Wednesday, November 28, 2012
'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Seymour Hicks (1935)
After a dismal first scene in which Scrooge threatens his clerk's job over the shovel-full of coal ("It is very evident to me, sir, you know, that my interest is not your interest, nor my welfare your welfare."), we cut to the street outside where a gentleman carrying Christmas bundles is walking along to a merry little marching tune. He stops to buy something from a street vendor and then goes inside to Scrooge's office.
It's the nephew, of course. He barges in and surprises Scrooge who looks shaken by the abrupt interruption. As the conversation begins, he lays his packages right on Scrooge's desk, though he doesn't seem to disrupt the papers that Scrooge is working with.
The dialogue is all right out of Dickens, slightly abridged (especially during the nephew's speech at the end) and with a few improvisations ("not a penny richer" instead of "not an hour richer," for instance). The nephew isn't overly jolly - he seems to know he's in for a battle and is prepared for it - but he's cheerful and even keeps his sense of humor when Scrooge intentionally knocks one of his packages off the desk (to punctuate his comment about paying bills without money).
The camera stays on Scrooge most of the time, allowing Hicks to seem genuinely bewildered and frustrated by the merry-making. When he says, "Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine," he looks almost hurt that he's being so imposed upon. Hicks humanizes his Scrooge, breaking eye contact after lines like burying celebrants with a stake of holly through their hearts, as if he's realized he's gone too far, but isn't willing to take it back and weaken his position. It's really a lovely performance.
After the nephew's final speech, Cratchit "applauds" by tapping on his candlestick and proclaiming, "Hear! Hear!" a couple of times. Unfortunately, the adaptation leaves out the bit about his quickly correcting himself and accidentally extinguishing his fire.
As Scrooge turns to threaten Cratchit's job again, his nephew takes the opportunity to gather his packages. He's got them all organized and is leisurely making his way towards the door by the time Scrooge returns his attention to him and "compliments" him on the power of his speech.
We never see Cratchit's reaction to being threatened again, so there's no help from this scene in determining how seriously Cratchit takes Scrooge's threats. In the previous one, he seemed surprised when Scrooge suggested they part company, and he looked at the floor as Scrooge launched into a rant about it. When it became apparent that Scrooge wasn't really going to fire him, Cratchit still looked pained, but it could have been "Not this again" as easily as "I really dodged that bullet."
When the nephew invites Scrooge to dinner, Scrooge replies, "I'll see you -- " and is quickly interrupted by the nephew's asking him why not. Was mentioning Hell a no-no in 1935 the way it was in Dickens' day?
We get no help from this scene in determining why Scrooge dislikes his nephew so much. He offers the marriage as an excuse, but they keep the line about Scrooge's attitude's predating the marriage, so it's still a mystery for now.
In the novel, Scrooge sticks to "Good afternoon" as his comment to the nephew's continued good wishes. In this film, Scrooge adds a final, "You're a noisy devil! That's what you are, sir!" It's almost affectionate if Scrooge didn't sound so sincere.
The movie of course fills in the nephew's good-byes with Cratchit. They're pretty generic, but we do learn the nephew's name through Cratchit's inclusion of "Mrs. Fred" in his greetings. Fred throws a couple of more "Merry Christmas"es at Scrooge - which go ignored - before he leaves.