Friday, December 12, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Walter Matthau (1978)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

As the title suggests, Rankin-Bass' The Stingiest Man in Town focuses on Scrooge's miserliness. Pretty much to the exclusion of any other possible trait. With it's narrating "humbug" and sappy songs, it's almost purely children's entertainment, which means that they aren't going for a complex Scrooge. All of his conflicts with Cratchit and Fred have been around money and Scrooge's hatred of Christmas (because it's a time for spending money).

For Cratchit's part, we've learned that he's stealing coal from Scrooge, so he's not especially timid. He doesn't respect Scrooge and has figured out how to game the system. Once Fred leaves, Scrooge brings up the topic of the next day off and Cratchit gets downright sassy with him. Instead of "If quite convenient, sir," he says, "I didn't think you'd have to ask."

That leads Scrooge into his complaint about "picking a man's pocket every 25th of December," but he's defending himself to Cratchit. In fact, as he continues, he goes hard for sympathy and even musters up some tears until Cratchit actually relents and volunteers to take the holiday unpaid! Scrooge has no real power, he relies on Cratchit's kindness to get what he wants. He even lets Cratchit go home first and stays himself to lock up. Scrooge's stinginess makes him a man to be pitied, not feared, but I'm not complaining. It's not a very nuanced take, but it's a pleasant change of pace from the darker versions we've been looking at.

There aren't any outside scenes mixed in with this one, but we've already seen plenty of that earlier in the show. Everyone outside is enjoying the holiday. There's no social commentary about the poor; carollers sing out of joy, not for donations. And even though Scrooge hasn't interacted with the singers, he has had an altercation with some kids building a snowman. In this version, Christmas is a universally wonderful time and Scrooge is ridiculous for not getting it.
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