Scrooge Month Day 1: Sir Seymour Hicks in SCROOGE (1935)

Scrooge 1935Director: Henry Edwards

Writer: H. Fowler Mear, based on the novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Cast: Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop, Robert Cochran, Mary Glynne, Garry Marsh, Oscar Asche, Marie Ney, C.V. France, Barbara Everest, Philip Frost

Notes: Look, it would be insane of me to try to recap the plot of A Christmas Carol seventeen times. Even more insane than I usually am. I know the story, you know the story. Scrooge is a greedy jerk. His dead partner, Jacob Marley, pops into his house on Christmas Eve and warns him if he doesn’t change his ways death is gonna suck even worse for him, and tonight three spirits are going to convince him. Christmas Past reminds him he wasn’t always a greedy jerk. Christmas Present shows him his family thinks he’s a joke and his employee, Bob Cratchit, has a kid who’s going to die because they didn’t have Obamacare. Christmas Future shows him that when Scrooge pops off, nobody is going to give a damn. When he gets back to the present he promises to stop being a jerk, and by most accounts, he keeps that promise.

So rather than making you read that every day this month, I’m going to instead use the usual “Plot” section of these articles to note any particular changes or deviations from the norm that specific version of the story features. Fair enough?

Thoughts: This is the oldest version of A Christmas Carol currently gracing my DVD shelf, and as far as it goes, it’s a pretty standard rendition. We open up with Seymour Hicks as Scrooge being grumpy to Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) and his nephew Fred (Robert Cochran), who is trying his hardest to cheer him up.  (Spoiler warning: he fails.) The film goes through pretty much all the standard beats, the lines about “picking a man’s pocket every 25th of December” and Scrooge warning Cratchit to get his lazy butt to work early the next day. This was, after all, a film from the early days of the form, before people realized that the Scrooge formula could be easily applied to all sorts of different misers and tell different stories. It was before it got so well known that parodies became inevitable, and before it started to get twisted for the sake of musicals, for political satire, for cheesy romantic comedies, and for virtually every TV show imaginable. (Seriously, folks, among the shows that did their own riffs on Dickens we had Family Ties, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Jetsons and Smallville, the latter of which wasn’t even a Christmas episode).

What surprises me most about this film, actually, is that the filmmakers actually choose to add some stuff that’s not in the original book or in any other version of the film. After Scrooge leaves his counting-house at the very beginning, he stops off for dinner and our attention is shifted to – of all things – a royal dinner for the Queen of England! It would be a baffling addition to any version of A Christmas Carol but is even stranger in this one, which boasts a running time of a mere 59 minutes. Marley’s ghost doesn’t appear until almost 20 minutes — or one-third –of the way through the film. And even “appear” is a misnomer. We hear Marley’s voice (provided by an uncredited actor), but he never shows up on-camera. We only see Scrooge talking to somebody off-screen as Marley recites the famous “Mankind was my business” speech from the novel.

Christmas Past is credited as actress Marie Ney, but the strange effect around her body and her low voice made me initially think this was one of those versions where that ghost is played by a man. I’m not sure why, but I always picture the character as a woman, despite the fact that Dickens himself described this ghost as being a somewhat amorphic, shifting creature of indeterminate gender. At any rate, this is where the filmmakers compensate for that time spend on the royal ball at the beginning – rushing through Christmas Past, with several of the earlier scenes condensed and shown in a dialogue-free montage that’s supposed to just give us the impression that Scrooge done screwed up somehow.

The film picks up considerably with C.V. France’s powerfully rotund Ghost of Christmas Present. He handles Scrooge with a small measure of well-deserved condescension, shaming him profusely when he catches him laughing along with the joyful antics of the Cratchit family. This too, is rushed through to get us to Christmas future – who appears when there are 20 minutes, or one-third of the film, remaining. Seymour Hicks does his best work in this segment, showing remorse already.

I actually much prefer when an adaptation of Dickens takes this particular beat: the idea that Scrooge has already begun to change before Christmas Yet to Come even appears, and all that apparition really does is seal a bargain that’s already mostly made. Any time we see a Scrooge who faces Yet to Come with smug stubbornness, it makes me want to shout, “Dude, what is it gonna take?” Which of course is a little silly to ask. We already know what it’s going to take: the vision of people selling the blankets stripped from his bed before his corpse was even cold and the fact that nobody bothers to show up when he’s laid in the ground. Dickens really nailed it here – for a man of Scrooge’s station, such an ignoble end is the worst fate imaginable, and if there’s any ice left in his heart after seeing Philip Frost as the pathetic little Tiny Tim, this is going to shatter it.

Hicks is a good, classic Scrooge – ugly and nasty at the beginning, melting into fear as the story progresses. The end is nice – instead of a sudden explosion of joy like some Scrooges have, he actually weeps with happiness before thanking Marley and the Spirits for doing their work. Is it a great version of A Christmas Carol? No. But for the time it’s perfectly serviceable and it tells the story in a compressed time frame without any real glaring omissions. There are better versions of the story you can give your time to, but there’s nothing really wrong with this one.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

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About blakemp

Blake M. Petit. Author. Podcaster. Teacher. Actor. Geek Pundit.

Posted on December 2, 2013, in 4-Icons, Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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