Saturday, December 16, 2017

Stubs - Scrooge (1935)

Scrooge (1935) Starring: Sir Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop, Robert Cochran, Mary Glynne, Garry Marsh, Oscar Asche, Marie Ney, C.V. France. Directed by Henry Edwards. Screenplay by  H. Fowler Mear. Based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Produced by Julius Hagen Run Time: 78 minutes. UK Black and White. Fantasy, Christmas

First published in 1843, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has never been out of print since. It has also been the subject of many films and TV specials made on both sides of the Atlantic. Last Christmas we surveyed many of the better-known adaptations of the story, including A Christmas Carol (1938); A Christmas Carol (1951); A Christmas Carol (1984) and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Under the guise that there is always room for one more, we’re taking a look at the first feature-length sound version of the story, Scrooge (1935), surprisingly enough, also with an aka of A Christmas Carol.

This version opens on Christmas Eve in 1843. Ebenezer Scrooge (Seymour Hicks) is a cold-hearted and greedy elderly money-lender working away in his freezing counting house. In the next room, the long-suffering Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) is working. Under-paid, Bob tries to stay warm by the heat of his candle.

Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) tries to warm himself with the candle he works by.

Two fellow businessmen, Middlemark (Charles Carson) and Worthington (Hubert Harben), come to Scrooge’s counting house to collect a donation for the poor at Christmas. But Scrooge insists he instead supports the prisons and workhouses where the poor are supposed to go. When told that many of them would rather die than go there, he even goes as far to say if the poor would rather die then they “better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

When Scrooge catches Bob trying to take some coal from the bin to stoke the fire that heats the office, he threatens to fire him if he does not get back to work.

Scrooge's (Seymour Hicks) nephew Fred (Robert Cochran) comes
to visit and to invite him to dinner on Christmas Day.

Next, Scrooge is visited by his only relative, the son of his departed sister, Fred (Robert Cochran). Fred invites his uncle to come to his house to celebrate Christmas with him and his wife, to which Scrooge replies that Christmas is 'Humbug!'.

Reluctantly, Scrooge gives Bob the next day off, but he makes him promise to be early the next day.
That night, Bob goes home to celebrate with his family, while Scrooge dines alone in a pub.

Meanwhile, the upper crust of London celebrates Christmas with the Mayor.

The face of Scrooge's dead partner Marley appears on his door knocker.

When he gets home, Scrooge sees the face of his seven-year dead partner, Jacob Marley, in his front door knocker. Later that night, he is confronted by Marley’s ghost (voiced by Claude Rains). In this version, the ghost is invisible, even to Scrooge, though you can hear the chains he forged. Marley informs Scrooge that in order to escape his fate, he will be visited by three spirits.

Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Marie Ney). 

Scrooge is first visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Marie Ney), who is visible only as a white silhouette with no facial features. He shows Scrooge the moment he lost his fiancĂ©e, Belle (Mary Glynne). A debt-ridden couple (Maurice Evans and Mary Lawson) beg for more time to pay their debt, but greedy Scrooge demands payment. Disappointed by his treatment of them, she leaves, breaking off their engagement. Scrooge then sees what’s happened to Belle. Married, Belle now has several children with her husband (Garry Marsh) and is happy.

Disappointed in how he treats his debtors, Belle (Mary Glynne) breaks off their engagement.

Next up, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Oscar Asche), who unlike his fellow ghosts, takes human form and speaks aloud.

The Spirit of Christmas Present (Oscar Asche) visits Scrooge.

He takes Scrooge to the house of Bob Cratchit and his family. They may have a meager dinner of goose and pudding, but they are happy to be together. Among his family with his wife (Barbara Everest) include Tiny Tim (Philip Frost), an invalid child, forced to walk with a crutch. The ghost warns Scrooge that unless things change, Tim will die. Scrooge is then shown how others celebrate Christmas, including Fred with his wife (Eve Gray) and their friends.

The Cratchit family makes the most of their Christmas, including Tiny Tim (Philip Frost).

Next, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, depicted only as an ominous dark shadow. The Ghost shows Scrooge what lies in the store for the coming year. First, he is shown a tombstone of an unknown man. Scrooge learns that Tiny Tim has died.

He also sees his charwoman (Athene Seyler), his laundress (Margaret Yarde) and an undertaker (D.J. Williams) meeting up at Old Joe’s (Hugh E. Wright), a pawnbroker who gives them pennies on the dollar, so to speak, for the items they admit they took off a dead man.

After that, he sees some businessmen that he knows talking rather reserved about an associate’s death, more concerned about his money than the man. Demanding to see the name on the grave, Scrooge is shown that it is, in fact, his own.

In the morning, Scrooge is a changed man.

In the morning, Scrooge wakes up a changed man and feeling generous. He gives his Charwoman a tip and the day off. He flings open the window and calls out to a boy on the street and have him fetch the Poulterer (Morris Harvey) with the prize turkey in the window. Scrooge has the turkey delivered to Bob Cratchit.

The Poulterer (Morris Harvey) is summoned by the boy to Scrooge's.

Next, he goes to Fred’s and, as a surprise but welcomed guest, joins in on the festivities.

Fred and his wife (Eve Gray) will welcome Scrooge in their home.

The next morning, Bob arrives late and finds Scrooge is already there waiting for him. Expecting to be disciplined or fired, he is surprised to find that instead, Scrooge gives him a raise. He promises to be a stepfather to Tim and even attends church together with him.

Arriving late for work, Bob is surprised to get a raise from Scrooge.

Originally released in the UK by Twickenham Studios on November 26, 1935, with a running time of 78 minutes, it was released soon afterward in the U.S. by Paramount Pictures on November 30th, but in an edited form, running only 63 minutes. The 15 minutes of deleted scenes include: The visit of the two men seeking donations; Much of the dinner at the Cratchit's, including Tiny Tim saying "God bless us, everyone"; Brief scenes on a lighthouse and a sailing ship; The party at Fred's while Scrooge and Christmas Present watch; and the ending where Scrooge meets Bob Cratchit at church.

It should not come as a big surprise that this film is not well-known in the U.S., having been overshadowed by MGM’s own adaptation, A Christmas Carol (1938), which had a largely British cast, was much more popular and had better production values.

This Scrooge is very much a stripped-down version than modern audiences are used to. There are few of the photographic/special effects that you come to expect when watching a film dealing with ghosts. In this film, we don’t see Marley with his chains and Christmas Past and Future are depicted as featureless silhouettes and shadows. This comes close to be a filmed stage play. Our modern expectations are not met, though that was not what the filmmaker was concerned about at the time.

The director, James A. Carter, using an expressionist style, manages to give Scrooge’s world a very claustrophobic feel through the use of shadows. Scrooge lives in a narrow dark place from his cramped office, hunched over his desk, to his lonely booth in the pub to his bed surrounded and cut off from the rest of the world by curtains. It is only after he’s been visited by the three ghosts does his world open up. Christmas morning with its bright lights contrasts with the dark night of Christmas Eve.

Everything in the film takes a backseat to the performance of Seymour Hicks. Pretty much an unknown in the U.S. now, Hicks was a well-respected actor, theater manager, and playwright during what is referred to as England's Golden Age of Theater (1880-1920). Hicks had a very successful career writing, starring in and producing Edwardian musical comedies, often starring opposite his wife, Ellaline Terriss. But, the role he was best known for and which he claimed to have played over 2,000 times was Ebenezer Scrooge.

He first appeared on stage at the age of nine and became a professional actor at the age of sixteen. With his stage success, Hicks also starred in films, beginning with a silent version of Scrooge (1913). While making a film version of one of his plays, Always Tell Your Wife (1923), a remake of an earlier 1914 film, he fired his original director, Hugh Croise, and hired a young man from the production department at the studio who had never directed before to complete the film, Alfred Hitchcock.

Hicks was not new to filmmaking nor to the role and it shows in his performance. The actor embodies the character of Scrooge, the way a man wears a well-fitted shirt. He is the sole reason to watch this version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, though the performance alone might not be enough to place this near the top of the adaptations. The first sound adaptation may not be the best, but it is well worth watching.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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