Wednesday, December 18, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Michael Caine (1992)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

I mentioned this last year, but The Muppet Christmas Carol is unique in that it has the charitable solicitors' visit overlap Fred's by a considerable margin. Other adaptations may have the two men come in as Fred's leaving, but here they get to interact quite a bit. As Fred's just finishing up his speech about how wonderful Christmas is, Gonzo cuts in to introduce the audience to the "well-meaning gentlemen (who) call upon businesses collecting for the poor and homeless." Cue Professor Honeydew and Beaker.

It's great casting since in Dickens the second gentleman remains silent for the entire scene anyway. Most adaptations correct this by sharing the dialogue between the two characters, but the Muppets don't have to since Beaker simply meeps behind Honeydew. Honeydew himself makes an interesting solicitor, but I'll come back to that in a second.

It's interesting that there's no confusion about whether Scrooge is Scrooge or Marley. In spite of Marley's name on the sign outside, Honeydew presumes he's Scrooge. Maybe he's done a little research and learned that the Marley brothers are dead?

Scrooge's reaction to them is interesting. His "Who are you?" is curt, but not offensive. If he thinks they're customers, he's not excited to take their money like Scrooge McDuck is, nor is he outright rude with them like Reginald Owen. He knows that they need something from him and he exerts that power right away in the relationship while still leaving the door open for them to do business. It fits with Michael Caine's portrayal so far of a Scrooge who has obtained his power and money through smarts and cleverness.

(Interesting, but meaningless side note: Honeydew gives Scrooge the name of the organization they're collecting for. It's the Order of Victoria Charity Foundation. )

Since Fred is still there, he has some more fun with his uncle by gleefully misrepresenting Scrooge to the solicitors as a generous man. That gets a growl from Scrooge, but he regains his humor for most of his conversation with Honeydew. That's similar to what we saw in the Alastair Sim cartoon and with Scrooge McDuck, but we've also already seen that humor in Caine's Scrooge in the first couple of scenes. Again, he's a smart, clever man and that means that he also has to be somewhat self-aware. When he says horrible things, it betrays the darkness of his heart, but he often does it with a chuckle, so he's at least attempting to disguise his wickedness as humor.

That only confuses Honeydew though, who on The Muppet Show traditionally also had a dark sense of humor in the way he let horrible things happen to Beaker during experiments. Even though Honeydew is playing a character here, he does it with his typical mannerisms and one of those is that his response to horrible things is sometimes laughter. Since Scrooge is also laughing at unpleasant things, Honeydew can't really tell if they're kindred spirits or not. He has a hard time figuring out if Scrooge is serious and the offer of anonymity is a result of that.

Scrooge gets serious with his, "I wish to be left alone," which leads into one of my favorite exchanges in the whole movie. Scrooge says that he doesn't make himself merry at Christmas, to which Fred replies, "That certainly is true." But then Scrooge follows it up with the traditional, "And I cannot afford to make idle people merry," to which Fred replies, "That is certainly not true."

This causes Scrooge to turn his attention back to Fred and finish up their conversation that we talked about last year. There's a nice, final moment between Fred and the solicitors though when Fred drops some coins into Beaker's hand and says that he's leaving Scrooge to make his donation.

Possibly because Fred has hinted that Scrooge will still donate, or possibly because Honeydew and Beaker are a little dense anyway, the solicitors stay at Scrooge's desk, patiently (and hilariously) waiting for his offering. That finishes his patience and we see him finally lose his temper on the way to the door to show them out. When he talks about the surplus population, he's shouting furiously.

Another unique aspect of this version is that the solicitors are equally frustrated. In most versions, they're saddened by Scrooge's attitude, but Honeydew is clearly flustered and Beaker actually scolds Scrooge on the way out. There's an emotional level in the parting that isn't reached in other versions (so far, anyway), so it's natural that Scrooge is still angry when he closes the door and sees the wreath that Fred left hanging on the knob. Scrooge picks it up and opens the door to throw the greenery at the solicitors (a la Scrooge McDuck), but what he finds on the other side... is something we'll wait until next year to discuss.
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