Thursday, December 18, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Alastair Sim (1951)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Alistair Sim's Christmas Carol really knows what it's doing. By introducing Scrooge at the Exchange instead of in his office, it holds off on letting us see him and Cratchit together until closing time. And by switching Fred's visit with the solicitors, it builds to that interaction in a cool way. We go from seeing him conduct business at the Exchange to seeing him conduct business - or rather, refuse to conduct business - with the solicitors. But his next visitor, his nephew, gets under his skin and throws Scrooge off. The strong, confident man of the first two scenes isn't so invulnerable when it comes to his sister's son.

As Fred leaves, he says goodbye to Cratchit, which is the first good look we've had at Scrooge's clerk. Cratchit seems uneasy with the conversation, which could be due to the class difference between him and Fred, or it could just be that he's generally nervous at work. It's too soon to tell, but the movie's about to make up for that.

Rather than letting time elapse in the office, the movie cuts to the city street. That's partly to let us see the Christmas festivities going on out there, but it's also to introduce us to Tiny Tim. Cratchit's youngest son is standing at a toy store window, waiting for his mom to finish an errand. When she's done, they walk towards home with Mrs. Cratchit complaining about Scrooge and how he'll want to keep her husband as late as he can.

That's the segue back to the office where the clock's chiming 7:00. Scrooge scowls at it and checks his watch to verify that it really is time to quit. He packs up methodically and walks to the front door where Cratchit is already getting ready.

Scrooge has had time to recover from his conversation with Fred and he's coldly professional the way he asks about Cratchit's wanting the next day off. Cratchit's timid reply seems to tick him off though. As we'll see later in this version, this exact conversation is an annual tradition for the two men and Scrooge doesn't like it. He snaps at Fred, but - and this is the genius of Sim's performance - still grabs my sympathy when he says that it's not fair. Even though he's wrong, he clearly believes he's right and it hurts him that he's alone in his view.

Cratchit is a nervous wreck for the whole encounter. He hates displeasing his boss and tries to take attention off himself by claiming that it's his family - not himself - who think it's important that he be home with them on Christmas. He's full of crap, of course. It's noticeable almost immediately that Cratchit doesn't agree with Scrooge about working on Christmas.

Scrooge begrudgingly gives Cratchit the day off and we see Cratchit smile for the first time, partly about the conversation's being over, but mostly about getting his holiday. In his delight, as Scrooge walks out, Cratchit accidentally wishes Scrooge a "Merry Christmas," but he stands his ground and bravely accepts Scrooge's disdain rather than retract his statement. He's too excited to let that bother him now and he's positively bouncing as he gets his own stuff together to leave.

Scrooge clearly makes Cratchit uneasy, but he doesn't seem to be unfair or abusive about it the way we've seen in some of the other adaptations. He's simply a hard, serious, unpleasant man, but Cratchit knows exactly where he stands with his boss. In fact, this Scrooge never even threatens Cratchit's job.


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