Monday, December 05, 2011

Old Sinner: Seymour Hicks (1935)

Scrooge and his clerk

1935's Scrooge starring Sir Seymour Hicks opens with Dickens’ Preface to the story. Except for removing a couple of commas and spelling out Dickens' name (he signs the Preface with his initials in the book), it's exactly as Dickens wrote it. Here's the movie version:
I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant, Charles Dickens

December, 1843
I’m not sure why the movie opens with that other than to call Dickens to mind and maybe put the viewer in the proper mood, though it doesn't mention Christmas at all. On the other hand, the movie's already playing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" (the unofficial Christmas Carol theme song for most of the early films) over the credits and Preface anyway, so it doesn't need text to accomplish that goal. I’m thinking that the Preface is just flavor.

After the Preface we get a scene of snow-covered London as a sad, Salvation Army-style band plays “The First Noel.” You can tell it’s London by the dome of St. Paul’s cathedral in the skyline. That’s the landmark that most of these movies use in their opening shots. So there’s your setting: London at Christmas time and things are fairly gloomy.

We don’t learn about Marley just yet in this version either. Instead, like in 1910, we go straight into Scrooge’s office where the clerk is patting himself and trying to warm his hands over a single candle. When he finally decides to try and sneak some coal, Scrooge fusses at him and forbids it, making vague threats about firing the poor clerk. The clerk humbly puts on a scarf instead.

We don't learn the clerk's name yet, but we do find out that he's got a half-dozen kids to support: three boys and three girls.

Hicks’ Scrooge is hunched over at his desk when we meet him. Instead of imposing, he’s a small, pathetic-looking character with untidy hair. He’s only threatening because he controls the wallet. It’s not really fair to compare him to McDermott’s Scrooge, whom we’ve seen so little of so far, but Hicks doesn’t just look mean for its own sake. He’s convincingly miserable and I fully believe that he wants to share that misery with everyone around him.

It's interesting that though the literary Scrooge conjures up images like Hicks, the most memorable movie performances (Alastair Sim and Greorge C Scott, for example) portray Scrooge not as small and pathetic, but the way Mark McDermott did in 1910: a tall, powerful man. Not right away though. Our next Scrooge - 1938's Reginald Owen - will also be of the hunched variety.
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