previous article, Lionel Barrymore took up the tradition of a live Scrooging each Christmas Eve, starting on the CBS Radio Network and then across the airwaves. Barrymore’s take on the character was beloved, and the tradition of stopping life to listen to him is praised extensively in the comments of surviving records put to YouTube, where hours could be lost reading about “as a police officer I had to work every Christmas season and this would always come on and I’d feel better” to paraphrase a little--and what better compliment for the impact of joyousness the season and the story should bring?
Across these twenty Christmases, there were only two times Barrymore did not play the role--though the role was still played. In 1936, Lionel’s brother John (whose linked Wikipedia page is astoundingly long; the man had a life) took the role after Irene Fenwick, an accomplished theatre and silent film actress and Lionel’s wife, sadly passed away from complications due to anorexia nervosa--even more sadly, on Christmas Eve itself. Two years later, Barrymore stepped down from the 1938 production for reasons again looked at in the start of the previous article--a car crash that broke his hip, the onset of arthritis, not wanting to compete with the MGM film; or all three. He was replaced this time by Orson Welles, who was fresh off scaring the bejeezus out of the public (especially in and around Grover’s Mill, New Jersey) only a few months before.
The next year in 1939, Welles and the Mercury Theatre hosted the tradition again, though this time with Barrymore back in the title role. This recording is around 52 minutes long--though there’s another recording, which may actually be a different recording, attributed to the same year at 58 minutes long!
There’s also a “rarely heard” recording of the 1944 rendition--and the most common version to find, the LP reissue of 1955 that covers the 1947 rendition (in which, for reasons I’m completely at a loss for, apparently Christmas Yet To Come actually speaks! (Note: I’ve since listened to them and it’s not exactly that, you’ll see, and has a lot of those thankful nostalgia comments).
While most Scrooges on film are younger than the decrepit soup-skins they play, Barrymore was actually an aging old man during these recordings. Born in 1878, he started the role when he was 56, and would have most likely continued it for a good many years more except that he himself passed away in November of 1954 at 76. While his Wikipedia page does detail the hardships of his personal life--which is both quite sad in relation to his family and wild in relation to medical issues and treatments--it also reflects a wide scope of work, including two miserly roles that remain celebrated staples of the Christmas season: his long-lasting role as Scrooge, and his possibly longer-lasting role as that downright Trumpian bastard Mr. Potter from “It’s A Wonderful Life”!
With so much acclaim, well-loved remembrance, and fine-tuned practice to the role, I’m looking forward to hearing these versions! I’m going to focus mainly on the 1939 Welles-hosted hour-long version and the 1947 version that are easily accessible, but I’ll link and listen to the 1944 version, as well as the final 1953 performance! YouTube sometimes taketh away but giveth many gifts of fortune as well. While it may be the same script for each, I’ll be curious to see how the tempo of speeding up or slowing things down, coupled with 8 extra years, impacts the performance…
1939 (Version 1: The Campbell Playhouse):
This first version, which is by far the most viewed and most appreciated in the comments, is from The Campbell Playhouse--hosted by Orson Welles! Now, if you’re a silly youngster like me who barely knows a darn thing about Radio and the history of Radio, you’d think to yourself, “why, I thought Orson Welles hosted The Mercury Theatre On The Air, not something by a soup company!”
As it turns out, The Campbell Playhouse is The Mercury Theatre 2.0! In fact, as much as I joke about Welles and that infamous “The War of the Worlds” broadcast that resulted in a poor defenseless water-tower in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, being mistaken for a Martian tripod and shot full of buckshot--that’s actually what caused this huge change.
After that Halloween panic ensued, headlines abounded and brought more and more attention to the broadcast and the broadcasting company--and the Campbell Soup Company took notice and said “now that’s darn good advertising!” The Mercury Theatre On The Air, which had only started in July of that same year of 1938 (with a version of “Dracula” that I’m now dying to hunt down!), got absorbed into The Campbell Playhouse that December and continued on for two more years, until Campbell’s influence over the performances got to be too grating on Welles and there was a split that is much better summarized in the Wikipedia page, which has the best darn photo of Welles I’ve seen honestly. (That split did lead to Welles doing a little film that’s very good but unknown nowadays called “Citizen Kane”! Ask my film-school peers; they shrugged and thought it “boring”... tough crowd. I’ll still take him over Boss JIM GETTYS!!!)
One of The Campbell Playhouse’s very first performances, in fact, was the Orson Welles-led adaptation of Lionel Barrymore’s “A Christmas Carol”. But we’re here to talk about Barrymore’s versions, dagnabbit, and I don’t want him to be sidelined in another article! He might stare a daggerish smile down the camera at me HEHEHEHEH.
So, in 1939, The Campbell Playhouse of CBS played host to the unstoppable juggernaut of Lionel Barrymore’s Scrooge!
It’s introduced by Mr. Welles, and it does become apparent that Campbell’s wanted to advertise their soup by putting it into my ears when trying to figure out what the heck’s even being said--but this is a sound recording from 1939, so I’ll be quiet and be glad we even have it. Welles does call Barrymore “the best-loved actor of our time in the world’s best-loved Christmas story,” which is high praise from Charles Foster Kane himself.
But now, before “A Christmas Carol,”
Mr. Chapel has a message from Good Ol’ CAMPBELL’S SOUP!
Sadly, beef broth is swimming in my ears, so it’s easy to tune out the advertisement. At least it’s done very appreciatively; thanks for including us in your home and best wishes to you!
Ah, some pretty bells, and :)
Marley was dead to begin with >:(
If research has been correct, and my ears don’t have bits of veggies stuck in them now, Mr. Welles himself is our narrator! And a very impassioned, wonderful narrator he is.
Into the counting-house we go, and we get the wonderful character moment of Bob Cratchit counting out the numbers of his work while singing along to the background carolers. “11-37--was born on Christmas day!..” Bob is played by Frank Readick here, who seems a staple of the Playhouse, having been in a number of their other plays including as…
Yet To Come… in the Orson Welles Scrooge play?
Did he point at the mic? How do you play Yet To Come?
Oh! Readick was also reporter Carl Phillips from “The War of the Worlds;” the fellow who gets toasty with some Martian buddies and traumatized kids everywhere--
Just as soon as I meander off, the absolute jolt of ferocity comes through the airwaves as we hear Lionel Barrymore for the first time: “BOB CRATCHIT!”
“Yes sir!” Frank “how did I play Yet To Come?” Readick yelps, startled.
“Stop that infernal singing!”
I’m agreeing with our trusty narrator that this is quite the scraping, grasping, same adjectives-having old sinner…
But, with a few boot stomps, Lionel’s made it to the door and snarling at the carolers, one of whom slips in a quintessential “guv’nor” during their apology about “well it’s Christmas and--”
“YEEEAAaaassssss, and I don’t want any of your old customs! Take your fellow fools and go away!”
I hope someday I can be crotchety enough to pull of a YEEEAAaaassssss and still keep it from being funny, like Barrymore manages to.
Lickity-split, Fred barrels into the studio and up to a microphone, so full of cheer you might’ve mistaken him for a background caroler at first, or even Bob Cratchit! But on we get without time to waste; Christmas a humbug? Barrymore has a very dripping delivery that makes you hear the scowling coming up from his lungs; it absolutely sets him apart from the other voices, as well it should. The eminent disdain seems to be predominant in this portrayal, and it works very well.
Fred, meanwhile, hears about staking vampiric Christmasers and seems more bemused than anything else. “Ah, a visit to the old Scrooge home; of course I should’ve expected this; now now Uncle…”
Intriguingly, Barrymore believes Fred is there for a Christmas gift, which, again, I don’t remember from the book but which certainly explains his animosity, and fits well with the character. Bob is suitably meek at being called out for celebrating Chroomdus, even though he delightfully sounds like one of those 1930s radio-men with the slicked black hair and the big glasses. The more I listen to Barrymore, the more evident it becomes that he really is an old fellow with a long-lived life, which gives the effect of realism for the character, but also a mild sense of “why is he intimidating, he’s an old fellow who doesn’t sound in the best health?” Perhaps knowing a bit of background actually damages the performance--either way, it’s a very genuine performance that’s well done!
Speaking of performance, dang it’s time to perform-- TWADDLE! Christmastime! The absolute indignation of Bob putting coal on the fire! Scrooge genuinely sounds like he’s about to burst a humbugging valve at the concept of more warmth in his office. I’ve got bad news for him then about who’s come knocking at the door.
God, I quite love this version; audio-only is wonderfully atmospheric and delightful for over-the-top reactions sometimes. “A gentleman to see you, Mr. Scrooge!” *A disgruntled goose noise, as best written down as “HEUH?”*
And later “some additional provision for the poor and destitute must be made.” “NEH!”
The charity gentleman here is oddly much harder-edged in tone than previous dreamy-eyed versions, which gives the scene a vastly different tone. Instead of Scrooge sending them away with their feathers ruffled, this guy is sent away with his head held high and anger radiating off of him. It actually strikes me as the best example of seeing Scrooge turn people against him we’ve seen in these adaptations, due to the more realistic nature of the charity-collector character.
Sadly, a drawback of live radio, we do hear some stumbling over the lines, but it’s redoubled with grizzle and vigor on Barrymore’s part--itself adding another layer of realism.
Bob tries to give to charity while Scrooge “CRATCHIT!”s at him belligerently to shut the door, and time is passed by more money-counting. After five seconds, we realize--again for the first time it seems, now that we’re doing the work with Bob, that wow his job blows enough to be a blizzard. But, he does get the whole day off tomorrow, and rushes out with glee into a musical transition. A wild Orson Welles appears, telling us how Bob slid down the frozen hill twenty times then ran home as fast as he could to play with his family at Blind Man’s Buff--hopefully without Topper frat-boying it up.
Scrooge, on the other hand, was met by more melancholy violins and melancholy darkness and I have to say, again, there truly is something magical about radio. Here I am, sitting at home in a well-lit room with my snorting, farting little Frenchie next to me, and still with headphones on it’s hard to focus on pausing to review and summarize; I just want to bundle up in a blanket and listen in.
It even hypnotized me into having to double back--Orson Welles, even your rich voice can’t distract from the fact that there’s no Marley doorknocker!
Once Mr. Welles has guided us to Grueltown, Dusty-Hearthside, England, Lionel pipes up remembering “Marley!-- Marley? Marley!! I could’ve sworn I saw--”
Mr. Welles shakes his head fervently no; too late.
“--Humbug. Marley’s been dead these seven years…” Oh no, we’re RESTARTING--
“What I need is a good--” BANG BANG… “someone’s in the wine cellar!”
Again, very happily, I think this is a first for specificity, with Marley’s ghost traversing up the house from the cellars. We’ve seen his journey briefly in other versions, but never as “fleshed out” if you’ll pardon the very Dickensian pun.
“Ebenezer Scrooge…” a distant voice intones, sending Lionel Scrooge into a gasping fit; it can’t be real, it--
|Everett Sloane, Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton in Citizen Kane|
“Ebenezer Scrooge!..” Everett Sloane as Marley calls with a mad echo to his voice. (Another staple of the cast, Sloane would go on to another twenty years on film before coming to a sad end. He’s in “Citizen Kane” as Mr. Bernstein, Kane’s friend and coworker at the newspaper! It’s been a while since I saw the film but he’s instantly recognizable.)
Again, beloved radio, we get some oft-forgotten dialogue from the book (though I don’t remember
if it’s exactly in this spot); “Who are you?”
“Ask me who I was…” whatever effect is on Sloane’s mic is darn unnerving, in a way many Marley’s haven’t yet achieved!
“You’re very particular, for a ghost-- all right, who were you then?”
Marley! But you died-- seven years ago-- seven years ago this very night (we’re going back to the beginning AAAA)
We do get some abridgements of dialogue to simplify it for time, leading us quickly to the wonderful discussion of which menu items might cause visitations if eaten wrong! And here’s me worried my week-old pecan pie would poison me; I guess I have to look into beef, potatoes, and gravy too. Lionel’s cuisine recitation does also touch on another point of Scrooge not drawn out by many other actors--he has his sense of humor before his redemption, though it shines through less and is best exemplified by the line “there’s more gravy than grave about you, whatever you are!” Adding a scoffing, nervously giddy titter to it really does make it forefront for once!
That humor is quickly dampened by Sloane letting out a violently anguished cry (accompanied by the strings; the strings!!!) and Barrymore’s cowering apology to the Spirit. Sloane’s Marley certainly has a lot more sorrow than our MGM friend, and the strings and microphone echo go a long way to giving him a vastly otherworldly quality--even as he intones intimately to his old friend (a bit off-novel, but in keeping with the drawbacks of radio) about “is the chain’s pattern strange to you, Ebenezer?”
Making Scrooge list off the items that The Chain (listen to the wind bloooooow) is made of helps damn him, especially coupled by the book’s dialogue about how long and heavy Scrooge’s The Chain (and watch the sun riiiiise) was seven years ago… Strangely, Scrooge doesn’t seem as phased by this, instead asking for comfort which is--incredibly! He’s a good man of business, I tell you!--rebuked by the angry Marley. Much book dialogue is said verbatim, giving us brilliant, ethereal sorrow on Marley’s part; seven years, traveling all this time; seven years of remorse…
“Ebenezer, do you know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities misused?”
An iconic, original line, sad and poignant enough to make me feel like crying out, “Rosebud…”
A slight downside of radio, and earlier restrictions to media in general--Marley can’t fly off the handle as much as in later versions about “BUSINESS! MANKIND WAS MY--” like he’s not muted here by any means, but the volume of his voice doesn’t change, just the intonation. But then, I’m a sucker for an over-the-top performance; Tommy Wiseau’s Marley would be… something to behold.
Strangely, Scrooge tells his old business partner not to be “so flowery” in his language, which might be code for “we gotta get on with the script here, pal.” In the next twenty or so seconds, Jacob and Ebenezer say each other’s name no more than ten times. Six or seven of those are Lionel whimpering “Jacob”, as if it would placate the phantom, which is an-- interesting-- choice, though even more strangely doesn’t feel out of character.
“You will be haunted by three Spirits.” “Is that the only chance of hope, Jacob?”
It’s like they have a third friend who forgot their names, so they’re doing everything possible to mention them… organically.
Barrymore’s age again aids his portrayal, as we hear the dizzying weight of “I think I’d rather not.” But Everett Sloane’s a younger man, and has no time for this nonsense! Look for the first tomorrow when the bell tolls one!.. Fading… fading… you could say anything soft while you’re fading… you could save fifteen percent or more on your car insurance if you shun the path I tread…
The strings finally are allowed to kick in, and do with magnificent flair in the place of a ghost-window. (Bing, why did you give me an advertisement for “Best Psychics Near Me” when I went to look up if I spelled “flair” right???)
Omniscient Welles comes back, telling us “Scrooge awoke. He was lying on his bed fully dressed.” I was there, watching. I’m always watching. “Suddenly the curtains of his bed were drawn aside. Scrooge found himself face-to-face with the unearthly visitor who drew them.” Charles Foster Kane stood there, and film classes everywhere praised how his film production showed the ceilings of the rooms. “As close to it as I am now to you… And I am standing in the Spirit at your elbow.”
Hoping fervently my life doesn’t become the next narrated here, I sheepishly brush cookie crumbs off my shirt and continue onwards:
Our oddest Spirit, that of Christmas Past, is described as ever-changing because we don’t need visuals now. The voice is almost undefinable, sounding soft and high as if an adult were trying to mimic an older child, but sounding so terribly alike Scrooge’s that it takes Lionel Barrymore’s dialogue overlapping the Spirit to convince me it’s not still him. The fact that I can’t seem to find a cast member for it doesn’t help matters in unraveling the mystery, but true to candle-like form, it flickers in and out of my ears word to word.
Off they go, flying to Scrooge’s school--which he seems in this case to actually dislike, which I can’t say of any other Scrooge (except 2019… accursed 2019). Like, Scrooge doesn’t like being alone on Christmas, sure, but here he actively doesn’t like the building or memories itself.
I mean-- it is school, so… fair enough.
Having only vocals to perform with, Barrymore’s Scrooge is much closer to weepy when confronted with how lonely he was as a boy. Perhaps he trembles so because he remembers that he’d wanted to give something to the poor boy who came up singing carols at his door yesterday, and how so many of his kin forget to remember that poor boy! “Have you had many brothers?” I ask Scrooge; “Over 400” he replies, and I scream, because this is only entry 15 or so.
But here comes a violin player, dittying along in the wild foggy past! And with it, the sound of a party! And Fezziwig, my old master; Fezziwig alive again! Master at a counting-house; Scrooge isn’t Lord Vader in the most-mocked line delivery for a trailer (besides Pauly Shore’s Pinocchio), for goodness sake. Wonderfully, we get a little bit more time at the party with Fezziwig, specifically covering Christmas Past mocking Scrooge for liking the old master (RIIIIIIIISE) because he’s only spent a few pounds of mortal money, and Scrooge heavily rebuking any defamation on the jolly fellow. Scrooge stops himself again, realizing he’s been a right arse to Bob Cratchit, and this kind of stopping was what I missed so much from other versions; these moments of recollection and re-hardening behind defenses rather than reforming all or nothing!
Intriguingly, Christmas Past itself announces that its time grows short, and brings Scrooge yelping into the break-up segment. It makes me wonder if Scrooge was ever bitter at Bob because Bob has a family of like 123,000 children; Bob’s got more game than you, Scroogey old boy. He’s not the type of guv’nor to be called a crusty old bird!
Sorry for the aside, just my God I still can’t believe that’s a real line in MGM.
|1939 GE Christmas Radio Ad |
Belle seems much more composed than 1935’s vitriol; Scrooge, for his part, is played by someone younger, which is obvious because his voice is higher-pitched than Lionel’s (though it has the same cadence, which is very well done and hard to do!). But we’re back to post-puberty Scrooge, who first sounds unhappy, then sounds distraught over the past. We do get to see one shadow more (which I could’ve sworn was said one last shadow past--) as Christmas Pastrami tells Scrooge “this guy could’ve been you; that could’ve been your daughter; ya messed up, loser!” and Belle’s husband--always inexplicably--brings up her ex for no good goshdarn reason. Scrooge, unable to bear it, rushes away from the Spirit headlong into a musical sting and a very pleasant rendition of “Good King Wenceslas,” a carol I feel like I don’t hear enough of. I certainly don’t hear enough of it in “A Christmas Carol,” because it was written ten years after the book came out--a fact I only know because IMDb screams about how it’s a mistake in the 1999 version.
Sod it, it’s a mighty fine, underused carol! Even if it’s right impossible to spell. And even if we don’t get to hear much of it, because it’s background noise to a very pleasant (probably bow-tied) gentlemen telling us smilingly how we’re listening to the Campbell Playhouse, hosting this fifth annual telling of “A Christmas Carol”, produced by Orson Welles and starring Lionel Barrymore! (This fellow with the wonderfully soothing announcer-voice, as he’ll mention at the end, is Ernest Chappell.)
CBS stands for Columbia Broadcasting System??
You learn something new every day!
OH, I just figured out where I heard this guy--God, of course. He mentioned how we were listening to “The War of the Worlds”--jeez. Without hyperbole, this has been a good enough rendition to make me forget that running joke I was beating into the ground; this is quite a wonderful listen.
Going back to it, amazingly without a full ad for Campbell’s Chunky Pub-Style Chicken Pot Pie soup (just a brief mention of their sponsorship), Orson Welles tells us Scrooge woke at the stroke of one, ready for anything and not surprised if he’d seen a baby or a rhinoceros! Did Victorian England know what a rhinoceros was? I guess they must have, surely--but Scrooge finds nothing, and that freaks him out more because that’s anxiety for you. I recommend WellConnection for telehealth therapy; it’s done me wonders the likes of which three ghosts equate to.
Welles takes a bit longer to describe the greenery of the drawing room, and it paints a wonderful John Leech-like picture in our head. Our first impression of Christmas Present is--
Sort of-- annoyed? Sort of just a dude, annoyed?
Maybe it’s my privileged view of having a good 80 more years of adaptations, but George Coulouris as Christmas Present doesn’t-- boom the same here. The choir behind him does go “woooooOOOOOOOOooooo” very softly, which I appreciated!
Without a minute to spare (because we’re past halfway!), we’re rushed to a poor street and tossed up against the window to peer in at the Cratchits, with Coulouris Present describing each rapidly and, if this weren’t a radio broadcast, probably too closely for comfort. But on to the Cratchits--
“Oh, dear God, if anything should happen to Tiny Tim,” worries Mrs. Cratchit, and--
“I like church, Mother!”, pipes up Tim when he arrives home to their gaggling and I had to pause not to spit out my drink. “Oh, they sang the nicest songs, and I’m glad people saw me there!”
“Saw you there? Why, Tim?”
“Don’t you see? Because I’m lame!”
I mean, he is sort of a cardboard cutout of “good child” but--
It is interesting that they gave Tim a proper bit of dialogue for himself to talk about why he wants to be seen (for Ewan McGregor, bless him), which gives him a larger immediate impact but makes him come across more forceful and active than the woebegotten child strewn about by Fate’s cruel hand. Mrs. Cratchit does her best to fret over him, and out of nowhere Christmas Coulouris interrupts--
“I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner, and a crutch without an owner!”
--so abruptly it made me jerk back in my seat.
“NO no,” Lionel Barrymore whimpers, giving it his all, and Coulouris is hard-edged and almost growling, pronouncing that if these shadows remain unaltered, the child will DIE.
It’s shocking enough that it stops the broadcast dead in its tracks, while the performers hurriedly look over at George, hoping there’s some Christmas spirit (Dickens and puns, I swear) left here--but it turns out we were pausing because the Cratchits were saying grace. Or-- amen. Saying the blessed Christian equivalent of itadakimasu.
Bob, excited to be here outside of the prying eyes of his overbearing employer (if only he knew!) proposes a toast, letting Tim spout out his catchphrase in, again, too forceful a manner to my ears at least. And, true to form, Bob immediately puts his foot in his mouth at home as well as the office by trying to make Scrooge “the founder of the feast.” Major props to Georgia Backus as Mrs. Cratchit for digging into the meaty monologue of Ebenezer-bashing without tripping over a single word--and saying it vehemently faster than I’ve heard before!
Tony Tom pipes up again at the end to reiterate that I’m PERFECT, are you listening?!, and the Cratchits fade out to a choir of woooOOOOooooers that I don’t mind in the slightest, working as a transition to Orson Welles narrating.
“They were not a handsome family, these Cratchits…” On and on he roasts them, which I can’t say I remember in Dickens’ book, until finally admitting “but they were happy.” Against slowly ringing bells and shivering strings, Ominous Welles tells us how Scrooge and the Spirit went down among the miners and out among the sailors; “much they saw and far they went… many places they visited, but always with a happy end.”
Sir, why do you sound like you’re pulling out a knife? Arch Oboler’s “Lights Out” is on NBC, not CBS!
Ironic that this is the most extensive version yet of the wonderful, heavily important montage of Scrooge and Choochoo Present’s visits.
Abruptly, Mr. Present grows old and vanishes, leaving us with no clawing children (it’s still the 30’s; that’s still wildly too creepy… unless you’re 1910), but quickly we see--
The third Spirit-- and now, Orson War of the Welles’ shudder-inducing voice works very well…
It’s very interesting, now that I look at it, how the musical stings inform each section of the story. The first ones are softer violins for softer, easier spectres; the ghostly choir of Christmas Present gives us a bit of a darker Present but that sinister undertone certainly is there in every version of Tiny Tim’s Last Supper; here, in the darkest scenes, the transition is a sharper slashing of strings, buckling up the gooseflesh on our necks.
Bob Cratchit’s home is much quieter, but I disagree, Mr. Scrooge! Come, now, man; we can clearly hear Mrs. Cratchit weeping! The Cratchit family is much more-- melodramatic-- in their voices, but that’s to be expected in 1930’s radio, I guess. Well-- it’s odd; everyone but Bob is melodramatic. Bob himself seems shellshocked and quiet, which I think is a very good way to play it, but coupled with the weepier voices, just seems out of place? As if it’s from two separate adaptations. But quick as we’ve seen such a depressing scene, we’re Spirited Away (another story that scared the bejeezus out of me when I was young. I’m very glad the Spirits don’t turn Scrooge into a pig; maybe it’d happen if he ate any of Christmas Present’s feast…)
With ever-creepier music underlying the journey, we’re taken to a graveyard--though it doesn’t seem to fit Scrooge’s request to find any hope for Tiny Tim to live. He sees a desolate, lonely, crumbling gravestone which is absolutely perfect emphasis--and even though we’ve only seen the death of Tim and haven’t been in this grim future long, it still feels like we’ve spent the necessary time here to make this reveal work.
Oddly, Lionel Barrymorebenezer reads the name of the buried miser sort of-- flat. But then realizes what he’s read and chokes up, aghast and mortally stricken. His emotions are quite astonishingly high without getting too dramatic--but I don’t know how I feel about his beseeching of Yet To Come, exactly. The horrified panic doesn’t really abate (which is, for certain, realistic), but then just transitions to him calmer in bed waking without that louder declaratory phase so many other Scrooges have gone through. But, maybe it was a radio/volume thing.
He gives us a much more full-voiced redemptive Scrooge, as if instead of purely becoming joyous, Scrooge regained some internal power as well, warming the listener. (I rather like the WALK-ER boy too, despite there being absolutely no attempt to disguise an American accent--and it’s nice to hear Scrooge’s first real exchange of “Merry Christmas!” happen here.)
Lionel goes happily whooping into a bells-and-horns rendition of a little-heard Christmas carol called “Hark, The--” what was it? “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, which has a lovely little melody and which I hope I hear in other versions too! Orson Welles drives us onward past--
Wait a bleedin’ moment-- where the hell was Fred and his party?!
Well, we aren’t getting it now; Scrooge apparently still said TWADDLE! to Fred’s plagiarized Blind Man’s Buff party, because we go on to the morning after Christmas and in ultra-early to the counting-house. Welles must’ve gotten handed a memo that us listeners were getting scared an awful lot like the previous year’s Halloween, because mid-way through telling us how Scrooge waited for Bob, Welles lightens up on his tone. Soon enough, Bob rushes in, frantically getting back to his math lesson that sounds only slightly less painful than me trying to do trig.
Scrooge growls at him, giving Bob quite a bob of anxiety--before very-- calmly… (it had to have been something with the microphones that they couldn’t be loud; why is this said so softly?!) saying he’ll raise Bob’s salary.
Bob takes it surprisingly well, asking meekly if he’s quite himself, sir?
“No; no, thank heaven, I am not quite myself!”
And there’s the joy! Ah, good, and there’s those HEHEHs I’ve missed from that 1938 trailer. Make up the fire! Ah, give it coal; it’s been on the naughty list! HEHEH!
And to Tiny Tim, who did not die, and is now celebrating 185 or so years of life, Scrooge became a wonderful fellow, and my goodness I know on film this is the part that makes me smile bemusedly with how sugary it is, but wow, this feels so wonderfully happy listening to this!
“He had no further intercourse with Spirits… but lived upon the total abstinence principle afterwards--” Dickens would be proud, Mr. Welles.
Ahh, that was “A Christmas Carol,” and-- oh! Here’s Orson Welles, introducing Lionel Barrymore with a rousing list of accolades and well-wishes. Barrymore tells us of what a pleasure it is to perform for us this story he loves so much, and remembers playing the part amongst his siblings when younger. Mr. Welles is almost cut off by the music, but manages to list and credit a great many of the people behind the scenes, and wishes us all a Merry Christmas, while also telling us about “Come and Get It”, which is quite the title for next week’s production.
Goodnight, Merry Christmas, and remember, my dear friends and listeners:
Eat Campbell’s Soup.
This version can be listened to here, and I’m eminently glad it can be. I’ll save my overall thoughts for Mr. Barrymore’s performance until after covering the other versions (in much sparser details), but Barrymore’s emotion combined with the talents of the Mercury Theatre make for one of, if not the, best radio performance of “A Christmas Carol” I could ever imagine. It’s got talent, subtlety, maturity, and knows its medium and how best to capitalize on it. If you’ve got 50 minutes and need a shot of Christmas cheer without any forced sappiness, I highly recommend turning down the lights, grabbing your headphones, and sitting back as cozily as possible to listen to the radio, just as we used to 80 years past.
1939 (Version 2: Mercury Theatre):
This is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the last version (it’s just labeled “Mercury Theatre”). I’m listening just to see if I spot any differences, besides the apparent extra six minutes at the end? From what I can tell, the introduction is slightly different, and there was a moment I remember from the first version where Cratchit shows out the charity-man and the door sound effect plays to shut, then Barrymore yells “SHUT THE DOOR!”, and Bob has to sheepishly say, “It is shut, sir.” Things went in order this time around!
I also like that Marley’s first line after calling Scrooge’s name is “I want much of you…”. I’m sure, sir~
“I do believe in you! You are a ghost, Jacob…” I also missed Marley uttering a tiny, ruffled “Thank you.”
STOP CALLING EACH OTHER BY NAME, IT’S DOUBLED HERE!
I think we get a bit of a longer description of Christmas Past--in depth of what it looks like, though maybe I missed it earlier.
This definitely is a different version; it’s now 30 minutes in, instead of only 26 or so.
Besides being more verbose in some descriptions, and some monologues, it’s effectively the same! I wonder if, perhaps, it was done as a different performance on the same night; here’s “A Christmas Carol” at 7PM, say, and also at 9PM?
Christmas Present sounds a bit more regal here, though still annoyed to be dealing with this insect. The Cratchits, while upbeat, seem more down to earth, and Lionel gets to say his “Spirit, tell me if Tiny Tim will live” as they say grace, so there’s no jolting “THE BOY WILL DIE!!!” interrupting them (though it has quite the effect!)
Bob sounds so frustrated more than pleading when trying to talk his wife down. Orson Welles speaks the montage with a lot less ferocity, it seems; more as an epic telling.
It still strikes me how very sorrowful Mrs. Cratchit is in this version. Bob seems even more contemplatively shocked, especially by the idea that this is “God’s Will…”
Ah! Here is our difference and added scene; we have a bit more going on in the Yet To Come. We go to the XCHANC to hear the other snide businessmen talking about “it’ll be a cheap funeral! I’ll go if there’s lunch provided”, etc. etc., which was cut in the other. And Scrooge, wondering if there’s anyone to care for the man that died--who’d give him at least a “green grave like Tiny Tim”--I guess it’s a green grave, because now we go to the churchyard, overrun by grass and berries.
We do transition with a very sharply high pitched wOOOOoooooOOOOoooo… ow. Thankfully it’s eventually toned down-- the writing was EBENEZER SCROOGE?!
Lionel begs a bit more emphatically here in my opinion, and when he wakes the choir behind him seems slightly louder. Singing of comfort and joy--actually in key!!! And-- loud-- hey, can we turn down their mic gain; I can’t hear Lionel!
God, that kid is so American, it’s wonderful. But he doesn’t say Walk-er :/
Oh! Scrooge meets the charity gentlemen here and pays many back-payments! And Fred is STILL kicked to the curb; that dinner must’ve sucked royally for Scrooge to prefer his gruel.
|"Mercury Theatre, my eye! Bah, HUMBUG! It's all about the SOUPS, I tell you!" |
Weirdly, Lionel shares the exact same anecdote and Welles speaks up over the music (I didn’t realize; it’s Bernard Hermann doing the score!! That explains why it’s so darn good), making me think that this version was a longer version than one that might’ve gotten edited down to an LP form for the 52 minute version?
Either way, this is still an excellent recording of an excellent rendition. If you want an additional 6 minutes, here you go!
It also sounds like they finished their soup, because it’s much easier to tell that speech is happening!
Part 2 of Justin's extensive radio coverage continues tomorrow. We're giving our News Of The Weird Elves the day off today (Sunday, day of rest, don't you know), but they'll be back to entertain you with their finds in less than 24 hours. In the meantime, here's an article that tries to explain the whole Campbells Soup Cult. Read 'Who Are The Campbell Kids?' (and why were they so damn popular?).