Monday, December 12, 2011

Old Sinner: Albert Finney (1970)

Albert Finney's Scrooge introduces the Christmas theme right off. Before any images appear, we're treated to the peals of Christmas bells that then segue into an original song, "A Christmas Carol," as a series of title cards begins. Leslie Bricusse wrote the screenplay and the songs (and got Oscar nominations for Best Original Song and Best Original Song Score). The lyrics go:

Sing a song of gladness and cheer
For the time of Christmas is here
Look around about you and see
What a world of wonder
This world can be
Sing a Christmas carol
Sing a Christmas carol
Sing a Christmas carol
Like the children do
And the joy and beauty
Oh, the joy and beauty
That a merry Christmas can bring to you!

The title cards are wonderfully illustrated by Ronald Searle, best known to comics fans as the creator of St. Trinians School (which was re-adapted for film not too long ago). The drawings are all of standard, Victorian Christmas scenes, but Searle makes them whimsical and fun. The last one morphs into the first live-action shot of the film as a man pushes a cart down a snowy, gaslit street.

Scrooge is the first adaptation with sound not to use "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" in it's title sequence, but it quickly makes up for that by having a quintet of Cockney kids sing it in the street. The carolers are more than background music too. After getting a sweet tip from the first house we see them at, they move on to Scrooge & Marley's, whose sign reveals them to be "Private Merchant Bankers and Moneylenders."

Inside, Scrooge is hunched over his desk, counting coins. Finney's Scrooge is more like Sir Seymour Hicks' than Mark McDermott or Alastair Sim's. He's a hunched over, crab-fingered, old coot. Distracted by the singing, he gets up, mumbling about "caterwauling" and "why can't they leave a man in peace?" In another time and place, he'd be the guy sitting on his front porch, shaking his cane, and yelling at the neighbor kids to get off his lawn. He's largely powerless and completely pathetic.

I love how when he gets up to shoo off the boys, he first grabs an empty drawer from the desk and uses it to cover up his money. Maybe he expects the wind to come through the door and mess up his piles, but I suspect that he's distrustful of the only other person in the room: his clerk. That's awesome and it hints that Finney's Scrooge is a character to be laughed at more than hated or pitied.

Not having a cane, Scrooge grabs a fireplace shovel before going to the door. I notice that - breaking away from the traditional argument about the coal - he has a small fire going. I also notice that his desk is right in front of the fireplace, blocking any heat from reaching the clerk. As Siskoid pointed out when I posted about this on the separate Christmas Carol blog, this Scrooge is more selfish than miserly. That's a fair, interesting interpretation of the character and doesn't change his core flaw. If anything, it highlights it more clearly. Scrooge's main problem in the story is that he doesn't use his resources to help others. That he also traditionally doesn't use them to help himself really just confuses that point.

Scrooge runs off the carolers with swings of the shovel and a good "Humbug" muttered at their backs as they laugh and run away. Coming back inside he's still mumbling about "young ruffians" and their "Christmas nonsense." He catches his clerk smiling at this and tells him, "Beware, Cratchit. You have a dangerous sense of humor."

Before Scrooge can get back to his desk, there's another knock on the door. Thinking it's the carolers returned, he storms back to the door, screaming as he opens it. But it's not the kids.

There's no mention of Marley yet.

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