Three Scrooges, Part 1: Famous First Editions

Three Scrooges, Part 1: Famous First Editions
                Question of the blog: Note how Belle, when asked by her husband to guess who he saw, immediately says “Ebenezer Scrooge”?  How often does she think of him? How many times does her husband walk past his office? Does she still have strong feelings for him? Is her husband stalking Scrooge? Does he bring up his wretched state often as a way of showing her she made the correct choice? What kind of control freak did she marry?
                “A Christmas Carol” has been filmed as long as there has been film. But “Scrooge” from 1935 is the first talkie of the novel. It stars Seymour Hicks in the title role. Look very quickly to see Maurice (Dr. Zaius) Evans in a bit part. It is on the public domain so it has often been run on TV and released many times on video cassette tape and DVD. I wish someone would take the time and resources to restore it.
                While not the best of the films, it is not the worst either. Seymour Hicks’ Scrooge looks ghastly. Wild hair, pasty and craggy face – he exudes the bitter hatred Scrooge seems to feel toward humanity. He doesn’t seem the caricature that is typical in Carol adaptations – he seems a genuinely grumpy old man.  Hicks also plays the younger Scrooge during the scenes with Belle – he is either made up to look very much older or younger than he was. An excellent job either way!
                It is a canny effort with the usual expected scenes. Some scenes included here and rarely elsewhere is Scrooge dining in a pub before going home. There is also an extended scene that no other version shows…
                The Lord Mayor’s Ball was mentioned only briefly in the novel and then forgotten. In this film we see the Lord Mayor’s banquet and contains the funniest line from any Carol adaptations. “My Lord, will you make your speech now or will you let the ladies and gentlemen continue to enjoy themselves?”  Genuine humor in Carol adaptations is rare indeed.  I think it was included in order to air “God Save the Queen” during the dinner – a patriotic touch in a depression-era Englandbeginning to hear the early thunder of war…
                Uniqueness: Marley is never seen! Scrooge emotes to an empty chair, beating Clint Eastwood by 77 years! Certainly saves on the film’s budget.  Ghost of Christmas past is a bright light shaped like a tall man’s shoulder and head; Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is a black shadow against a wall (only the Ghost of Christmas Present is cast – and is played as a gluttonous blob). They air the lighthouse keepers and the sailors, but not the coal miners.
                It is a product of its time – filled with melodrama and enough overacting to embarrass even the child actors on “Barney & Friends”.  But it IS fun to watch. The first talking version of the novel and a very fair version.
                “Christmas Carol” was a silent film version released in 1913. It was re-released in the USunder the title “Old Scrooge” in 1926.
                This movie is 100 years old this year. Wow. It has long thought lost, but the version I have on DVD is in incredible shape – it must have been meticulously restored.
                Like most silent versions of Carol, this was based on a stage play rather than an original adaptation.
                Here is Seymour Hicks again, 24 years earlier, still with craggy face, white hair almost comically askew and dressed in an even more threadbare suit.
                Uniqueness: the movie opens with a bit of the history of the story – telling us of Dickens’s past and childhood. It opens with Dickens at his desk writing the opening line. We are told Scrooge is an ogre with a frozen heart and body. Scrooge lives where he works – remember this was based on a stage play – which is pretty common in silent films to save the cost of different sets.  Strangest of all, I think, is that a creepy Marley (draped in white sheets), not the three spirits, shows Scrooge his past, present and future. And yet they DO change scenes to show Scrooge visiting Cratchet and giving the children coins. This was a “dream segment” – he later plays the usual trick the next day pretending to be the same old covetous miser before revealing to Bob his changed nature.
                Was this the first film version of Carol? No, but it is the first time Seymour Hicks played Scrooge on film; and his second film was the first talking version.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (versions I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                My friend Clyde Hall (whose blog is posted on Facebook about a version of Carol I have never seen. The cartoon “The Real Ghostbusters” did a Carol episode in which the ‘Busters caught the three Christmas Ghost and thus Scrooge never redeemed himself. The ‘Busters try to reverse what they did. Note “The Real Ghostbusters” is a cartoon based on the movie, not the cartoon based on the Saturday morning cartoon from the 1970s.  That should have been called “The Actual Ghostbusters”. Spencer, Tracy and Kong came first…

Next: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before…

Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

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