Saturday, December 19, 2020

Stubs - A Christmas Carol (1910)

A Christmas Carol (1910) Starring: Marc McDermott, Charles S. Ogle. Based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Directed by J. Searle Dawley. Produced by J. Searle Dawley (uncredited). USA. Black and White. Run Time: 10 minutes. Silent, Christmas, Drama.

Films have been made based on Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, for almost as long as they’ve been making movies. The first was a short British film Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost (1901), and the latest, at least at this writing, was A Christmas Carol (2020), a film adaptation by David and Jacqui Morris. The story has been adapted in animated form, as television specials and some direct to DVD releases. It should therefore come as no surprise that Edison Studios would have also made a version.

Edison Studios was an American film production organization owned by companies controlled by inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Edison, which made more than 1200 films between 1894 and 1918. The studio began production in West Orange, New Jersey at the Black Maria studio before moving to a glass-enclosed rooftop studio built at 41 East 21st Street in Manhattan's entertainment district, opened in 1901. In 1907, Edison had new facilities built, on Decatur Avenue and Oliver Place, in the Bedford Park neighborhood of the Bronx, which is where this production was made.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Marc McDermott) rejects his nephew Fred's (actor unknown) invitation.

Released on December 23, 1910, this film opens the day before Christmas. Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Marc McDermott) refuses to contribute to the Charity Relief Committee and then rudely rejects his nephew Fred when he visits Scrooge in his office. In the background, Bob Cratchit (Charles S. Ogle) works on the books until quitting time, and even then, Scrooge seems reluctant to let him leave for the day.

Bob Cratchit (Charles S. Ogle) asks for Christmas Day off.

When Scrooge returns home, he sees the image of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, on the door knocker and is visited by Marley’s ghost, who warns him of the punishment he will suffer in the next life if he does not change his ways.

Scrooge sees the face of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, on the door knocker.

That night, Scrooge is visited by three more spirits, past, present and future. Scrooge is shown successive visions starting with the days when he was working for Mr. Fezziwig, when he was young and free, and the breaking of his engagement to a woman, who is never identified. Then the Spirit of Christmas Present shows him Bob Cratchit's humble family enjoying their Christmas dinner, which consists of the bare necessities of life. Next, he sees his nephew disappointed by being refused the hand of the one girl he loves, because of his poverty, poverty which Scrooge could help. The suffering of Victorian England's working poor is represented by an outstretched hand.

Scrooge is visited by the Spirit of Christmas Present.

And then, peering forward into the future, Scrooge is shown the picture of himself dying in his lonely room. The only person with him at the time, a woman caretaker, removes his prominent ring almost before his eyes shut for the last time. He reads his own tombstone which tells a pitiful story, that he lived and died without a friend. This vision proves too much for Scrooge's hardness. He repents of his former mode of life and, staggering back, drops unconscious upon his bed.

The Spirit of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his own tombstone.

Awakening to street urchins singing below his window, Scrooge is a new man. He runs into the Charity Relief Committee and makes a sizable donation. He then goes to Fred’s house and gives him a paper telling him that as his partner, he will be amply able to marry the girl of his choice.

Finally, both men go to visit Cratchit’s home with a large bird for the family’s dinner. Cratchit thinks that his employer is crazy when he sees him smile and sees all the good things which Scrooge has brought. Tiny Tim is shown but unlike most adaptations, he is not the center of Scrooge’s attention.

This film is a real speedrun through Dickens’ story. There are few interstitial cards to explain what is going on and this version seems to rely on the audience’s own familiarity with the original text. There is no character development; each scene seems to start in the middle of the action and move quickly onto the next.

The production values for the most part are standards for the day, with no dynamic lighting or camera movement and only a few set pieces. However, the film does utilize double and even triple exposures when the sprits are showing Scrooge his past, present and future.

The acting, like the lighting, is pretty flat. It’s hard to get a sense of Marc McDermott’s acting abilities. An Australian actor, he appeared on stage in the U.S. and England before he was hired by Thomas Edison in 1909 to appear as a featured player at Edison's Bronx studio. He would go on to appear in about 180 films at Edison and at Vitagraph studios until his death in 1929.

Charles Stanton Ogle, who played Cratchit, began working in films in the short, The Boston Tea Party (1908) directed by Edwin S. Porter. Before he quit films in 1926, Ogle would appear in more than 300 titles. He would also be the first actor to portray Frankenstein’s monster in Edison’s production of the Mary Shelley novel. His Cratchit is hard to judge as he is a relatively minor character in this retelling.

I’ve read varying run times for this film, including everything from 17 minutes to 13 minutes to the barely 10-minute version I saw. I’m not sure which is the real runtime, but there are no doubt frames lost to time.

While the film has some interesting visual effects, especially for its time, that is not enough to recommend it. This is not the version you want to watch if you’re unfamiliar with the story. If you’ve never read Dickens’ novella, or seen one of the more modern remakes, you may find yourself wondering what is going on.

The appeal of this version is purely historical. If you want to feel more of the spirit, then I would recommend one of the following: Scrooge (1935), starring Sir Seymour Hicks; A Christmas Carol (1951) starring Alastair Sim; or A Christmas Carol (1938) starring Reginald Owen. Any one of these films does a much better job at adapting Dickens’ tale of redemption.

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