Sound Film Adaptations
And now that the first opening scene of our adaptation history is done, we’re finally starting out towards home through the fog. We haven’t gotten to the meat of these films and the utter explosion that snowballs more and more (especially in the 2000s)--we’re a full night of Spirits away from the parodies and TV episodes galore ripping off the plot--we’re a hard Edward Woodwardian brisk day’s monologue away from even the Alastair Sim version. We still have almost a full decade of live adaptations, of radio, of good films and bad!
But first and foremost, starting out, before the shock of Marley’s face in the door-knocker--before even reaching the pub where MGM’s cast are chowing down heartily and glowing happily despite Victorian London being a grimier affair than them--just starting out along the road past the first little scene in this Stave, we go out into the rolling mist, clinging to the streets in the dark nighttime, clinging to the frost of the streetlamps just coming on, obscuring from sight all these passersby, obscuring the Spirits as they wail and wander, absolutely obscuring the Spirits in this particular adaptation, and not at all obscuring Sir Seymour Hicks’ bed-head.
It’s actually been a long while since I saw this version, and what little I remember of it is mixed and quaint. Hicks, as previously mentioned in the review of the 1913 adaptation (1926 reissuing it as “Old Scrooge” of course!), performed this role over 2000 times, starting all the way back when the 1901 play came into being and going on from there. Of his two adaptations, this is considered the superior one, and I’m very curious to rewatch it!
Onwards then, into that foggy nighttime! We’ve a great many scenes to see, and a great many Spirits to learn from.
(While it may not matter as much with the silent films, if you want to watch this adaptation FIRST, I’ll link them as always at the end of the article. The summary and review will spoil everything for each adaptation, and there are some things that really are neat to watch blind for the first time through! Enjoy, and SPOILERS AHEAD).
We begin, as we do in our reviews as well, with a book. Well--technically we begin with a certificate from the censors saying, “why yes, this film did pass our approval that there’s none of that vulgarity going about here”, which British censors are so famous for objecting to--and then we get the book! “TWICKENHAM FILM DISTRIBUTORS” (might be the most delightfully English-sounding name I’ve run across in awhile) “present SEYMOUR HICKS in SCROOGE”.
Not “Old Scrooge,” mind, which he did when he was twenty-two years younger; older Scrooge is just “Scrooge” while “Old Scrooge” is young Scrooge. But not as young as youngest Scrooge back when Hicks started on stage in 1901. “Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey,” to quote a different British icon.
Interestingly, this is one of two different opening-credits sequences; both begin with this “metal plate” title and then a book flipping for the credits, but the other version (I believe it’s the American print, from what I’ve read?) omits the final scene of this film. We’ll get to it in good time--about 70 minutes from now!
For now, a white-gloved hand pulls out a book as horns start a-tootin’, and I’m reminded of the dark days before my e-reader when I too needed to wear gloves to handle books (I have some form of hyperhidrosis, which makes my hands sweat so much when holding a book to read it that the pages will eventually ripple like they’ve been in a puddle. It’s no fun, but I’m glad e-readers exist!). The hand shows us an illegible spine to the book then flips through.
Weirdly, the first page is “A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens,” hurriedly flipped past because the audience was left scratching their heads and muttering, “I thought we were watching ‘Scrooge’?” The rest of the names go by: The production company, the crew, the cast. For the first time, it is clear that we are watching a proper film--not a neat relic of silent-era history. And it’s in sound! Recorded by “Baynham Honri”, which is a delightfully memorable name. Not quite “Asheton Tonge”, but certainly in the same honors as “Windham Guise”. The music fades into “Hark the Herald Angel Sing”, which we’ll hear later as a nice book-end, and which I’m realizing does fit this story well--glory to the reborn Scrooge.
We have a proper cast list, led by Seymour Hicks, who isn’t immediately seen wild-eyed and wilder-haired, unlike 1913, which is a much better impression.
Apparently, midway through the credits, they fired the fellow flipping their pages, because now the cast pages are dissolving one into the next! But he’s back--contractually, one might suppose--to flip the final page, which dissolves quickly into showing the Preface from Dickens’ original text. Seeing it here delighted me, though I was curious why they framed it in such way as to slice the word “Preface” away at the top.
Our first sight is that of London, 1843, draped in darkness as Christmas Eve tackles the sun into the west. I’m almost positive it’s a model, but a very pleasant one!
Down in the streets, even the faded lamplight cannot pierce the darkness and the fog--and the film uses that shadow majestically. A few festive folks blow out what I can only describe as a “hearty dirge” into the frigid nighttime, and we pan over past a few scraggly persons in the road to the dimly-lit sign “Scrooge & Marley”.
I just realized I had my computer’s brightness down completely. Watching it again--it’s still dim, but more manageable. Manageable in a way that looks purposeful, and not like Season 8 of Game Of Thrones!
From the sign, we go inside, seeing a figure hunched completely over a desk. We only see his back, hearing the scribble of his quill, seeing the shock of white hair haphazardly ascending from his head. It’s an introduction to Scrooge I’m amazed hasn’t been done that much since: our first glimpse is that of a businessman, absorbed in his work, back turned to the world. In getting to know him better, we have to see his face--and we start to dread seeing him turn around. We immediately know him and his values, all in one stark second.
A slow pan shows us how abysmal his offices are, as if they were coated with frost, and we find ourselves looking at a beleaguered, down-trodden little clerk, Bob Cratchit, sat alone with his single candle-flame in far too thin clothes. And, as is pointed out in almost every review I see for this film (and which I initially read and scoffed and said, “yeah, really though?”), actor Donald Calthrop is hauntingly Bob Cratchit as John Leech illustrated him. He’s a bit like Stan Laurel too, now that I look at him better--without exaggeration, the illustration from 1843 could’ve been a not-too-changed caricature of Mr. Calthrop.
Blimey--I just realized that this film, from 1935, itself almost 90 years ago, came out 90 years and some change after the book. Wibbly-wobbly, and all that.
The tall flame of the candle can’t warm Bob’s spindly fingers, nor can putting them in his armpits, but before he can fix his withered fireplace, he helps in the charity gentlemen from the cold, foggy night. The first lines we hear in any “Christmas Carol” spoken by an actor thus become a heart-felt but very weary, “A Merry Christmas to you.”
By gum, that fits the legacy well.
Jeezum Crow--Calthrop even sounds a bit like Stan Laurel. And, he sounds exactly like what Bob Cratchit from the book must sound like: polite, timid, maybe with a spark of stubborn ideals in him, but without much fight. The gentlemen ask to speak with “a member of the firm,” while throwing off copious amounts of snow from their tophats, at which point Scrooge awakens from his Carcosa-esque slumber, grunting and turning slowly to face them--and eventually, to us.
So--our first impression of Scrooge, now INnnnn STEREO…
Seymour Hicks is phenomenal.
His first few words belie someone personable! A businessman! Mr. Marley died seven years ago this very night. (I admit, I love the little “Oh!” from the disgruntled charity-man.) The mannerisms, too, are measured and mild: he’s just a harmless old man, a bit overweight, a bit lost in his thoughts, a bit unable to comb his hair. He offers the men to sit as they explain that they called on his chambers first, thinking he’d be done with BUSINESS! for the day. Scrooge explains he lives alone. “Quite,” one of the gents says, and I’ll admit too I think it’s a little funny when people use that as an exclamation. It seems like it’d mean something, but just… exists there as a word.
And, as the gentlemen find out, the moment they bring up “Give us some MONEY!” like John Mulaney’s college, Seymour Hicks is an incredible Scrooge who makes you realize that, oh God, he’s a grasping, scraping, covetous old sinner! And I don’t need fifteen intertitles in just as many seconds to tell me he’s as cold as the frost outside his business (stares aggressively at the intertitlist from 1913).
Hicks’ face dropping to his real personality is chilling, if you’ll pardon the pun, and his first true line, “Are there no prisons?”, bristles you up hard in your theater chair. The change is further demonstrated by his body language; his face drops into a hard and hateful mask and he doesn’t look at the men anymore except to address them, waddling back as best he can to work--now deemed more important than these two and their pleas.
It’s only now that I think to myself, “Didn’t Nephew Fred come first in the book?”, but this change in who meets him first does a great job allowing us as the audience to meet him too, and see all the colors of his character in a very short amount of time.
And before it sounds like I’m praising this film a lot all at once, let me say that there’s a lot more praises to come, along with quite a few indignant “HEY!”s in the Yet to Come.Hicks’ mannerisms are honed to a fine art, along with the dramatic timing and inflection. “What shall we put you down for?” is met with a cold silence as he gets fresh ink on his quill, then, as a grim afterthought, a biting “Nothing.” The idiot gentleman, not having read the room, replies with the usual, “Oh, haha, you want to be anonymous!”, and Hicks explodes at him an initial “I wish to be left alone sir!”, glances back at his work, then thinks “no sodding intertitlist is going to stop me now--” and goes on his first tirade against the holiday season. The scary part is, it’s all said as if it’s an angry afterthought--not as forefront as many, many other Scrooges. The lines of age drawn in Hicks’ face help make him one of the truly older, bitterer, quietly angrier Scrooges.
The gents leave, back out into the foggy London night (all clearly caught behind the office door in either a lovely set or a lovelier painting), and Bob starts his Mission: Impossible to get more coal for the fire. One of the brilliant sides of early sound cinema, in my humble opinion, is that it tends to be a lot quieter than modern films. Not so much in the sense that, “wow, explosions!”, but moreso that they let shots linger, and quite literally have fewer sounds. Bob’s creeping about is not emphasized by any kind of score--just the low, rhythmic ticking of the office clock, making it all the more harrowing that Scrooge will hear.
But he doesn’t even need to hear: there’s a mirror hung on the wall so he can spy on his clerk’s every movement! The mirror must be an Apple product.
Deviating ever so slightly from the book, Scrooge allows Bob to get the shovelful of coal before stopping him--never turning around--and then digging his harpy nails in. “We shall have to part!”, Scrooge huffs, voice sounding about as good as the coal Bob’s carrying (hey, it was early sound, give Baynham Honri some slack!). “Your interest is not my interest.” Bob’s not paying for the coal after all, but using it. Well, let’s say if Bob broke his arm, why would I have to pay for his healthcare, hm? Hmmm?
And I used to wonder why a British tale of a miserable waste of humanity being made to repent and learn civility was so popular in the US.
But, Scrooge’s apparent dismissal was just a fiction--though he does drop the top roast of 1935: “Get on with your work, sir! That’ll keep you warm enough.”
Bet you all dollars to donuts that’s painted in a mural above the new Revere Amazon warehouse.
Bob sighs and mumbles to himself, and Scrooge brings him back over for round two, giving him the business over what’s the size of Bob’s family, and can I afford a wife and children? Scrooge with a wife and children? Ha! Christmas Past surely wouldn’t rub salt in that wound. That said, I did balk at Bob mentioning “half a dozen children”, and then remembered that sex ed. didn’t exactly exist back then. Pretty soon Bob’ll be making 15 bob a week to feed fifteen Bobs a week. At Scrooge’s final growling threat, Bob wanders over to his scarf. Maybe Bob’s breaking tradition: he’s going home early? Or is he gonna be back-- and in this corner, Bob Cratchit-- Oh, he’s bringing out the steel chair!!!
Nope, he’s just bundling up--much like Nephew Fred, arriving late to the film at the director’s insistence, coming in with a gale of pleasanter strings than those earlier horns! Boisterously bursting into the scene and talking with that quick, cheery 1930’s attitude, Fred grins and zips through all the dialogue with his uncle as quickly as possible, letting Scrooge grouse and pause for dramatic effect. A particularly nice touch is Scrooge knocking one of the parcels off the desk just to be a wanker, and Fred picking it up, no bothers given.
Bob’s stupid enough to agree with Fred, and we get the oft-cut line about losing your situation if another peep comes from you. Even with what’s been added, or changed around, the script rings extremely true to the book so far, and it’s a joy to witness.
Fred is, as usual, rebuked, keeping his good cheer throughout (unlike some of his silent counterparts), and Seymour Hicks is finally so tired of saying, “Good evening, sir!”, that he finally busts out, “You’re a noisy devil, sir!”, as Fred just will not leave. But, finally he’s gone, and with it, the music, and now the film’s energy slows again.
Outside the window, malignant shadow-people appear to steal Scrooge’s soul!!!
…or maybe it’s just the little urchins trying to get a few coins. Scrooge blinks, perplexed, looking around, and we cut to the most unintentionally shiver-inducing shot of these little faces, obscured by the frosty glass, pressed close enough to see the dull fish-eyed stare as their mouths robotically move to sing.Scrooge is having none of these cryptids, and grabs a ruler. The cryptids cease their siren songs at once and bolt. They remember last time in 1913, when Old Scrooge was younger and could whack-a-mole them and that bloody intertitlist. Who needs Van Helsing when you’ve got Ebeneezer the Geezer Scrooge?
The clock strikes the hour, and Bob snuffs out his candle. The lighting department turns down the lights in his office on cue perfectly, draping it in shadow. Scrooge tosses the ruler back to the desk and sinks his freshly-whetstoned claws into Bob’s flayed back another time, this time about jumping at the chance to leave as soon as he can. I can’t believe Bob is a “quiet quitter!” “Hellraiser” wishes the sequels could get this much torture into their reels.
“It’s seven o’clock, sir--” “That clock’s fast.”, did get a laugh out of me, if only of pity.
Maybe the silent films were right; maybe the miser’s skin is the toughest skin of any animal :O
While Scrooge huffs more than my dog when we don’t give her every second’s attention, he manages to lick his fingers and snuff the candle on his desk without any issue. I want to learn how to do that. It seems so cool. How do you do that without getting burned??? But, back to the story;
In a break with tradition (1913 tradition, that is), we’re leaving the set and actually following Scrooge home! Out into the mist, with Scrooge dismissing Cratchit’s “Merry Christmas, sir”, with an almost passive, “Bah, humbug!” It was at this point I rather wondered if poor Bob, timid as a churchmouse, was so well-meaning as to put himself in Scrooge’s bad sights with the comment, or if his half-a-dozen brood have rotted out his capacity to reason. But they part well enough, and Bob and his distressingly-visible wrists go sledding along down a hill with a gaggle of happy children and a gaggle of happy book-purists!
Bob’s raucous time is intercut with more book loyalty: a beggar quickly withdrawing his hat from Ebenezer the Wheezer Scrooge, Scrooge making his way through the crowd spitting out quiet vitriol at every living thing he meets (even seeming to wait for a man to turn and try to be pleasant just to ruin the mood!), finding a dingy little hole-in-the-wall to take supper and requesting the owner shut up the (accordion? Is it an accordion???) merry honking-goose music from outside. Throughout it all, I asked myself if these are the shadows of actors who will be, or the shadows of actors who may be only--before realizing my brightness was yet again too low.
|Colorized version of the film.|
In an expansive piece, we see not only Fred return home, but also the magnificent dinner at the Lord Mayor’s house! And, not to be too cheerful, it opens with a street urchin trying to interrupt the bougie snobs coming out of their carriage to attend for a single penny being told, “Get out or we’ll sic Russell Thorndike on you!”, causing the boy to sprint away--probably to join his peers, looking in on the kitchens, begging for scraps. Inside the kitchens, two rotund chefs are testing the sherry--no, another nip; I need another nip; yes but another--a man with bulging eyes is frosting a cake, and about the time a chef is… jiggling a table of jello… and jiggling his own flapping jowls with them do I start to think maybe we’re over-indulging?
“Claeaen? You call this cleaeaean?” a man demands, holding a towel. “Yea!” a boy replies, before the towel is smacked across his face with a giggly “PHWEEE~!” sound and WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE GUYS?!
STOP CUTTING TO TWEEDLE-DEE AND TWEEDLE-DUM DRINKING SHERRY!!!
One of the angrier-looking, less-rotund chefs throws scraps to the clamoring shadow-orphans. Why they haven’t used their cryptid powers to break down the windows and overrun the kitchen like a horror-Ratatouille is beyond me; maybe the cross-bars are silver?
(It’s worth pointing out that this is interstitched with Scrooge’s own miserable journey home, to show like, “Here’s the opulence! Here’s what Scrooge prefers!”, and-- I mean, not to agree with Seymour Hicks again like I did in 1913 but-- I mean, I’d sort of prefer the small table at my usual restaurant than the baller party with 5 courses and 379 spoons and if you mess up one they’ll all scoff at you and be passive-aggressive as only British aristocrats can do.)
“My louuurd,” a butler? asks the Lord Mayor, “will you make your speech now… or will you let the ladies and gentlemen continue to enjoy themselves?”
I take it back: that is the top roast of 1935.
The Lord Mayor is evidently unphased though, stuffed into his suit. He’s sitting very comfortably, as he’s finished his food, and maybe his date’s food, and maybe the whole kitchen’s. (He’s at a bad angle and the back of his chair blends in with his suitcoat, making him look a bit like Herbie the Fat Fury in terms of body type.) Oh-- sorry-- not the Lord Mayor; the Lord Maaauuuuuur, as announced.
The Lord Maaauuuuuur stands, introducing or probably just inviting a toast to The Queen. The camera sweeps back as the massive crowd of extras stand, raising a toast, and evidently they’re cryptids too because a very recorded choir busts out “God Save The Queen” with the perfect harmonizing and word-blending of a Victrola. One of them must have the voice of a brass instrument too!
It is an amazing camera shot though, pulling out and out and showing just how huge this set is! The restraint not to show it all at once, but save it for the scale here is amazing, and without exaggeration this single shot probably cost more than every silent version combined.
Smash-cutting outside, the shadow-urchins are stopping their miserable race for table-scraps to stand and sing as well, a children’s choir filling in their voices. I imagine this is what people envision when they talk about making those darn millennials stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in schools again. Shuddering, I hope we cut back to Hicks’s grasping, plate-scraping, ravenous old dinner again. Thankfully, we do; God Save the Editor.
We even get a blind man’s dog barking its head off at Scrooge like my little moron dog did last night at the sound of any trick ‘r’ treater! And, humorously, Scrooge asking, “What the devil are you doing out here?! Frightening people out of their wits,” to the hurrying-away blind man’s silhouette. It seems the first time ever that Scrooge is actually nervous before Marley--but I suppose I would be too if my screen-companions were all these featureless cryptids hurrying about the fog.
For the first time since 1914, if I remember right--we finally get another glimpse of Marley in the door-knocker!!!
It’s… underwhelming, honestly.
But that’s okay! Hicks is spooked; once he gets in, we’ll get a better look at him! Sure, the shot was a bit too quick, and Marley’s features faded in only at the last minute-- ooh, I’m so excited!
(Side note: they also seemed to have lived together; Marley’s name is scratched out of the door. Scrooge’s “could I afford a wife?” is looking a bit more cheeky now…)
With more excellent lighting replicating the candles, Scrooge wanders around apartments that honestly look decrepit and unlived-in, searching for some visible intruder. If only he knew how fruitless he’d be…
He does get scared by a coat standing up, which I’d laugh at, except we’ve all been there. He does also immediately go to close a window and a bucket drops out of nowhere at his feet. IMDb says it’s a mistake because it’s a “paint-can” while others accurately point out it’s an old hat-box. My question is how it got there in the first place, and the only explanation I can find is that this is now a prequel entitled “Home Alone 5: First Christmas”. Netflix would probably pick it up; they’ve certainly picked up worse!
The cinematography in this film is so good. You’ll know the shot when you see it.
Scrooge, bundling up in his drab house, goes to get his cup of gruel, when suddenly the bells start a-clamorin’. For the first time, I actually get context as to what the bells are when Scrooge looks outside and sees there’s nobody ringing at the doorbell!
(Did they have venusian blinds in 1935? Venusi-- Venetian. I was thinking venetian; venusian blinds are something different. They probably come with a Ymir. This completely pointless aside is how my brain jumps tracks by the way; how I accomplish anything is a feat as miraculous as the spirits doing it all in one night!).
The bells stop. Scrooge jumps in place as the door below opens! Something comes rustling up the stairs. The bedroom door opens slowly--
And here is where it aaaaalll starts to crumble.
Here’s where I’d joke about, “Wow, it took 21:30 to get to see Marley in 1913, and it took a little longer to see Marley in this version!” But there’s one problem. Marley, in this wonderful film, is played by Claude Rains--who is excellent in just about anything, honestly! Rains might be remembered best for his role in “Casablanca,” but before that, he was an accomplished theatre actor, landing him his first film role in a wee film called-- well. I’ll link a good video on that film here, and there’s actually a great quote from that film that sums up the problem:
“ ‘e’s invisible, that’s what’s the matter with ‘im.” --Constable Jaffers, 1933
Yes, as it turns out here, Marley is visible “only to Scrooge,” which is juuuuust enough to take all the impressive goodwill built up so far and run it over with a reindeer like Grandma. Maybe that’s why Claude Rains plays it as one of the angriest Marleys I’ve heard!
The Invisible Marley is talkative, because by God we’ve got this newfangled sound and we’re going to use it! Hicks does a very good job acting to nothing, and it’s only now that we get a real glimpse at what acting in one of the silent versions would be like, considering there’d be nothing to act to for some / most of the double-exposure shots. Talking to an empty chair, pretending someone is there and asking about grave issues strikes me as particularly hard if you’re not Clint Eastwood!
Interestingly, Marley says flat-out that we’re seeing “A Christmas Past-- (dramatic pause) A Christmas Present-- (...dramatic pause) And a Christmas Yet to Come!”
And so, having accomplished everything in 3 or so minutes, Marley goes to the window and flies out is what I would love to say if we saw any of it.
IMDb also reports that this is the first version where we get that fabled scene of wailing ghosts outside the window!!!... only it’s only visible to Scrooge, and visible to us by way of a blustery gale of snow buffeting around the London night, accompanied by dramatic music, which disappears when Scrooge comes to his senses and sees the night still and quiet. So humbug on that, I say! It’s not even acknowledged by Scrooge, and I won’t have this wishful thinking for that scene; it’s just a blot of mustard for now.
Maybe they didn’t show Marley because he was so scary in 1913 that Seymour Hicks flat-out refused to have an on-screen Marley this time around. I don’t blame him, remembering that death-scarecrow. He goes to bed, and some fellow on the street announces that it’s twelve dolefully.
Scrooge wakes-- nervously looking forward; his bed-curtains drawn back-- goody! Goody! We’ll see--
A sort of smeary outline about as definable as a silhouette of Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” appears; our “Christmas Past”, and now I have the sinking feeling that the Lord Maauuuuuur ate the rest of the bleedin’ budget along with the dinners of the whole city of London!
Apparently the filmmakers can sense our annoyance, so the Galaxy Being of Christmas Past quickly escorts us across “the gulf of vanished years” (and omitted scenes; poor little Fan, poor large Fezziwig--someday when there’s a Christmas Past the audience isn’t revolting against, we’ll get to see you!) to a time when Young Scrooge was played by Old Scrooge--aka Seymour Hicks did the very unwise thing of playing his younger counterpart. To be as-- polite-- as possible, Seymour Hicks was 64 here, opposite a lovely and strangely hard-edged Mary Glynne as Belle, who was 40.
Maybe it’ll work, though! A nice head of black hair, a younger, stiffer suit-coat--
It, uh ...
No. No, it does not work one jot.
Belle arrives as her step-father--I mean, fiancé--angrily lets a couple go out to the street because they can’t pay. “But SIiIiIiiIiIiir!~” the man dramatically says, “I couldn’t work in the hospital!”
Why not? I wondered, intrigued. Was it because vampires were stealing blood-bags? Was it like Junji Ito’s hospital from “Uzumaki”? (Look that up at your own risk.) But, like the ghosts, we’ll never see a lick of that interesting thread.
Scrooge walks over to his desk, disinterestedly hunching over like he has every day since until we get to the present day, and I can’t help but having the extremely unpleasant thought that Sir Seymour Hicks looks rather a bit like an egg in his “young, fit” outfit.
Belle, distraught by Humpty Dumpty’s behavior, decides to push him off the wall herself after some terrific silent acting from the distressed, actually young couple. The most 1930’s DRAMATIC music plays as Belle chews him out, disgusted that she could marry such a miser as he, or maybe that she got mixed up and tried to order one “Old Scrooge” to love and had to sit through forty daft minutes of intertitles. Either way, it’s more melodrama and voice-warbling than you can shake your urchin-whacking ledger at, resulting in her ripping her ring off and bidding him goodbye.
Well, at least Scrooge would have “made allowances for her feelings as a woman.”
Eee, what a charmer.
The director does his best to hide Seymour Hicks’ age by having him face Belle throughout the end of the confrontation, but we’ve already seen him, and so it becomes an inward struggle to want to believe they could be the same age. There is a wonderful moment of Hicks reaching for the ring, slowly and bitterly, and straightening back into a businessman.John Carpenter’s The Fog of Christmas Past then goes for the ambitious overkill, showing the oft-forgotten scene of what Scrooge would’ve had if he didn’t settle down with Marley instead: Belle and her family at Christmastime, a loving husband, and oh my GOD LIKE 15 CHILDREN?! Belle must be a baseball fan because she’s sired a whole Little League team! Not to be persnickety, but Old Young Scrooge’s heart would’ve probably failed after the third one, Spirit--but then, these are the shadows of children that may are be are they be. They do be--just not with he?
Claude Rains is spitting bullets at all the “The Invisible Man” references, because now Chrismiss Past is not only cosplaying him by showing up In Voice Only, but stealing “Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May!” for the Children Whose Name Is Legion to sing as well!
If I’m ever this jolly, assume I’ve had heavier stuff than painkillers and muscle-relaxants, dear readers, and call a hospital please.
Here comes Belle’s husband! And while he’s just as jovially round as young Old Scrooge, I’m glad that she got rid of her sugar daddy for a regular dad her age. The poor man wades through the sea of ABBAABAABAABABABABAABABAABBA children (their voices all intermingle and it’s somewhere between charming and terrifying imagining having that many) and they rob his pockets blind of goodies while he just keeps chortling, finally making it to his wife.
INEXPLICABLY, Chortler decides to bring up that he saw an “old friend of yours!” on the way home. Belle guesses it’s Mr. Scrooge, and whilst the Chortler recounts how he’s grim and dismal (and I swear to God, Intertitlist, if you bust in with “How Cold he is”, I’m reaching for a bladed weapon) and turns out this is the night Scrooge’s life-partner Jacob Marley was trying to decide if he wanted to imitate a doornail or a coffin-nail. Belle is visibly upset, why did you BRING THIS UP, YOU OBVIOUSLY KNOW THEY HAD HISTORY.
Guess it’s one way to stave off the mood of having a 37th child back before Ye Olde Birthe Controle existed.
“Spirit, haunt me no more!” cries Hicks in an oddly-flat shot, and Stephen King’s The Mist of Christine Past just floats there, voice pleasantly ambivalent. There’s an excellent transition of Hicks bringing his arm down in anguish, cutting through the spirit and match-cutting to him snuffing out the candle on his bedside table, extinguishing the past after only five or so minutes and finally takes the glaucoma-edges off of the camera lens to let us see again.
Scrooge snorts awake, looking around and hiding under the blankets as the bells toll 1, before getting up and seeing--
The Ghost of Christmas Present! In his drawing-room, surrounded by food and festivity, and definitely one of the most different Christmas Presents I’ve seen.
Most notably, he is… remarkably rotund, and he has no beard.
I actually don’t mind Oscar Asche’s take on the character, which we’ll see presently, but why doesn’t he have a BEARD?
I looked up Mr. Asche on Wikipedia for context on who he was, because I could swear he looks familiar. And, hahaaaaa… that was a rabbit hole that BEGAN with a photo that’s aged like milk.
Oscar Asche’s whole career is actually interesting to read about, so I’ll like the page here, and I give fair warning that “interesting” doesn’t always mean “pleasant”. Rather sadly, this film was done one year before he passed away--and he was, in fact, the same age as Hicks’ Scrooge on-screen here. Making one more notable thing the fact that he is one of the visibly older Christmas Presents!
“Come in!”, he says… then stuffs a big heapin’ helpin’ of turkey leg into his jaw, “...and know me better man!”
Scrooge wanders in.
“I am the Ghost--” chew chew masticate chew “of Christmas Present. Look upon me!”
“You have never--” chew snarf gobble chew “seen the like--” nomnomnomnomnom “of me--” pleaseyoudidn’thavetotakeaREALbite “before?”
No, Spirit; I’ve never seen the like of you before!
Maybe Oscar Asche ate the beard. Pity, that.
We do get the wonderful lines (again, oft-forgotten) asking if Scrooge has walked forth with any of the other members of CP’s family: “Have you many brothers, Spirit?”
“More--” throwing a turkey leg aside for something else “than 1800.”
Oh, so just shy of Belle’s kids then.
For all of the ribbing I’m doing, Oscar Asche does bring a wonderfully majestic presence to the Spirit, which makes him at once otherworldly but in a still-approachable way. It’s odd, thinking about it and comparing it, how different actors play the part: Christmas Present is, visually, the most consistent character (of the Spirits at least), and seems the one least changed from actor to actor. It’s interesting seeing who plays it more as the wide-eyed joviality of the season--who plays it more passive--who plays it more vicious against Scrooge’s damnable words from Stave I. Asche’s Spirit seems somewhere leaning more towards the “passive” spectrum, but right at the edge of it, as if he’s an opulent ruler. (When thinking about Presents, my mind usually goes between the 1951 version, which strikes me as too passive, and the 1984 version which is amazing but also more than a bit intimidating. We’ll get to those soon enough!) Without any amount of insincerity, he would be a nice Christmas Present to go out walking with.
As soon as Scrooge touches the robe of the rubenesque Spirit, we’re transported with a quick cut and a champagne-cork-POP! to a church letting out into the snow. It matches the eye-line perfectly, for you film nerds. Whoever did the cinematography and editing deserves a medal.
“Up you get, Tiny Tim!”, says the man we initially think is squatting down to do something indecent, but it’s just Bob picking up his little angel child. Off they go, and I do have to say that it bothers me greatly, as someone who gets cold easily, seeing versions of Tiny Tim in shorts at Christmastime. Either the director had a very specific vision, or Christmas Present ate the rest of the budget after seeing the Lord Maauuuuuur, getting into an off-screen devouring duel with him, and winning by chowing heartily down on him and his snobbish banquet--because Bob’s wholesome close-up of walking with Tim is interrupted by Donald Calthrop getting some of the snow in his eyes and blinking harder and harder to dislodge it.
He pauses to buy a present for a very healthy-looking Tiny Tim, and we get an introduction to the Cratchit brood with some of the most ear-piercingly… pleasant… children. They’re so excited for the goose they start clamoring over Mrs. Cratchit too, trying to greet her eldest daughter. But Martha (“why did you say that name?!”) is greeted and bid to hide in the corner, the Blair Cratchit, to prank Father just like in the book. Bob is aghast that Martha might not be coming on Christmas day, and much like Stan Laurel his hair’s a frizz from the hat and he’s got a small streak of harrumph about him when he’s upset. But Martha reveals herself, everyone laughs, haha we’re laughing, haha this sound will haunt me in my sleep please stop laughing Cratchit children, please, I’ll give you a goose!!!
Scrooge and the Beardless Behemoth of Christmas Present leer in through the window, smiling happily at the Cratchit family’s happiness! A happy feast… I could be eating that feast…
I’d love to type about the jovial Cratchit family but hahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
At least they stop for dear Father to tell about how Tiny Tim hoped people saw him as a cripple, so they could remember that the big J. C. helped cripples. It’s wonderfully heartfelt despite the swinging violins in the background.
“But he’s growing stronger! Yes… he’s growing stronger--and hearty!”
“I wish I could believe you, Bob,” a very pleasant, sort of cookie-cutter matronly Mrs. Cratchit says.
Why wouldn’t you believe him; the kid’s in perfect health?! There’s no hint of makeup smudging his features; he bounded off to get the goose faster than the kids that were previously jumping on the table!
“But I’m afraid,” she continues, and we cut outside to Scrooge looking in and Mr. Creosote of Christmas Present wondering if Scrooge would be gamey or not with some herbs and a slow roast. Or he’s just anticipating the “will Tiny Tim live” speech a bit early.
There are more “Hooraaayyyeeee!!!”s than stock footage of a July 4th parade, until Bob shuts his family down with Christianity, saying Grace over the meal and they dig on in. Only now do I realize that, as most versions do the whole “toast to Mr. Scrooge” before the meal, and the pudding is brought out inexplicably early, this implies that Scrooge and the Ghost just sort of watch this Cratchit mukbang. I’m glad the editor dissolved us through seeing people just omnomnomnoming here--if not when Coobloomoo Present was introduced!
As Mrs. Cratchit goes with Healthy Tim to fetch the pudding, Bob does the fatherly job of terrorizing his kids with “what if the pudding’s gone wrong?” to a myriad of objections. But it comes out fine, and is lit on fire for some cooking reason I’m sure is perfectly explainable but which I’m just going to imagine is to burn out any Christmas Imps that’ve tried to house themselves in the yummy meal.
The pudding is brought out to more YAAAAAAAY and we see Pinnacle Of Youth Tim leaning absentmindedly against his crutch, saying the patented catchphrase passed down generation by generation, from one Tim to another Tim, Tim(e) after Tim(e) --- in a very passive, absentminded way. It’s an odd choice, but one that makes it feel less like, “look, I’m the golden child!”, and more like, “yeah, he’s just so pure :)”
One of the parents strokes back his hair and he does give a radiant NOT IN ANY WAY SICKLY smile.
(Not that I want to see another film of children looking wasted away--“Grave of the Fireflies” did that more than enough for one lifetime--but if I’m to believe that Tiny Tim is frail, the actor must be sick-looking in some way, and/or younger than this lovely cherub, because he’s approaching double-digits where you’re more likely hearty and going to make it into adulthood.)
Oscar Asche does an amazing job of Christmas Present’s monologue about human worth at Scrooge --- it’s by no means the barely-reined-in WRATH of Edward Woodward, but it’s done quieter, and slower, and deeper-voiced, again reminiscent of a regal figure. Both Asche and Hicks, coming from extensive live-theatre backgrounds, play off each other exceedingly well.
Bob tries to name Scrooge “Founder of the Feast” and Mrs. Cratchit’s matronly personality gives way to her earned bitterness. Bob is timid: all Cratchits are milquetoasts, the book-purists purr contentedly.
And now, Doctor’s-Low-Maintenance-Patient Tim will sing! But what will he sing? What will he sing?
Five bucks to the first of us who guesses the only song in the world: Hark the Herald aaAAaaaAAA
At least I’m almost d-done with adaptations, right? Just 90 years left.
The Lord Maauuuuuur’s Cryptid Choir help Tim sing, giving way to the montage that I was overjoyed someone FINALLY DID ON FILM. Even less than the ghosts out the window, I think, do we get this montage. First, shadows against the windows show the cheer of conversation and love within each home; then all of London’s homes, lit up and bustling, then out to a lighthouse where the most stereotypical lighthouse keepers in the world drink to each other for the season; to a ship tumbling in the waves and still with a laughing crew celebrating, and please can someone tell me if the Herald Angels Singing sounds like a FLIPPING BOTTLE ROCKET GOING UP EVERY FIVE SECONDS?! The montage is lovely with the sound off, let’s put it that way.
The laughter brings us in a transition to Fred’s party! Fred’s apparently auditioning for “The Man Who Laughs” despite the film being out for a full seven years, because thinking about Scrooge’s curmudgeonly ways just tickles him and the guests pink. Someone’s spiked the punch, they have they have. I think I can spot Topper, except he’s now bald, and followed to the ground in a fit of laughter by the ladies of the party. If Sir Patrick Stewart has taught me anything (or I suppose, will in 1999), it’s that ladies do dig the bald fellow. Just ask my mother about how great it was when my father surprised her with a goatee and a shaved head. (And now I wait to see if he’ll include the pictures!) [Editor's Note: You win this round, only because I can't find the photo right now!]
We don’t get Ignorance or Want sadly, but we get the creepiest transition out of Christmas Present by going into the fireplace and the flames burning away the image of the Laughing-Gas party to a much-too-close-up of Christmas Present laughing and please DON’T EAT ME TOO!!!
I think I finally figured out whom he reminds me of, and it’s not a healthy comparison. Laughing, the Fat Man From “Overdrawn At The Memory Bank” of Christmas Present fades, leaving Scrooge tossing and turning from quite a fever dream in bed, shudder-laughing and waking up cross-eyed it seems.In the one time not showing a ghost actually WORKS for this film, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come is done only as a berobed arm’s shadow, pointing relentlessly forward. No words and no features even of the dimensions of the spectre; just the hand and arm. It comes out of nowhere in the darkness and is purposely, wonderfully jarring.
It first takes Scrooge to the XCHANC which is someplace carved in stone and-- what? I’m told by the announcers that this is in fact “EXCHANGE” and just the shadows around the edges are keeping it in. I was sort of banking on “X-CHANC” being the hip new energy drink :/
In one of, if not the most uniquely disquieting versions of Stave IV I’ve seen, they take the “shadows of things that may be” very literally, by having Scrooge’s shadowy outline plastered to the wall and his face inside the shadow like a screen he’s looking out of. It seems like a simple effect, and isn’t lingered on much, but is so greatly upsetting that I’m amazed Moffat didn’t use it in Doctor Who for that Capaldi episode with the 2D shadow people.
At the XCHANC the book-appeasing-businessmen are laughing over briefly mentioning the fellow who died, the middle one taking great pains to stand with his legs a p a r t but since he’s behind another guy, I thought he might’ve taken up this stock trading after his career in piracy blew off one of his legs! “What did he do with his maaney?” “Hasn’t left it to me, that’s all I know!”, the ex-pirate laughs, maybe thinking about what all that maaney could buy and if he could go full Planet-Terror with a machine-gun leg, once they’re invented.
“Ol’ Nick has got his own, finally!”, another xchanc goes between two other random folks. “Yes; seems appropriate for Christmastime!”, and more dry laughter. I don’t remember that from the book but it’s certainly got the Dickensian teeth about it.
“I do not see myself in my accustomed place,” Scrooge’s disembodied head comments, and you’d think that’d be enough of a hint, really! Scrooge seems not to have read the book, unlike the wonderful folks who made this film, so off we go to more of Stave IV. I must say--this is, compared with every silent film that’s come before, a marvelous upgrade, in that it has actual visions of the future. This is, in fact, the longest of the visitations of the Spirits--clocking in at about 20 minutes or so, making it the second longest stave after the opening.
Going to the scene that always made me wildly uncomfortable (purposely so) as a youngster, we get to see Mrs. Dilber and cronies at Old Joe’s! Old Joe looks as if he bathes, fully clothed, in loose dirt--aided by the low lighting and the mass of lines and wrinkles on Hugh E. Wright’s face (which is much pleasanter on Wikipedia). His three visitors, come to deal their fleeced goods, laugh only slightly less maniacally than Fred’s party-guests; game recognizing game. They too, sadly, will not win any prizes on beauty or basic hygiene. The lighting department, however, learned the same lesson I figured out doing college horror TV: underlighting an actor makes them 10 times creepier, especially if they aren’t fully lit and it’s the only light. Bordering on that TV version of “Hamlet” covered by MST3K in a highly underrated episode, the sets seem to almost vanish for the heavy darkness of the atmosphere to take hold, making this almost dreamlike if your dreams include cackling, unwashed old women.
Hey, I’m not here to judge.
(The voices do border a bit on Witchiepoo levels of sinister, but with how creepy the rest of the lighting and facial expressions are, it doesn’t take away from it for me.)
“And now undo my bundle, Joe~” is a phrase I hope to God I never hear again, at least with the images conjured forth in my head, but I shan’t be that lucky. Hey, I can’t stop anyone from judging.
|"Seriously, AGAIN with the tapes?!"|
Sadly, Margaret Yarde I believe it is as the laundress seems to have a case of bronchitis, because her voice crackles in and out as if her voice-box is mimicking one of Dad’s cassette tapes (since he loves me talking about them so much :) ). It always confused me how Scrooge never remembered that her and Athene Seyler (great name!) were in his employ cleaning his home. Perhaps he was too rich enough to see--or, as in this case, perhaps it’s too dark and expressionistic to tell!
I haven’t been this scared of people laughing since I thought the Spirit of Christmas Present would eat me like he did the two urchins hiding under his robe! But, blessedly, the scene transitions away…
“Merciful heavens! What is that?”, Scrooge asks, and the camera slowly brings us around to see the covered body on the bed. Except, because of the black vignette around the lens obscuring the edges, we barely see the head, and because of humans innate ability to look at something random and discern facial features, I for a moment thought we were looking at a cloth Jabba the Hutt before realizing my error. It’s bunched up weird on the right, okay?! But because we’re doing this by the book, Scrooge asks to see “some tenderness connected with death,” and the shadow of Yet to Come drops down over his face, leading us to:
The Cratchits! Blessedly, it’s mellow and quiet. I was initially much happier not to have six shrieking kids but, since we open on Mrs. Cratchit all but sobbing-- well.
The scene works on its own, but the combination of the softer score and the black vignette utterly choking the picture make it feel so, soooo much heavier. Merry, uh… hard to joke about a very well-acted scene of grief, honestly.
The kids being so animated the previous time we’re here juxtaposes well with their almost calm nature here to demonstrate that silent pain. Props too to Barbara Everest as Mrs. Cratchit for digging into that small “the color hurts my eyes” line from the book and making it as “I’m hiding my grief” as possible. Barely five seconds, but such a dose of raw humanity. Bob walking home is hunched and broken, just another shadowy actor passing by in the fog.
Much as they weren’t my favorite Cratchit family in Christmas Present, it was more a begrudging “ah, yes, cheer,” grumbling; all the actors young and old do marvelously there and here. All the actors do great with what they’re given, honestly.
“I promised we’d walk there [by his grave] every Sunday,” Bob says, soft and trying not to break. “My little Tim.” Cool man, can we dig the knife further please?
“Sure!” says the director, and we go up to the very-rarely seen room where Bob gets to cry over his son’s dead body, great, HAPPY CHRISTMASTIME, aren’t you glad you brought your kids to the theatre to see this?
The one damper to it is that when Donald Calthrop enters the room, a crewmember’s finger is sliiiightly there helping pull the door to and give him privacy. I’d prefer to think of it as Christmas Yet to Come being merciful; it is just a small shadowy finger, after all.
We’re quite a far ways away from the Bob who inexplicably brought Tiny Tim to the office in 1913 just to let the boy hobble back home. I guess the tears in my eyes are my chickens coming home to roost after remarking how the kid looked so dang healthy earlier, because oof this is a very well-done, very quiet, very deeply painful scene. Even Scrooge astrally manifesting on the wallpaper doesn’t disrupt it any --- though him growing sentimental and saying, “Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God,” does make me more belligerent at the miser’s hateful heart than anything else.
Oh, good! Martha did make it on time this year! The family’s all there for Ch-- uhhhhhhhh…
Apparently Fred wanted a larger role, so he gets a mention I don’t remember from the book, that he’d run into Bob and offered any help he could give. It’s amazing, too, seeing other versions, where Bob’s “I’m very happy” at the end of remembering how good Tiny Tim was and saying how we mustn’t quarrel (parents never miss a chance to keep the kids well-behaved! Shrewd, Mr. Cratchit, very shrewd!), just results in him breaking into tears. Here, however, he keeps it together, and you get much more of a sense of how he’s going to go on; every other version, there’s so much devastation that moving forward seems impossible, but here you get such a picture of an already put-upon man so beaten and broken that the only option is to keep plodding forward. It’s too much to bear, really, and adds more believability to Scrooge’s redemptive turn than any and all of the silent films (which is unfair to them, being older and having less time to work with, but it’s true; it just hits way harder).
It’s a good tip to all writers, though, and rarely duplicated with the same effort: if you want to show how a character is emotionally wrecked, do not expound on how sad they are, but how everything they do becomes muted and mechanical.
Scrooge has evidently gotten braver, or wants out of this silently distraught home as much as I do, so we’re whisked away to the ending that every silent film did afford to show: the grave. And Scrooge has finally regained three-dimensionality! He starts to ask if these are the shadows of things that may only be, but is interrupted as Yet to Come points--
“Ebenezer Scrooge!” Hicks howls like a pained dog, and I mean that as the highest compliment to his performance; it’s a chilling and truly lamentable cry.
His continued performance, going from desolation to vigorous desperation, is hindered only by continually cutting to Yet to Come shadow-pointing down to the grave--but the framing isn’t quiiiiite right so he just kind of HWAH!s it vehemently past the bottom of the frame. Don’t ever get this Spirit as a proctologist, Mr. Scrooge.
Again, the transitions are well-done (besides you, maniacal laughing Christmas Present; you’re right up there with the gnomes from 3 Dev Adam for most upsetting laughter), and Scrooge goes to “sponge away the writing on this STONE!”--in so doing, grabbing the shadow-hand of Yet to Come and prophesying his being a good boi from now on--and match-cutting very nicely to sponging away the spittle from his pillow, waking up on--
Well, hopefully some boy from below can tell me what day it is!
Scrooge’s redemptive turn is so stressed by relief that Hicks’ voice starts to warble out, and only when the camera pulled back did I see that “on my knees, I thank you!” to Jacob Marley was meant literally.
Athene Seyler comes in to witness Scrooge’s joviality, and is greeted with recognition from her boss--so why didn’t you before?! Either way, he zips about giddily, pointing out where Jacob came in, wishing her a merry Christmas, and you can tell she’s debating whether or not to call the Funny Farm while holding his breakfast tray.
The boy down below said it’s Christmas day! YAAAAAAAH YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! Why in God’s name is he wearing shorts, aren’t your legs cold?!
Well he might not’ve had pants to wear; they do look a bit ragged. Guess he’d better be a fast walk-er or his legs’ll freeze off.
It’s neat seeing versions where Mrs. Dilber is in the room while Scrooge has his redemptive turn; all the asides of “an intelligent boy; a remarkable boy!”, are said to her instead of the air, and it not only makes a bit more sense (and makes him seem less coocoo for cocoa puffs) but gives us a glimpse of someone warming up to him, rather than being told later that everyone did because wow he became a good guy.
(Fred and the charity folks don’t count as much to me; he gives money, and yes he’s jovial, but I guess my point is we just see her warming up to his personality only.)
I must admit, the one line that does feel incredibly forced in this film is this random boy’s “Hooray!..”, when Scrooge says he’ll give him half a crown. It made me laugh, how out of place it is. Similarly, the one edit that seems weird, besides one that’s conspicuously blocked by my memory as “too frightening”, is seeing Mrs. Dilber smiling with her hands on her hips, then immediately with them folded in front of her as Scrooge tutters about to get dressed.
This is also, inexplicably, the only time I remember Scrooge nicking himself shaving… and where the Poulterer’s is closed. And where Scrooge waddle-runs down the street to said Poulterer’s, collects up a snowball, and hits the Poulterer with it as the boy pounds on the door. “Have you sold that prize turkey yet?”, Scrooge inquires as the livid man cleans snow from under his collar; he yells “NO!” and slams the door, sending an avalanche of snow down on Scrooge. The kid laughs. The poulterer comes out. “What’s the do?”
I had the very bad misfortune to pause immediately after Scrooge runs over to him, yelling, “I want that big turkey of yours!”, and had to keep from breaking a rib laughing as I walked about to my tasks at work. Oh yes, why hello, Mr. Poulterer--but we’ll get to that version of “A Christmas Carol” in the 1970’s, mark my words.
Now that I’m back after an hour (which explains, by the way, why I read these back and sigh at how haphazard every other sentence becomes), I’m delighted to say that, for the first time in 20 years, I’ve now seen Seymour Hicks with combed-down hair. What a charming old gent he becomes! And Mrs. Dilber thinks so too, going, “Oh~!” four or five times after he gives her a coin, once he’s back home.
Why we have xylophone music prancing along while he gets dressed, who knows. It’s cheery though!
The poulterer, though having no lines, becomes my instant favorite because for the few seconds he’s on-screen, he looks more and more like one of his stuffed birds, eyes wilding out at how affluently silly Scrooge has become.
Out in the street, he runs into the charity gents, and begs their pardon, wishing them well and asking if they’ll put him down before leaning in to smooch one’s ear. “Sure!”, they must angrily say, “we can put you down--”Oh, for $100 except whatever the sign is on a computer for Pounds because British (left).
Their shock is warranted; $100 (but British) is the equivalent nowadays to a little over $15,000 (but British)!
We then cut to Fred telling his party how Scrooge “won’t come and dine with us!”, and he’ll be eating those words along with his dinner in a minute more of celluloid! I do believe there’s a hint of a boom mic shadow on the top left, too, as his wife protests to Fred’s calling their dinner “not much.” After a moment’s hesitation, Scrooge knocks and goes in, because if there’s anything Christmas Present taught him, it’s how being at a big feast is better… hmmm, what are the courses… how much food can I ---
Everyone is gobsmacked and Fred is delighted. Mrs. Fred says hello--and in a slightly fun character moment, we realize that Scrooge seems not at all knowledgeable about how to socialize. He wanders over to the Christmas Tree, where Not-A-Corpse Tim’s voice starts harking up the herald Angels. Fred comes to give his uncle a back massage--or lead the old man away--as emotion envelops Scrooge.
In another neat transition, the feast intercuts with the breakfast table of the Cratchits, as Bob hurries off to work on the 26th. He arrives late (like me figuring out the traffic from my new house, GACH!), and Hicks frizzies up his hair again for the Prank™, monking it after every line to reassure us that he’s still good-hearted and finding this heart-attack-inducing prank hilarious.
The change to elation happens all at once. Bob seizes the ruler, but as soon as Scrooge says “I’ll raise your salary!”, he trusts him at once, no confusion. “I’ll be a second father to Tiny Tim!”
How do you know my kid and his nickname?, should be on Bob’s lips, but “God bless you, sir!” comes instead.
“A merry Christmas, Bob--” Scrooge pauses, putting a hand on his clerk’s cheek, looking deep into his eyes. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, than I’ve given you in many a year.”
I guess the proposal’s accepted, because the final scene is Scrooge wandering into church (as the choir blasts that NUMBER ONE RADIO JAM, SIZZLIN’ IN THE SNOWY ‘CEMBER AIR!!!) and places a hand on Bob’s hand, causing him to turn and smile gently and them to sing together.
And to think that this scene was omitted from some prints for decades. Love is love, dang it! God Bless Them, Every One.
The page-turner’s contract must’ve gotten renewed, because he shuts the book, and we’re ushered out of the theatre smiling.
All in all, this is where the adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” start to hit their stride. Before, we got a good many silent films, improving on the same techniques, showing the same few scenes, the same few styles of sets, the same one-or-two additions here and there (the same few pacing issues). Every one of them has merit, and without them this would be vastly different, I’m sure, because we may have lost a sense of what those films pointed to as “quintessential scenes”.
And, for better and for worse, those adaptations are harder now to just sit and view, without being thought of in a pleasant, “I’m watching this for history’s sake” kind of light. It’s sad, but I’m not sure you’d find many folks going around saying that one of those versions is their favorite compared to all the others, though I have my favorite version among all the silent films (1914). They’re sectioned off: the first little chapter, but here’s where things start really going.
This film, from 1935, is the first indication of what an adaptation put to celluloid really could be. Compared with all that we are able to view (damn you, Christmas Congress! I want “The Right to be Happy”!!!), this is an ambitious overhaul of the usual superimposition and the usual favoring Staves I and V. Of all things, this version truly values Staves III and IV, the Present and the Yet to Come, despite spending so much of the film in Stave I at the start.
Now, obviously, this film has its faults. In my opinion, having Marley be invisible to us does not work and throws off a lot of the atmosphere of what came before. (If I’m being honest, I actually don’t mind how they do Christmas Past as an outline, since it’s supposed to be so non-descript. A non-corporeal version seems perfectly fine!) Spending as much time as we did in the Lord Mayor’s Kooky Kitchen isn’t grand, nor is missing out on yet another Fezziwig ball (all the extras from the Lord Mayor could’ve danced, surely! And the Lord Mayor himself could’ve Fezziwigged…) and seeing Little Fan.
Most egregiously, however, is that Sir Seymour Hicks, who is a treasure in this role, should not have been playing Younger Scrooge.
Only two other actors, according to Wikipedia, have done that. Albert Finney (who was in his thirties when he did the 1970 musical, so that works!) and Jim Carrey (who was CGI’d in in 2009 and we’ll get to that… experiment--but it again works there). Both of them were significantly younger; both of their Scrooges suffer a bit for that youthfulness, but the past sequences are much more sincere as a result, and believable. Hicks is not, not, not able to pull off someone who could’ve been the dashing suitor to Belle, and once that part of the film is through, we breathe a sigh of relief.
Besides that, though, I rather like the rest. The soundtrack is very 1930’s, and some of the acting is melodramatic--as were the times. The children can be a bit high-energy, but that’s kids for you. More than anything, I’m amazed at how ambitious this film is, because it not only tackles small details that other productions with higher budgets and fewer constraints don’t ever touch, but it also goes as dark as it can for 1935. This is one of only two versions I can think of (and that Wikipedia can think of) where we see Bob crying over his son’s literal corpse; the other is the equally book-faithful 1999 version with Sir Patrick Stewart, and that scene is similarly, tragically powerful.
Not only ambitious in what it adapts, but ambitious too in how it adapts it. This might have some of the most stunning shots of any adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”, and I don’t just mean the banquet. How it’s shot--how it’s edited--how it’s lit and how the vignettes on the camera lens are used, make it dive deeper and deeper into expressionism, especially in the Yet to Come where it’s most appropriate, and most haunting.
Most importantly, this adaptation has heart, and that heart is shining through every single actor. Fred might be one-note jovial, but Robert Cochran sells it and makes it believable. The Cratchits are milquetoast, but especially in their quieter scene, they’re a family. Oscar Asche’s regality is undeniable, despite all my silliness. Donald Calthrop is amazing. And Seymour Hicks, in every movement, every syllable, every look in his eyes, is the most genuine, practiced, finessed, earnest Scrooge I’ve seen in quite some time. Every actor to come after him will bring something new to the table, and play the character as the old man, the businessman, the ruthless bastard, the frustrated curmudgeon--but few, if any, can match how lived in this part is for Hicks.
It’s an astonishing performance, even if pieces of the adaptation fall through, and as it is from 1935, it may certainly be too slow for some folks. I find it outstanding, if not perfect, and recommend it in high definition here if you don’t mind that YouTube sucks and gives some commercials. (There are other versions that may not have ads but they are much lower quality!) Also, the video is titled “The Scrooge”, which is such a dumb oversight that it makes me grin every time I see it.
This is the adaptation that sets the bar. And it sets that bar high.
Setting the bar back to it's former low level, from the Charlotte Observer comes the story of cows 'hoofing it' away from their part in The Nativity Live:
If YOU were left wondering, as was Justin, WHY the Christmas Pudding of the Cratchit's was lit on fire, fear not - the K.A.C. is EDUCATIONAL, as well! Brush up (but don't get too close - fire, and all, you know) with '10 Things You never Knew About Christmas Pudding'!
See you tomorrow for our weekend edition!
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