Three Scrooges, Part 3: Song and Dance Men

Three Scrooges, Part 3: Song and Dance Men
Thought of the Blog: Dickens says that Bob Cratchet had only met Scrooge’s nephew once (this was in Stave Four in the future: “Mr. Scrooge’s nephew, whon he had scarcely seen but once” – an odd way of putting it if they had met more often than once). This was when Fred visited Scrooge at his counting house and invited him to Christmas dinner.
                This implies one of two things – either this is the first time Fred had come to Scrooge’s counting house for any reason, let along to invite him to his party (Stave Three says he WILL go by year after year but not necessarily HAS in the past); or, if Fred HAS been inviting Scrooge year after year, Cratchet has only been working for Scrooge over the past 364 days at MOST. When Scrooge says, “You’ll want all day tomorrow…” was this the FIRST time he asked this to Cratchet, or was this an annual conversation. It seems to imply this has happened before – getting all day off – perhaps Scrooge comes to expect this from his clerks.
                If Cratchet has only been at his job less than a year – what of the other clerks?  How many has Scrooge had over the years? Can you imagine the job interview? Where had Cratchet worked before? Was he that bad of a clerk this was the only position available? I would think not many people would recommend Scrooge and Marley as an ideal work environment…
                In the late 1960s the Hollywood Musical* as a genre was on its last great gasp. In the 1970s they were as rare as a Jennifer Aniston blockbuster – for every “Cabaret” there were ten “Mame”s.  The theaters were dominated by big-budget wide-screen epics including “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Oliver!”  A Dickens tale as a musical? Sure, and if it worked once…
                *Note that “Scrooge” was filmed and produced in Englandand therefore not, literally, a Hollywood Musical, but it snuggled nicely into the genre.
                “Scrooge” was released in 1970 and starred Albert Finney in the title role. It received four Oscar nominations and Finney won a Golden Globe. It was well received critically.
                Several things differentiate this version of the tale – not least of which is the music. Most “Christmas Carols” contain music – usually brass band versions of old Christmas songs, a small choir singing carols, Tiny Tim’s Peter-Brady-like-cringe-worthy renditions of various tunes; and the occasional song during Fezziwig’s and Fred’s parties. But this was a Musical with a capital “M” – the songs had little to do with the holiday and more to do with reflecting the mood and emotion of the moment: teasing children belt out “Father Christmas”.  “December the 25th”is a fun tune at Fezziwig’s party but not the kind that would become a Christmas classic. There is the genuinely sad “You … you” during which we see the exact moment when the adult Scrooge shut himself off from the world and when his older self realized what he had become. Most people remember the unbelievably catchy “Thank You Very Much” sung twice during the movie. You’ll be humming it all day now.
               Its unique moments are what stand out – seeing the face of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come and the scenes set in hell – no other version of the tale has this (“Disney’s Christmas Carol shows a vague face and a coffin deep in the glowing earth, so it is close). In fact, it’s not in the novel at all. But I don’t mind that – if I want a faithful rendition of the novel I would hardly expect it from a musical.
                And it is always fun to see Alec Guinness try to sing. Being of my generation, I did not realize Alec Guinness was Marley until after I had seen him in that OTHER movie he was in. Therefore, I will always associate him with that OTHER movie first. Put another way, every time I see “Scrooge” and the ghost of Marley enters I expect him to say, “Go to Dagobah, Ebenezer, and learn from Yoda…”
                Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962). WHAT!? This classic is put in the “rare” category!? Yes, in the 1970s it was on TV quite a bit, but it went decades without rebroadcasting. Maybe where you live some local station aired it, but not in my market. Not even the cable channels. It has come back to television recently though – TiVo has helped me find it. This cartoon is usually at the top of most favorites list, so I suspect the show has aired elsewhere annually or I just missed it. For twenty years. … Hmm, I stand by its rarity.
                Now this Magoo isn’t the doddering racist from the weekly cartoon; this is the Magoo from the 1950s UPA shorts – still blind as a bat but painting, hunting, camping as if nothing is remiss. Unfortunately most of those shorts are long gone.
                It presents itself as a musical – hence its inclusion here. The titles bring the tunes to mind – which is a good indication of their longevity – Lord’s Bright Blessing, Ringle Ringle, etc.  The songs were written by the same team that wrote the tunes to “Funny Girl” – which explains why the songs rank so high in retention.
                Jim Backus does the definitive voice of Magoo, the immortal Paul Frees also provides voices. So does Morey Amsterdam – immortal in his own way as Buddy Sorrell (remember him stealing the show on the Christmas episode of Dick Van Dyke? Or for that matter … of every episode of Dick Van Dyke?).
             Its unique moments:
1.       It begins and ends with Magoo and the other characters preparing to perform Carol on stage. In between acts the curtain closes to begin the commercial break. We are watching a cartoon pretending to be a stage production of “A Christmas Carol”.
2.       Gerald McBoingboing speaks!?
3.       This was the first holiday cartoon produced specifically for television. It paved the way for Charlie Brown, Rudolph and all the other animated “Christmas Carols”.
4.       The ghosts were out of order! The Ghost of Christmas Present was first! I have always remembered that: this was one of my first (not THE first – that was the 1969 cartoon) exposure to “Christmas Carol” and I always wondered why “later” versions had the ghosts appear out of order.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                Near the end of NBC’s reign as the #1 broadcast network, it collected some of its stars to be in a musical version of “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” in 2004. It was based on an earlier stage musical.
                Kelsey Grammer took a break from Frazier to play Scrooge. Other NBC stars such as Law & Order’s Jesse L. Martin and Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander was Marley.
                I tried watching it, I really did. But I lost interest quickly and turned the channel. The musical numbers were not that catchy and I found it kind of boring.  To me it added nothing unique to the tale.
                It was fun watching Martin and Alexander sing and dance. Seinfeld fans are usually shocked to know Alexander is quite different from his shlub-counterpart George Costanza. Likewise Martin – given his and L&O partner Jerry Orbach’s legendary musical theater background it is too bad the two of them never did anything else together.
                I watched it when it was broadcast. I tried watching it again the next year during a repeat with the same feeling of ennui. I’ve yet to see it all the way through. Maybe it picks up at the end. I doubt it…
NEXT: The Sounds of Silence
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

One thought on “Three Scrooges, Part 3: Song and Dance Men

  1. The 2004 production (I did manage to watch it all the way through a few years ago) is guilty mainly of the crime you mention: It adds nothing to what has come before. Good cast, classic material, decent production values, performances given and not phoned in, and yet there was just no spark. I can't recall a single song from it, so one could argue that it's main failure is as a musical rather than a straight take. Have never seen the Mr. Magoo one, yet, but also noticed it often makes the upper ranks of people's favorite versions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s