Scrooge (1913, reissued 1926 as “Old Scrooge”)
Now we’re getting into the undigested bit of beef and gravy of this!Before Alastair Sim became the undeniably recognizable King of Scroogedom, two actors in the 1930’s contested for that title. The one who won out was Reginald Owen, who took the role in the 1938 film from MGM and was seen again and again thanks to the film’s popularity (and MGM’s television broadcasting influence *cough cough*).
The second actor, lesser known in the States until more recent revivals and appraisals, was Sir Seymour Hicks, who played Scrooge in a silent film in 1913, a sound picture in 1935, and the titular character in over 2,000 performances of live theatre! But since the films were made in the UK, they likely suffered the fate of many an early Doctor Who episode: the prints were destroyed for raw material, or otherwise not well-kept (perhaps through no fault of the producers; the British Isles were bombed to all Hell in World War II, after all). But that’s all speculation; I have no idea.
What I do know is that Hicks was prolific in the role, and moving forward we’ll look at both filmed performances of his, and maybe if I don’t go doddering off on tangents I’ll remember enough to compare and contrast them! The more well-known is his sound version from ‘35; this 1913 silent film is lesser-seen and, as a result, strikes me with more curiosity. It runs 40 odd minutes, and took a full 13 extra years to come to the US, where it was retitled “Old Scrooge.”
A slightly humorous title, in my strange mind, as Seymour Hicks would perform the role again with another twenty-two years under his belt. But, to get to the film:
We start with an unexpected sight: the wonderfully downcast face of Charles Dickens, sitting at his desk, books and a view of the world behind him. Then, we fade into a lovely little intertitle:
“Boys and girls, men and women, read and reread ‘A Christmas Carol’ and take its lesson to heart” or we’ll find you.
Okay it doesn’t actually say that last part, but doesn’t it make you want to nervously laugh, your eyes darting to the EXIT sign glowing red in the darkened cinema?
In an unexpected, informative meta-film, we are told how Dickens’ lack of wealth as a child influenced his writing the story, complete with an actor as Dickens getting the inspiration for the book, beginning with the title and continuing on down the page. He doesn’t look like Dan Stevens, mind you, but I suppose he’s The Man Who Invented Christmas nonetheless. Wonderful beard!
We’re told we’re about to glimpse Ebenezer Scrooge! Let’s see--
Well, he looks like he’s got out of bed; a cowlick going off wildly and an expression of angry perplexion dotting his eyes and low-hung lips.
And here he comes now! Hobbling along
(an intertitle tells us he’s so cold and)
(an intertitle mentions he’s cold and)
HOBBLING AND HE FINALLY GETS OUT THREE STEPS AND
(an intertitle tells us of his vile coldness!)
Scrooge finally gets to a fence and from off-screen what looks like a white brick comes out of nowhere and smacks his shin.
(an intertitle expounds that kids love throwing snowballs at him)
Scrooge, hunched and walking like me when I threw my back into all kinds of cramping and sciatica, howls and gestures at the gathering child mob, sending them packing. So far I’m on his side, especially if
(an intertitle tells us how cold he is)
intertitles kept GODDAMN INTERRUPTING ME.
Scrooge finally makes it to a bench, only to have children sneak around him and shout MERRY CHRISTMAS OLD SCROOGE, at which point he grabs one and beats on his arm and shoulder rather viciously. The urchin comes back into frame as well, testing the old man’s resolve, in an eerily not-rehearsed kind of way. The intertitle tells us “Out upon Merry Christmas, you brats. Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips”
Is there more to that sentence, Mr. Old Scrooge?
Anyway on to Scrooge and Marley’s!
Five minutes into this 40 minute affair, I’m almost at a loss for words. Maybe the intertitlist has taken them all from me.Scrooge makes it inside his counting house, after looking back angrily over his shoulder so many times
you’d think the IRS is after him for tax evasion. Bob Cratchit brings little Tiny Tim along so the audience is introduced to the boy early, and for a moment I thought it was a porcelain doll in a little suit. While he’s not Brahms The Boy, Tim is very little, and because his father loves him so, he brought Tim to work only to let him down off his shoulders to hobble home alone? whilst waving at his back no more than three times. Scrooge rightfully opens the window and hollers at his clerk to get in and work.
It’s a bit disconcerting, actually agreeing with the old miser for once.
The clerk gets to work, and outside Nephew Fred is hounded out of his last few coppers by the gaggle of chaotic children crashing haphazardly through the snow. Fred doesn’t seem to mind--until Uncle Old Scrooge bites at him for being merry at Christmas. I must say, this is the only version I can recall where Fred’s ever-powerful mirth slides off his face completely during this interaction, giving it much more angry tension than other adaptations.
The intertitlist scrambles to fill us in on every line of book dialogue, interspersed occasionally with snippets of actors moving on film.
Fred is shooed away, giving Bob in turn one of the most forceful handshakes of good cheer I’ve ever seen, and suddenly in comes a beggar-woman, heavily-clad and wandering forward like Ligeia. Old Scrooge evidently hasn’t read Poe, so he’s unafraid of her and sends her and her poverty packing with the lines about “Poor-Mills and workhouses.” Because the intertitlist is very good at their job, we do even get the oft-forgotten line, “Any more of your silly sentiment, Cratchit, and you’ll keep Christmas by losing your situation.”
As we transition to evening-time (the light outside the window just the same as before), I was delighted to see that they included the small candle on Bob’s desk which he tries and fails to warm himself by, and was inexplicably confused that in trots one of the Guardians of the Poor looking for donations.
“But,” I think, bewildered, “didn’t they just use up that dialogue with the poor woman? Doesn’t that serve the same purpose?”
“Well, we didn’t use every line,” the sheepish intertitlist replies-- “and I’m paid by the word!”
Hicks, sitting profile, looks a bit like Lon Chaney’s Phantom. Maybe it’s the film stock; maybe it’s the medication I’m on for my back as I view this. He does toss the Gentleman’s paper voucher onto his sloping desk, only to catch it a second time and throw it before the intertitles interrupt; one of those funny little mishaps that you don’t get a second take to correct when using real film!
The gent is sent away after some unkind words not translated, and Bob asks for the whole of Christmas Day off, if it’s quite convenient. Scrooge and the intertitlist go rogue, and give Bob a pen, saying, “Here: take this new pen for a Christmas present. It might help you do better work”
Because of how cold the office is, Bob doesn’t feel the burn, and marvels at the pen before leaving--not before the ill-advised, “May I wish you a merry Christmas, sir?”, and bolting as Old Scrooge old yells at young him.
If it seems like I’m being too pedantic about all of this Stave I, it’s because I just looked at the time and we’re LITERALLY ALMOST HALFWAY THROUGH without even getting out of the counting house! Maybe Sir Hicks’ longevity as Scrooge was because it was all one blisteringly long performance.
Interesting to note: this is the first instance I’ve seen of a moving camera in “A Christmas Carol;” there have been small pans right and left to follow the actors on set!
Strangely, Scrooge starts a strip without the tease, taking off his suit-jacket and scarf, and closes the curtains on the gaggle of screeching orphans who might be begging for alms or the new Xbox Series X for Christmas. The intertitlist informs us that all this merriment of Christmas “annoys him” and--I preface this next statement by saying I may or may not be psychic--I had actually already guessed as much.
Now that he’s stripped down, Scrooge bundles up for the wintry air--first, though, checking for the IRS again and grabbing a bag of gold from his desk; “his nearest approach to happiness”. I’m nearing the twenty minute mark of a forty minute film and the muscle relaxant for the back spasms is tilting my head sideways, mate: I’m begging for Marley to rouse me with his ponderous chains.
Only now, 21:30 / 40:00 in, do we realize that the counting house is just Scrooge’s house as well, and such a brilliant doubling of sets did make me smile. So, as Scrooge drifts to sleep in his armchair--Bob’s desk there in the background, raising the perplexing question of if Bob realizes that Scrooge sleeps in the room as well as doing business, and how must it smell?--sack of gold coins spilling down his thighs and legs uncomfortably open facing the camera, does Marley’s Ghost stroll on in, looking a bit like a sheeted, surreal scarecrow. If I saw it in my bedroom I’d have to change my trousers, to be honest.
The intertitlist, sensing the lateness of the hour, barrages through the dialog, leaving glimpses of film between his cards.
Marley’s got some good corpse paint on, like he’s part of an undead metal band. Dark eye sockets, black ridges down under the cheek-bones. And he’s even got his head-bandana! I think this is the first version I’ve seen chronologically from 1901 with it, so far! Excellent.
He does say he’s come representing the ghosts of Christmas past, present, future--and suddenly my heart sinks a little, sensing that we haven’t gotten to an adaptation with three different ghosts showing Scrooge his errors yet. I’m not as horrified by this though as Old Scrooge himself, who’s cowering on the floor and shielding his eyes intermittently behind his bathrobe.
Dang, Marley’s corpse paint is AWESOME but he still looks like a besheeted scarecrow. He’s holding his arms out straight, you see, and because his hands are transparent they have stickish quality--
(Quite seriously, I’m loopy on medication for recovering from a back injury and sciatica right now, so thanks for putting up with my ramblings. In rereading this, I realize I said this part already. Sorry again.)
The two argue for a bit, and finally Jacob gets tired and leans his ghostly arm on Scrooge’s chair in a nice touch of positioning and effects. He does, however, clip through the fourth dimension as Scrooge--definitely in front of him--manages to pass see-through behind him. It’s a lot to wrap my head around.
Marley, having no comfort to give Scrooge, says, “You must suffer for your past!”, and shows him his school days (projected into the film, just as they were in previous adaptations) and all but calls him a loser; Young Old Scrooge sobs into his arm at being alone without any change of facial expression. Then Fan the sister comes in, and Marley says how Scrooge abandoned her later in life, which struck me as odd, considering she’s truly the one person Scrooge seemed to love unconditionally.
Scrooge’s sweetheart materializes to further roast poor Seymour Hicks, who looks around in that traditional vaudeville way for the audience to affirm that yes, they’re seeing this crazy stuff too. She roasts him for a while--like, a good long while compared to the previous vision. It’s like she has a twitter thread of “BREAKING UP WITH SCROOGE, 1/?” Go off, ma’am, yes! Jacob’s gone statuesque on the right side while Scrooge writhes very fluidly for being Old.
Bob Cratchit’s merry family is shown next, and I can’t help but wonder if part of Scrooge’s agony in this section is that the scene is being projected half-over his balding head. Adorable Tiny Tim is back, and he and the other Cratchit children wave their patented Cratchit Wave™ as Mrs. Cratchit brings out the feast. She’s quintessentially upset that Scrooge is named Founder of the Feast by Bob, and Tiny Tim stares down the camera lens into our soul as his porcelain lips utter the immortal intertitle phrase. We know the one. If you say it five times in a mirror on Christmas Eve, legend says a wooden crutch will appear under your arm!
Marley lays the smackdown on Scrooge with the “decrease the population” line, and we see a rare sight--one I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else besides the 2019 miniseries (and oh, brother, we’ll cover that strange affair soon enough): the actual death of Tiny Tim. Laying in bed, his parents sobbing over him, Mama Cratchit affirms that his porcelain cheeks have gone cold. As theatrical as it is, it is still a shock seeing Bob sob and splay over his youngest, and a powerful moment.
And so, sans washerwomen and Old Joe, we’re shown Scrooge’s gravestone (which Sir Hicks rushes forward to go to, trying to deny it and getting buried under the effect). Similarly to the Edison studios picture, Scrooge “LIVED AND DIED WITHOUT A FRIEND” which is, as I think I said there, blatant Jacob Marley erasure. Maybe that’s why Marley wants the future changed; he wants his due recognition!
Scrooge, now raving, swears to honor Christmas all the year, and Jacob turns and backs away--through Scrooge. As he does, Scrooge keels over; evidently Marley took Scrooge’s soul with him to be damned--no, sorry, that’s not until the 1970 musical. Either way, now that the boring parts of “A Christmas Carol” are done--all the spirits, blown through in an easy ten minutes!--we’ve got a marvelous nine more minutes to get things straight in Stave V.
So shaken he’s literally shaking, Scrooge finds reality again in his armchair and smooches the armrest before praising heaven, Jacob Marley, and Christmas. Something about all this didn’t sit right with me, as if instead of seeing the past mistakes and joys of Christmas, all Scrooge got out of it was the fear of God put into him. Honestly, that might just be that opening intertitle messing with me 30 odd minutes later--but it does feel strangely off. With Jacob Marley guiding him instead of the spirits of Christmas, there’s an animosity to the message that wasn’t there before, in my mind. “Look what I could’ve avoided, you money-grubbing git,” kind of feeling.
Scrooge’s first act is to call out to a boy in the streets and invite him up into the counting house--almost knocking over his clock by leaning on it. The boy comes up and Scrooge grabs a handful of his shirt, asking if he knows Tiny Tim and if The Boy is still alive; yes, of course! “I saw him tonight with his father!”, making this adaptation also the only one I’ve seen where it doesn’t appear to be Christmas Day proper in Stave V but still nighttime. The boy gets a bit of gold (looking to the audience happily, ah live theatre! How fascinating it is translating you to film) and rushes off elated.
And then we have a tinted sequence of Scrooge-- joining-- the Cratchits for dinner? No, sorry; he imagines joining them--
I-- did someone up my dosage without me knowing?
Scrooge waddles in, every Cratchit elated to see him. He makes a round of the table, handing gold out to each child, and kissing Tiny Tim’s cheek before taking Bob’s seat at the head of the table. After Tim has mimed rubbing his belly, hungry for food, Scrooge produces a sprig of mistletoe and cuckolds Bob at his own table by stealing a smooch from Mrs. Cratchit. I swear to God I’m not making this up--and now I really am wondering if I mistook the 2019 version for this. They stand up to toast, and Scrooge steals the porcelain boy’s catchphrase before sipping and jigging his head about, every Cratchit adoring him.
Now that my fever-dream has broken, we’re back to the counting house set, and Scrooge showers the urchins who were harassing him last night (or was it this night still?) with a fortune of gold coins. The intertitles say it’s still Christmas Eve--and off goes Scrooge to see Nephew Fred and say he will dine there! Or he’s walking into a death trap; Fred did seem angry earlier--
Off and away he goes, pausing to wave at the audience; very thoughtful, this new Old Scrooge!
Skipping forward (silly Justin; you thought you’d be getting to see another set, didn’t you?) to the day after Christmas, Scrooge pulls the fast one on Cratchit from the book which I believe is also a first for film adaptations. He pulls it off spectacularly, telling Bob he’ll raise his salary after frightening him and then--
Taking his-- hands-- laying his head in one and kissing it-- and clutching his shoulder and telling him “I’ll be a second father to your Tiny Tim”.
Mr. Old Scrooge, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?
Anyhow, things end happily, and God Bless Us (every one), off we go to the credits!
This version of “Scrooge” is, if I may say so, not at the top of my list to rewatch. The pacing is strangely slow, even when Marley whips us by the majority of the book, and I think in large part that has to do with how much dialogue from the book they jammed into the intertitles, slicing away the performances every few interrupting seconds. Without hyperbole, I genuinely think there’s more time in these forty minutes spent reading intertitles than there is seeing an actor performing the story. I’m curious, if they were taken out, how long the play would be--and if the opening section still took on a full half of the run-time.
That said, there are still merits and accomplishments here. Marley--while not looking like the book counterpart--is vividly unsettling, and by far the creepiest ghost of any adaptation so far. There’s a truly uncanny sense to him; either the spread arms, the thick wraps of cloth obscuring any discernible feature of the body, or the blackened, gaunt face--it’s worth seeing the film just for that, honestly!
Sir Seymour Hicks does a very decent job at bringing the character out in his own way. Scrooge is both a callous bastard--and a vulnerable old man. A lot of actors have interpreted him a lot of ways, but getting his vulnerability integrated as well as all that expressionless rage is a difficult task, and usually the performance favors one side or the other. I’ve heard that this version is actually the weaker of Hicks’ two films, because of how angrily Hicks comes across--and in that light, his performance is absolutely one charged by impotent fury more than anything else. I’ll be interested to see him in the 1935 version, with another 20 and some years of performing the character under his belt!
Interestingly, the other members of the cast of this film are famous to the Christmas season as well. J. C. Buckstone plays a part here--perhaps Marley (there’s almost no information on who plays who in the cast; it was 1913 after all, and nobody was thinking about IMDb back then, sadly) or rather perhaps Bob Cratchit; either way, Mr. Buckstone wrote the stage-play “Scrooge” in 1901, which was the basis for that first film adaptation (and probably the version Sir Hicks performed in; he started in 1901)! Mr. Buckstone appears with Dorothy Buckstone here as well, and that makes me think maybe they were Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit. Or perhaps he could’ve been Dickens at the beginning, writing all this out. Again, there’s no credits.
The film’s director, Leedham Bantock, also played a role in the film (again, maybe, Mr. Cratchit?) and was the very first person to play Father Christmas on film! That was in a film entitled “Father Christmas” from 1912 (the pictures of him with the bushiest beard imaginable are-- well, something to behold - see left), which Bantock wrote and which was ironically directed by Walther R. Booth, who directed “Scrooge; or Marley’s Ghost” in 1901!
Besides those fun facts, there’s actually not a lot of info about this film I could find. Most of the information about Hicks as Scrooge mentions this film in passing to get to the sound version from 1935. I’m glad I gave this one a watch though; it’s fascinating to see another interpretation of the character, even if the story is abysmally paced. (Maybe it’s called “Old Scrooge” due to how much you’ve aged before Stave II. I wouldn’t be as tough on the film except for how much it wants to be faithful to the source material--and how well-paced that book is!)
Problems notwithstanding, it’s very neat, and little seen. You can watch it here if you’re interested!
From one impressive beard to another, we now turn to the fascinating tale of the 'bizarre ban' King Henry VIII imposed on the people of England on Christmas Day, 1541. Called the Unlawful Games Act, it's strange not for how he imposed it, but WHY. See if you can follow his reasoning below!
Finally today, an article from last year that I was saving to run this year, BEFORE we had the theme picked out. Read why 'A Christmas Carol is not cozy, and its angry message should still haunt us':