Not fifteen seconds in to watching this, I was smiling brightly. “The London Film Company -- CHRISTMAS CAROL -- 1914” is all well and good as an opener, but “From the collection of -- A. Pearl Cross, Esq., -- F.R.G.S.”, tickles me pink. This is from an angry pearl’s collection! Though I guess oysters do make pearls when they’re under pressure. Frogs! That made me chuckle a lot: some well-to-do abbreviation becomes “Frogs,” that’s wonderful.
I’m still floating on meds; I hope it’s not too apparent.
I am actually excited for this version! There’s next to no information for it on the easy-access websites: it is the first version so far that has absolutely no Wikipedia (and only a bare IMDb page). It’s 20 minutes and some change, and silent.
Immediately, I’m hit with another welcome fact from the title cards: they credit the actors!
We first see George Bellamy as Bob Cratchit, enlivened with the Chrumbis Spirit and decorating the office a bit--with a sprig of holly (I assume) and some coal for the fire. Charles Rock enters as Scrooge, aghast at what his clerk is doing, and looking at them side by side, you rather wonder who is the elder. But, like a blustering wind, Scrooge puts a stop to this foolishness of “needing heat” with calm strictness that immediately makes me think, “Now THIS is my kind of tight-fisted, grasping, scraping, covetous old sinner!”
The one fault I can give Ebenezer Rock is that his eyebrows, which genuinely may be white caterpillars plastered on, are so downcast that he has a constantly moping, Droopy the dog kind of miser-face. But he’s such a grasping, scraping, covetous old actor that it just seems to delight the performance more.
We also have PERSPECTIVE in the shots now; Mr. Scrooge’s desk is right close to the camera, and Bob in back stares with moony, mortified eyes, at his boss’s contempt for the sprigs of holly, now settled in the empty fireplace.
Scrooge’s niece and nephew enter, and I suddenly am curious as to why it’s not niece-in-law. Maybe they’ve expected we’ve read the book. They’re definitely a couple--at least, I think they are? Perhaps I’m mistaken. Either way, the actors are Edna Flugrath (I would joke that that’s a triple-word-score in Scrabble, but my name’s Justin von Bosau which I’d expect is at least a double), and Franklyn Bellamy. I see the Bellamy clan is delighting in frustrating Scrooge, across generations!
They might not be related--but for Nephew (Fred) looking so uncannily like Bob Cratchit that you start to wonder if maybe Bob remembers a past Christmas joy with Scrooge’s sister as well.
Maybe it’s the hair; it could just be their remarkably similar hair. And their noses too.
Scrooge, bitter at his Nephew for resembling his clerk in both features and Christmas cheer, rebukes his offer for Christmas dinner. Scrooge’s niece rushes off outside again, not wanting to deal with his ill temper or the imminent questions of if she’s an in-law or blood relation. Nephew Fred tries again and Scrooge and I both realize that, perplexingly, he’s got only one gloved hand, which Scrooge peels off his shoulder with a huff. Scrooge gets up and they have a silent-film argument (without interruption from 95 intertitles!), and in the background Bob Bellamy’s expression drops almost into a coldness of, “hey, that’s my son, you be careful now, Mr. Scrooge.”
Nephew does try wholeheartedly to get Scrooge to dine with him, but Scrooge shoves him off in a very well-done moment of slowness in the exuberance, calm and collected and cold as ice. Nephew (I keep wanting to say Fred but they never named him! Dang it Mr. Bellamy, name your son in this film!) opens his arms in triumph of good-will and the season, and Bob claps, excited-- only to go D: the moment Scrooge turns on him.
Scrooge hands him back his hat and cane in another excellent show of controlled mannerisms, and sinks back droopily to his desk. Nephew greets his father on the way out, who must answer with a hearty “Merry Christmas”, or perhaps “Great scene, my boy.”
An intertitle tells us there’s “A subscription list for the poor” and we smash-cut to the two gents being RIGHT THERE OH sirs, back up please. Scrooge, equally disgusted by their lack of personal-space awareness, slams his desk with the intent to go back to BUSINESS! and Bob Cratchit pauses them (with wide, grasping eyes; I swear, silent era actors must’ve needed a heck of a lot of VISINE) to give them his few pence. Come to think of it, the fellow with the dark hair looks a bit like a young Peter Cushing, almost--at least when facing towards us. Something in the cheekbones.
As the day closes, the traditional scene of the A Christmas Carolers gather outside the window--and for the first time, we get a second camera angle on a scene, as one is placed outside the window with them! Bob dances along as best his freezing bones can, until Scrooge and his pouting bottom lip gathers up a ruler and shoos them away. As it’s closing time, Scrooge tells Bob emphatically NO FIRE while he’s out, and Bob makes the terrible decision to wish his boss a Merry Christmas.
Goes better than expected, honestly; Scrooge just stalks off and Bob sighs, rolling his eyes. We’ve all been there, buddy; I’d say “Amazon’s hiring”, if you’re truly desperate, but that might be worse. Now that I think about it, “might be” nothing; stick with Scrooge and don’t lose your situation.
We do get a treat! An often-overlooked scene of Scrooge visiting a local somewhere for dinner (a pub, I think) and the joyous patrons losing their Chrongus cheer when his bitterness sweeps over them. I think my favorite part of this ten or so seconds is the turtle-waiter, so startled when Scrooge barks at him for a meal that his head all but disappears up to the nose in his up-turned shirt-collars.
Back in the office, another delight: Bob blows out the candles, and the lighting people on set kill the overhead 5Ks lighting that part of the shot. It’s wonderfully done.
Interestingly, this is one of the only versions I can remember where we get to see the Cratchit family this early. Some adaptations show us Tiny Tim early (like the 1984 version we’ll look at later; I think my dad would be a bit tight-fisted, grasping, scraping if I didn’t--it’s his favorite version, after all!), but here we have a gaggle of children and Mary Brough as Mrs. Cratchit. She looks like a very pleasant lady to be around, and reminded me quite a bit of Miriam Margolyes.
Tiny Tim has his crutch, but more focused on is a full brace of wood--leather?--wood?--something that encompases his right leg up to the hip. He looks five at the very oldest, and I can’t honestly remember if he does a darn thing besides smile and look cute. But he does those very well.
We get to actually see Bob coming home, and the children hiding--probably because we won’t have time to in Christmas Present--and it’s truly endearing. They all seem so warm in an unstaged fashion. Even the other little lad who looks over at the camera a good four times in five seconds.
Marley’s ghost is a neat little dissolve on the door-knocker; a few seconds looking at Scrooge-- now back to me. Now back to Scrooge-- now back to me. Your door-knocker is now a door-knocker!
Scrooge gets upstairs--and I must say, this certainly seems the most cramped, somehow drab quarters in all these adaptations. His bed’s pushed right plum up against a wall! It’s true that the impression in the book is that he lives without much comfort--but also that the apartment is rather large and vacant.
Either way, Marley’s ghost comes up the stairs--and we actually see him coming up the stairs! Even pausing to ring the bells!!! Drudging along with a temperament that’s either, “Woe be these accused chains; my endless torment; my burdened end!”, or, “God dammit, these bloody stairs, every time…”
Marley, having had enough of climbing up these infernal stairs, does away with almost all his scene, wandering into frame for Scrooge to cower and saying disgustedly, “To-night three spirits will visit you. Beware!”
(I must admit, I got unreasonably excited at the prospect of seeing an adaptation with multiple spirits, finally! The wording does unfortunately raise the question; is Marley one of those spirits? I would assume not; but then, would it be four spirits? Oh, how I wish I could cast off these accursed chains of grammatical nitpickiness!)
Marley peaces out, though not before raising his ponderous chain to show that--first and foremost among the ranks of lockboxes and keys--there’s a flapping open book. “We’re doing this right!” I can hear him howling in the frosty air. “I’ve read how it goes: it’s three Christmas Spirits, Scrooge, so get on to bed!”
Scrooge falls into a slumber, and we get our first (barring the 1908 potentially) version of Christmas Past, as played by Arthur Cullin.
Christmas Past strides into the room see-through, radiant as an elder at a pagan ritual going sideways, watching merry chaos unfold and smiling with bemusement, thinking, "I won’t stop it!" Dressed all in white, with long flowing white hair, a great armful of--again, I think it’s holly?--and garlanded with more as a crown and woven into his sash belt, there is a timeless young/old sensibility to them that’s great to see. Of all the ghosts, this is the hardest to capture, due to Dickens’ description being ever-changing and almost incomprehensible, rather like a biblical angel with far too many features. This is a great look for CP.
Scrooge has gone see-through; I just noticed that. He’s sleeping in bed, but here he is too in a ghostly after-image, being guided to touch CP’s--heart--and off they go through the closed door.
(Has Marley killed him, or was it an undigested bit of beef gone horribly wrong?)
Scrooge is guided around the corner in excellent effects shots to see himself as a boy, alone in school, crying at his desk. I’d be crying too; scribbled-out math equations are on the blackboard. Scrooge mouths “Me” and looks on, pityingly--wanting to stay to comfort the boy, but being guided away.
We get to see Fezziwig’s party! And though it’s certainly not much--as it’s not much in the book either--it looks just as fun as possible with music and dancing. On a rewatch, I realized that a younger Charles Rock is there on the right side greeting Fezziwig at the start; with black hair and no caterpillar eyebrows, it’s hard to tell--but oh, this dancing seems a rolicking good time! Scrooge is upset though, and Arthur Cullin guides him away to bed again, where he falls into his body.
This is the first adaptation I think that does away with Scrooge’s doomed romance, preferring instead the other parts of his past.
“The Ghost of Christmas Present -- Windham Guise”
“Windham Guise” is such a cool name, man. That’s like a lighthouse keeper who knows the secret you’ve been looking for that nobody else in the coastal town will mention. Windham Guise--I’m going to have to steal that for a book somewhere.
While not the tallest Christmas Present, Mr. Guise certainly looks the part, and again I’m delighted that they have multiple ghosts to guide Scrooge. The green robe with its fuzzy edges; the huge beard lumbering over half his face and chest; the crown of leaves; even the empty scabbard! Marley was right to point out that they’ve read the book.
Windham Guise leads us first to Blind-man’s buff, played by Fred-- Nephew, and niece. The set is almost opulent though very simple. Nephew finds a lady and smooches her quickly; then they toast to Mr. Scrooge, with Niece refusing. Scrooge is led away, despite wanting to stay and enjoy the frivolity. Onwards they go to a strangely subdued Bob Cratchit’s--he too raises a toast, but Mrs. Cratchit doesn’t object, nor does Tiny Tim do anything but be noticed by Scrooge who laments the boy’s condition.
Ignorance and Want were a bit too much for 1914, so they remain hidden under Present’s robes while Scrooge is dropped off to bed again.
“The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Asheton Tonge.”
Who came up with these rockin’ NAMES back then?!
Asheton Tonge as Yet to Come is actually a bit different from the book’s description. Most notably, his face is seen, and boy is it a square-jawed, no nonsense face. He’s not going to put up with any idiot who goes about with “who came up with these rockin’ NAMES back then” on his lips.
His robe is a gorgeous costume.
Unlike the simple black cloak shrouding Yet to Come, it is indeed a dark robe--but with a shorter cowl to show his uncompromising features and with a secondary layer running down the shoulders like black raven-feathers.
It does bring my mind back, though, to the running gag in my family; “Hey, what do you want for Christmas?” “Oh, just a statue of a medieval monk". (It was from “Night Gallery”--we’re weird, folks, don’t mind us).
Asheton Tonge leads Scrooge to his gravestone, and as the terrified Charles Rock bumps by him, Tonge shifts his weight back and puts his other, non-pointing hand on his hip. Look at this man SLAYING IT out here in the church courtyard!
This is, intriguingly, the first version (besides perhaps 1908; oh you accursed unknown!) where we don’t explicitly read the gravestone. It is on the ground, but that’s not the focus of the shot like in the other versions. This is also the only version I know of where Scrooge pleads with Yet to Come--who then nods briskly and guides him back to bed, rather than Scrooge clutching at it and waking up.
In another first--Scrooge’s elation upon waking transforms to some kind of Christian pain; he falls to his knees, crying and praising God for teaching this lesson, and then Charles Rock starts to spring up, grinning. He does the range of emotions magnificently!
Scrooge goes on his redemption kick--giving coins out to the kids scared of him, as well as the two charitable gents (giving a whole 100 pounds!); intriguingly, going to the butcher himself (the butcher, I must interject, looking very well-fed on his own products) and buys the largest turkey, telling the boy delivering it to-- say it was “from Mr. Scrooge” rather than remaining anonymous. I guess the boy forgot to do that--but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The goose, we see, does get delivered, and only now do I think, “Man, Mrs. Cratchit must’ve found it a wonderful gift and also a lot more challenging to prepare as a meal.” Either way, Tiny Tim is still tiny and still adorable. Bob does steal a kiss from his wife under the mistletoe which makes her laugh and shove him away in such a human way that this might be my favorite Cratchit family so far.
The poulterer’s boy definitely says, “From Mr. Scrooge.” Miriam Margolyes almost faints.
Scrooge goes to dine with Niece and Nephew, who are delighted to see him, if somewhat confounded, as well.
Bob even seizes the ruler, like in the book, before realizing it’s all real--the spirits did it all in one night! But-- shouldn’t he have realized before; the poulterer’s--? Ah, who cares; they’re happy.
There’s even a final final scene, showing Scrooge bringing Niece and Nephew to the Cratchits for more dinner, where Bob can finally welcome home his Bellamy son. Tiny Tim is, again, precious, smiling in Scrooge’s lap.
“A Christmas Carol,” 1914, is probably my favorite of the silent versions I’ve seen so far. To be quite frank, I’m completely biased--in large part because I love seeing how different versions differentiate the spirits; every version before this just had Marley doing it (or one compound Ghost of Christmas in 1910). It’s a wonderful work that expands on earlier film techniques--the ghosts being all see-through; Jacob Marley’s face in the door; framing shots so eye-line tracks to something not there--and similarly has matured out of the most egregious over-acting that was necessary for people in live performances. The earlier versions are fascinating for how they began the translation from book to screen; what was deemed too important to cut--what lines of dialogue deserved intertitles--what scenes needed more attention than others.
I do find it slightly odd that so many early versions omit the death of Tiny Tim. Well--not “odd”, because who would want to see the boy dead (or even have it insinuated!)--certainly not me… as I awkwardly mark my place in Stephen King’s “It” and shuffle the book off to one side. But really: the Yet to Come is marked with only grim tidings, and two graves are the norm: the boy’s and the miser’s. An adaptation can work without Tim--but it then has to have at least one scene where someone piles bitterness on Scrooge in his passing.
If it’s just “here’s your grave, buster,” (Asheton Tonge or not) it undermines a bit of the message because it just seems like Scrooge wants to learn how to be immortal instead of wants to learn how not to die a hated, reviled individual.
Either way, this version for me works a bit as a bridge. Before it, we have the adaptations that almost had to rely on us knowing the story to be understood. We have the silent era, and silent films, short and sweet. After this, as we move towards full feature-length films, we expand on the story into something as independently comprehensible as the source material. Something that becomes a holiday tradition; something sublime with pathos and hope. We start to get versions of “A Christmas Carol” we want to revisit not as quaint oddities to enjoy, but versions that we’ll swear up and down are the definitive version, and we’ll get multiple Spirits!
Maybe it’s the medicine; maybe it’s the variety of ghosts; maybe it’s my bias as a modern moviegoer to see more subdued movements and mature framing. Maybe it’s that this was the first version in high definition where I could see a good amount of it! Maybe it’s Maybeline? Whatever it is, I like this version a lot, and recommend everyone curious to see it here.
Man, this deserves a Wikipedia page.
Long-time readers know what day it is today - KRAMPUSNACHT, the day (and night) of celebration of our K.A.C. Mascot! Need to 'brush up' on what he's all about? He's glad to help ... he's even brought the brushes! To learn more about ol' 'whack 'em and sack 'em', click on the link below!
Silly Krampus, you're such a ham - happy now? And speaking of ham (my favorite meat), here's another archive article I was saving. It's never too early to start thinking about Christmas Dinner, so here's 10 different Christmas Ham recipes to try out. Don't worry, we'll get to the HORRIBLE CHRISTMAS RECIPES soon! See you back here tomorrow.