Saturday, December 20, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Albert Finney (1970)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Albert Finney's Scrooge falls somewhere between Walter Matthau's and Fredric March's. Like those two, he's more to be pitied than feared, but Cratchit neither openly defies him (as in Matthau) nor shy away from him (as in March). He was bold enough to show some camaraderie with Fred during the nephew's visit, but backed off when Scrooge got seriously pissed about it. He's walking a tightrope, this Cratchit.

Like some of the others, he's a clock-watcher and has to point out to Scrooge when it's time for him to go. And like Gene Lockhart's Cratchit, he also has to remind Scrooge that it's payday. Scrooge's response to that is to point out Cratchit's biggest flaw as Scrooge sees it: that Cratchit's only concerned about pleasure. I don't know if that's fair, but it plays into one of this version's biggest themes. Scrooge takes pleasure from nothing and he resents anyone who does enjoy life.

With that in mind, I may have judged Cratchit too harshly in the earlier scene with Fred. It looked like they were teaming up against Scrooge, but that was probably all Fred with Cratchit's simply looking guilty by association. Cratchit doesn't seem as brazen when he's alone with the boss. He's happy that it's quitting time and he even musters a couple of smiles for Scrooge, but he also knows how Scrooge will respond to them and is appropriately nervous. The thing is though that he can't help being who he is: an optimistic young man who finds pleasure in whatever circumstances he's in, including working with Ebenezer Scrooge. Seen that way, Cratchit's to be admired. When he wishes Scrooge a Merry Christmas before departing, I don't believe it's an intentional offense like Fred's was. I think he genuinely hopes that Scrooge will find some merriment over the holiday. Which of course he will.

Scrooge stays behind to get some more work done and to lock up, but the movie follows Cratchit outside for now. Instead of a sliding scene, we get a full-on Christmas celebration when Cratchit meets up with his two youngest kids, Kathy and Tiny Tim. Like Tim in the Alastair Sim version, we meet them as they're looking into a store window at toys they'll never be able to afford. But where Sim's Tiny Tim seemed to find all the enjoyment he wanted just by looking, these two have some longing looks, especially Kathy as she stares at a particular doll.

We aren't meant to feel sorry for them though. They're thrilled to see their father who asks them which toys in the window they like best. Kathy points out the doll, but Tim's more philosophical. "You said we can't have none of them," he says, "so I might as well like all of them." He's a boy after his father's own heart.

Not to be down on Kathy for having a favorite. She gets it too and the three of them launch into a song about how much they love Christmas, even on a budget. As they sing, they shop, and the scene keeps contrasting their shopping experience with those of richer people. Lavishly dressed children walk with parents carrying large bundles of festively wrapped gifts; then Cratchit and his kids buy brown-paper "mystery presents" at four for a shilling. At another shop, we get a preview of the prize turkey hanging in the window as Cratchit comes out with his tiny bird. All the while, there's not a hint of irony as they sing about the joys of the season. Kathy still wants that doll, but she's as content and excited as the rest of them.

The scene follows them all the way home to share their purchases and their song with the rest of the family, ending with Cratchit's lighting the candles of the Christmas tree. That segues into Scrooge's blowing out his candle at work just before he leaves. When he goes outside, he'll meet the charitable solicitors who will inspire a completely different kind of song from him.

It's not a subtly made point, but it's still a good one and faithful to what Dickens wrote in this year's scene. Celebrating Christmas has nothing to do with physical circumstances and everything to do with attitude and the ability to count one's blessings. And as this movie will go on to point out, the same is true of enjoying life in general.
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