Three Scrooges, Part 2: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before

Three Scrooges, Part 2: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before
                “A Christmas Carol” ran on the TNT network in 1999 to mixed reviews. I refer to it as the Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol for its star who plays Scrooge. Its reception was only fair, probably due to the high expectations (see my Rare Scrooges entry).  I wish I could say I enjoyed it as much as I anticipated I would, but I walked away from it disappointed. Since its release I count it as a wonderful movie – its flaws have faded over time.
                It is a very cold movie – the scenery, the acting, almost everything about it. It is the antithesis of the George C. Scott version with its beautiful and bright sets. That is one aspect of it that I did not like at first but love now.  It’s almost as if the camera lenses were covered in a blue film. Everyone and everything is dark and drab.
                And Scrooge is frozen emotionally. He does not have mean or harsh feelings towards either – he has no feelings. You’d think he was the actor who played Data, not Picard (Star Trek references are inevitable, so I got this one out of the way quickly).
                There are so many things I like about this movie, so many little moments that make it stand out:
                1.                “Games, Spirit, games…” – Scrooge begs the Ghost of Christmas Present to stay at his nephews party. You can barely hear the pleading seep through the ice. In the novel, Dickens says Scrooge asked to stay in an-almost childlike way. Stewart’s way was much more to his character. Seeing him laugh and play along (“he can see” during blind man’s buff – yes it is buff, not bluff) showed the ice thawing.
                2.            The Cratchets are probably best portrayed here than in any other movie. Malnourished, poor teeth, sunken cheeks – they hired a Tiny Tim that actually looked like he may be seeing his last Christmas.
                3.            The Ghost of Christmas Present ages noticeably through his Stave.
                4.           Scenes with Welsh miners, sailors and sea and lighthouse keepers all celebrating Christmas were shown – rare scenes in “Carol” adaptations.
                5.            “I’ll give you a shilling,” if the boy running past his window would return with the prize turkey. Stewart said the line hunched low in the window – as if afraid someone would hear. I laughed out loud at this. I enjoy the few times Scrooge has had difficulty with his conversion.
                6.            When Scrooge told Cratchet Merry Christmas during “The End of It”, Cratchet backs off and grabs a fireplace poker and wields it in defense from what must be, to him, a Scrooge who has finally cracked.  Scrooge realized what he must seem like and backed off.  I laughed out loud.
                Some things I did not like about the movie still gnaw at me: Scrooge’s toe taping during Fezziwig’s dance while still being stone faced.  Wouldn’t it have been better for Scrooge to not only tap his toes but also to try to smile, cracking the facade slowly?  Scrooge’s convulsion that turned into laughter: true it was meant to show the ice finally breaking, but seemed tooforced, too obvious.
                This movie contains two things of note that are not in other versions: the discussion at the very beginning about what is so dead about a doorknob.  Also, Caroline and her husband are shown – they are happy that Scrooge is dead and thus payment of their debt to him will be delayed long enough for them to save it up! In the musical “Scrooge” the character (unique to that movie) Tom Jenkins takes their place leading to the rousing “Thank You Very Much” musical number. No other version I have seen includes Caroline.
                Then there was Topper, the friend of nephew Fred’s who flirted with his sister-in-law. Played by Crispin Letts in an oily, stalking manner that makes Eric Roberts character in “Star 80” look like Sebastian Cabot in “Family Affair”. Kudos! This is the ONLY version of “A Christmas Carol” that has a character more unlikable than Scrooge!
                I had a cassette tape set of Patrick Stewart’s one-man stage production of “A Christmas Carol” long since worn out and trashed. I expect it is still available on CD or download. If so, get it. It was this program that made me (and presumably the disappointed critics) so look forward to Stewart’s movie. The only thing better would have been seeing it live.
                Stewart used Dickens’ stage notes when the author would perform the work.  Talk about a faithful adaptation…  While not a word-for-word reading of the novel, it comes pretty darn close. It makes any road trip worth the journey.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                “A Jetson Christmas Carol” from 1985. Since I am critiquing Patrick Stewart’s versions of the tale I thought I’d keep with a faux-sci fi theme. In this version the Jetsons are the Cratchets and Mr. Spacely, his boss, is Scrooge (although they are never called that). I expect it is filled with silly future gadgets and does not stray from the basic story. It has good reviews on IMDB, so I expect it not to be a complete waste of time.
                I would imagine the best part would be listening to all the original voice actors playing their roles for one of the last times. It was always fun hearing Daws Butler’s octogenarian growl trying to sound like a young child. And by now Mel Blanc’s voice was so low it vibrated the windows.
                Astro as the sickly Tiny Tim?
NEXT: Scrooge, a Song and Dance Man…
                                                                                                               Copyright 2012 Michael G Curry

One thought on “Three Scrooges, Part 2: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before

  1. I have also often wondered, especially as it's framed in the George C. Scott version, how often Belle and her husband speak of Scrooge given that her 'guess' takes 2 seconds. Do they talk of him often? Has her husband, who seems to be some sort of successful businessman himself, had opportunity to watch Scrooge work his cash-in-hand will at the exchange and marvels that this could be the same man his dear wife once held in high regard? Has the hubby been worked over at some point in business dealings with Scrooge? Are Belle's circle of friends limited enough that there are few names to choose from (having that many kids to care for even with nanny help could take a toll on her social life)? Does she think of Scrooge often? Or, perhaps, does she think mostly about him during the Christmas season, treasuring their youthful happiness under the wing of Old Fezziwig at this festive time and recalling it annually the way many of us revisit fond Christmas memories past? I also like the mention of visiting the lonely and alienated with Christmas Present. First time I saw it in a version was the beautifully rendered ABC animated Christmas Carol in the 1970's. Scrooge and the Spirit go flying along the coast and encounter a sailing ship's helmsman wrestling the wheel in quite a gale, facing the uncertainty of the choppy sea all alone, and belting out a hearty 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' despite it all. Quite a powerful image easily transposed to navigating the troubles of Life. Maybe it was prescient, but that scene resonated for some reason and has been a strong memory the many, many years I have found myself working on that very special night in similar isolation. Agree about the coldness of the Stewart version…the look and the feel. It does make a statement and works for the intended purpose. I still find myself fondest of the lush Scott look, though. While it paints a colorful and festive season overall, it pulls back where it needs too, showing the Cratchet home, humble and modest and not adorned…plain but proudly lived in. It also shows with equal visual fullness the dark, shadowy, smoky squalor of A Place Like Many in This World (haven for the homeless under a bridge) and of the Pawnbroker's home. The contrast works well and both seem equally real and equally at odds with one another as the characters explore how the world can be composed of both extremes…and yet is.

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