Monday, December 31, 2012

Braggin on muh wife

This is kind of old, but one thing (Halloween) or another (Christmas) got in the way of my saying anything about it earlier. I've mentioned before that my wife is an artist, but it's really cool to see her get some attention for her work, like in this piece the Saint Paul Pioneer Press ran on her. She's been very involved in our neighborhood since we moved here about 12 years ago, so letting that spill into her art is a natural progression.

She was also recently recognized by the Saint Paul's East Side Area Business Association as the Top Emerging Small Business. So proud of her.

[Updated: Totally forgot to link to her Facebook page, which is where she posts most of her art.]

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Carol figurines by Tim Bruckner

One last Christmas Carol post before we're done for the season. This one's not about an adaptation of the entire story; just four characters. Tim Bruckner has created a set of figures for Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim, and the Ghost of Christmas Present. Check out his post on the Muddy Colors blog for details of each figure as well as his thought processes in creating them.

You can't see it in the image above, but the open books that form each base also have art on the back side (the books' covers). There's also a variant head for Marley with his jaw untied. They're really amazing pieces and they'll be available to buy in 2013. I'm already saving up.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics (2010)

Like with the opening scene, Graphic Classics' version of Fred's introduction is surprisingly short. It's only a page long, plus change, and whittles the heck out of Scrooge and Fred's interaction.

It does the same thing Campfire does with Fred's entrance, having the nephew call out to Scrooge while still in the doorway. Micah Farritor is a much better storyteller than the Campfire artist though and gives the characters a lot of personality. Fred's younger in this version than most, suggesting that maybe he's not been rejected as much as some of the other Freds we've encountered. He has some worry lines on his forehead as he enters, so it's obviously not his first visit with his uncle, but he looks calm and confident in subsequent panels. He knows enough to be nervous when he enters, but after the first "humbug" he's okay and not at all worn down by Scrooge.

It's too bad that page limits necessitate chopping up the scene so much, because I'd like to see more of these two characters' interacting. Fred's entire speech is gone, taking Cratchit's applause with it. We get a good look at Cratchit's miserable-looking face as he closes the door behind Fred, so there's a little characterization for you, but this version of the scene doesn't reveal much else than that Scrooge is an unpleasant person who hates Christmas. There's no discussion of Fred's marriage, but that's an expected cut for an adaptation of this size.

Although this version cheats Fred of some of the elements that make him my favorite character, if I'm objective I can admit that they aren't bad cuts. With their limited page count, Alex Burrows and Farritor are getting through the introductions quickly. We know everything we need to know about Scrooge and how he feels about Christmas. In the next scene, we'll add to that knowledge by seeing how he feels about the rest of humanity. Burrows and Farritor will spend a little more room on that.

Merry Christmas!

Whether or not you celebrate the holiday, I hope today's a wonderful day for you.

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Campfire’s A Christmas Carol (2010)

Last year, my biggest issue with this adaptation was the art. Naresh Kumar is capable enough at drawing, but he's not a strong storyteller and that problem continues into this year's scene. He does draw Fred coming through the door as he greets his uncle (giving his entrance a proper, abrupt feel), but that could be in the script. There's only one panel where any real acting is done with the characters: a close up of Scrooge's eyes as he talks about the stake of holly through the heart. His eyes are asymmetrical - one's squinting more than the other - so it looks like Scrooge is coming unhinged in his anger. I'll give Kumar the benefit of the doubt that that's what he intended.

Other than that though, Scrooge and Fred go through the scene with no real expression. Occasionally, they look like they're smiling cordially at each other. There's no tension in the artwork and we get no insight to these characters from looking at them.

The script is serviceable for the most part. Scott McCullar continues to update the language some and makes the expected trims to the dialogue. There's only one change that's noteworthy, but unfortunately, not in a good way. During Fred's speech, McCullar changes "the only time I know of [...] when men and women [...] think of people below them" to "Christmas is the only time I know of when men and women can think of others." I hate that he adds that "can" to it. In McCullar's version, Fred is saying that the only possible time for people to open their hearts to others is at Christmas, which is a) patently untrue, and b) not at all Fred's point in Dickens. It's not the only time that we can think of others; it's just - sadly - often the only time that we do. That's a huge, important difference.

Cratchit's applause after Fred's speech isn't noteworthy. There's no humor to it at all and we don't even see Cratchit's face during the scene to get a feel for how he reacts to Scrooge's threats.

Scrooge's line about seeing Fred in hell before joining him for dinner is replaced with a simple "bah," and the conversation about Fred's marriage is so passionless (again, mostly a problem with the art) that there's no feel whatsoever about what's really going on in Fred and Scrooge's relationship.

There is one last bit of interest though as the scene transitions to the next one. Like Scrooge's eyes above, I don't know if this is intentional or not, but let's imagine that it is. As Fred leaves and exchanges greetings with Cratchit, Scrooge makes fun of Cratchit as he does in Dickens. Rather than muttering it to himself though, he says it out loud and the word balloons spill into the panel in which the charity solicitors are entering the room.  Scrooge is also smiling welcomingly at the solicitors (not knowing yet that they aren't there for business) as he says it, so it looks like he's putting down Cratchit in front of potential customers. Intentional on the storytellers' part or not, it's the jerkiest thing Scrooge has done so far and I like it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Jim Carrey (2009)

I don't like how Fred looks exactly like Colin Firth in Disney's Christmas Carol, but I don't find much else to dislike about this version of the character. He bursts in merrily and seems genuinely excited to visit Scrooge, which is how I like Fred to act. I get tired of the Freds who see their visits as a chore, and I admire the ones who are relentless in their optimism that maybe this will be the year that Scrooge comes to dinner. Firth's is one of those Freds.

He tries to keep his spirits up, but Scrooge takes a lot out of him and ends up getting his goat a couple of times. He's horrified by the "stake of holly" comment and his big speech is impassioned and just a little bit angry. He keeps trying to smile though and I respect the hell out of him.

Cratchit comes out of his room for the speech and claps at the end, but there's nothing new to that bit. It's not particularly funny when Scrooge yells at Cratchit and threatens his job. Cratchit looks like a scolded puppy as he makes his way back to his desk.He's not really frightened for his position, but he's embarrassed and humbled.

Surprisingly, Disney's is one of the few adaptations that goes for Scrooge's full "I'll see you in hell first" as a response to Fred's dinner invitation. He gets in Fred's face as he says it too, and it kicks off a nice bit of acting by both Carrey and Firth as they discuss Fred's marriage.

Scrooge pauses before he asks why Fred got married. Some of the other versions have him whip out "why did you get married" as if it's been on his mind the entire scene. In this one, he has to think about it for a second. Or maybe he's reluctant to bring it up for some reason. I tend to think it's the latter explanation. As I'll discuss in a minute, this is a sore subject for Scrooge and not one he should be overly eager to get into.

Fred also pauses before "Because I fell in love" as if he genuinely doesn't understand the question. He's not condescending in his answer, but very sincere. He realizes that he and Scrooge are on completely different pages and he wants to use the opportunity to hopefully help his uncle see the light.

Scrooge's response is complicated and layered. Like I said last year, I have several problems with this version, but Carrey's performance isn't one of them. He sneers a little at Fred's answer, but his tone's not mocking as he repeats his nephew's words. He looks genuinely disbelieving. Not so much that Fred fell in love, but that he would actually try to use that as an excuse to Scrooge. In Scrooge's mind, love has nothing to do with anything.

I don't know if I've said this out loud before (I think I was going to save the observation for a later scene), but since this is the last film adaptation we'll look at this year, it's a good time to mention that Scrooge's disagreement about Fred's marriage comes from a very personal place. We've seen that hinted at in a couple of adaptations and this one does it too. The relationship between love and marriage isn't just an intellectual exercise for Scrooge, it's something that he made a definite decision about as a young man, and that decision affected the rest of his life.

In the better versions of this scene, there's all kinds of foreshadowing about why Scrooge reacts the way he does to Fred's marriage. At a crucial moment, Scrooge chose to follow traditional, Victorian mores about making one's fortune before getting married. Fred has made the opposite choice and adaptations like this one (and George C. Scott's and Patrick Stewart's and Alastair Sim's) emphasize how much it pains Scrooge to see his nephew so happy in his penniless marriage. It's a painful reminder that Scrooge made a horrible, horrible mistake once upon a time.

Where's the kaboom?

 There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!

(I'm going to feel really silly if this actually happens today.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Classical Comics (2008)

The Classical graphic novel adaptation runs through the scene capably, but without much additional insight. I do like how it communicates Fred's quickness in approaching Scrooge though. It has Fred peeking in on his uncle from the doorway in one panel, then looming over him in the next. That ability to play with time and pacing is an advantage that comics has over film, but it's the only advantage this version makes use of. Mostly, the scene plays out as Dickens wrote it, with various shots of the characters talking to each other. Scrooge never gets up from his desk and Fred stays put beside him, so there's not even any motion to keep things interesting.

The graphic novel is almost true to its "Original Text" claim, but it does make some minor dialogue cuts: especially during Fred's speech. It's one of the more complete versions around, but as light as the trimming is, it still takes away from the overall tone of the speech. In Dickens, Fred completely deserves the "powerful speaker" compliment for all the rhetorical flourishes and parenthetical asides he makes. It's exactly those supposedly extraneous elements that most adaptations choose to cut out though, so Scrooge's compliment doesn't make as much sense. I'm used to that, but it's disappointing to see it happen again in a book that markets itself as being true to Dickens' original text.

Another disappointing cut is Cratchit's applause after Fred's speech. There's no humor to it at all. He simply claps and Scrooge threatens his "situation." Cratchit's widened eyes are in the foreground as Scrooge does that, but even though Cratchit is surprised, it's impossible to tell anything more about his relationship with Scrooge from the interaction.

Deviating again from the text, Classical has Scrooge respond to Fred's dinner invitation with, "I will see you, but I'll see you damned first!" That's an interesting interpretation of Dickens' explanation that "Scrooge said that he would see him - yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first." I read that as a colorful way of saying, "I'll see you in hell first!" and I like my briefer interpretation better. But adding a literal "I will see you" to the front is also a valid way of reading it.

The last thing I'll comment on is Scrooge's muttering after Fred exchanges Christmas greetings with Cratchit. The graphic novel represents this with a dotted line word balloon, which is typically read as whispering and just sounds weird in the context of the scene. Muttering is better represented by smaller text, perhaps in a balloon with squiggly edges. The whispering makes it sound like Scrooge has actually gone crazy and needs to retire to Bedlam, but that's not the reason Dickens had him make the comment.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Patrick Stewart (1999)

In TNT's A Christmas Carol, Fred is up to no good. He walks by the dirty, office window, peeks in at Cratchit, and smiles maliciously. He practically sneaks into the office, quietly closing the door behind him and holds his finger up to his lips to keep Cratchit quiet.

In return, Cratchit gives a conspiratorial gesture and a sinister sneer, then watches as Fred surprises Scrooge with a loud, "Merry Christmas, Uncle! And God save you!" Scrooge is visibly startled and takes a couple of seconds to compose himself. He doesn't look at Fred, but returns to work with a dismissive groan (replacing the traditional "bah") and a "humbug."

Dominic West (The Wire, John Carter) at first plays Fred as an infuriating jerk. He swaggers through the beginning of the scene with an insincere smile, egging Scrooge on. Since Patrick Stewart's Scrooge is as lonely as he is miserable, Fred's treatment of him almost borders on bullying. There's no doubt that Scrooge has brought his loneliness on himself, but Fred's not helping. I imagine that this is a character who's made this holiday visit many times over the years and is tired of it, so he's making it more entertaining for himself.

Scrooge is no victim though. When he says, "What right have you to be merry?", he follows it up with "You're poor!" Full stop. No "enough." It's an accusation and a judgment. Scrooge despises his nephew for his poverty. It comes up again later when he says, "Much good it has done you. Much good it will ever do you!" Most actors toss away this line as if Scrooge is just trying to get rid of Fred at this point. Stewart says it like he's pissed. Not at Christmas, but at Fred. Christmas is just a symptom of something more seriously wrong with their relationship.

The dialogue plays out from these perspectives for a while. Fred's sneeringly digging at his uncle; Scrooge is venomously blasting back. When Fred finally arrives at his big speech, it sounds genuine, but he's defensive - almost whiny - as he gives it.

He's encouraged by Cratchit's clapping though. Cratchit has actually gotten out of his chair and been drawn into Scrooge's office by the speech. He applauds enthusiastically, but abruptly stops at a glance from his boss. "You said something, Mr. Cratchit?" The clerk looks deflated as he says, "No, sir." Scrooge is deadly serious when he goes on to threaten Cratchit's job. The clerk slinks back to his own desk.

Fred softens at this point. He drops his defensiveness and asks his uncle not to be hard on Cratchit. "It's all my fault," he admits. Scrooge nods agreement and goes into the "You're quite a powerful speaker" line, but Fred continues to show vulnerability. When he says, "Don't be cross, Uncle," and invites Scrooge to dinner, he sounds for real.

Scrooge, on the other hand, is still horribly pissed. He's been poking at the dying fire (the same one Cratchit was trying to revive in the previous scene), but he spins violently on Fred. "I'll see you damned first!"

Fred pleads, "But why?!" as Scrooge marches back to his desk.

Like in the original text, Scrooge's "Why did you marry?" suggests that that's an important part of the reason he's so angry with Fred. Since he's already dug at Fred's poverty a couple of times, we don't need a lesson in Victorian mores to understand what's going on here. We just need to read between the lines.

Fred explains that he married because he fell in love and Scrooge laughs as if he can't believe what he's hearing. Unlike George C. Scott's vulnerable mocking, Stewart's Scrooge isn't letting himself even consider that lack of love might be part of his problem. He truly doesn't believe in it.

The rest of the scene is right out of Dickens. Fred reminds Scrooge that he never came to see Fred before he got married and this shuts Scrooge up. He starts his "good afternoon"ing right there, leading me to believe that Fred's onto something that Scrooge doesn't want to admit. We'll keep an eye out to see if that's explained later.

Fred's vulnerability continues a bit longer through "Why can't we be friends," but as Scrooge sticks to his "good afternoon"s, Fred begins to realize that he's getting nowhere...just like all the other visits. He returns to his smarmy self as he bestows his final Christmas wishes on Scrooge. His exchange with Cratchit before leaving feels like it's as much for Scrooge's benefit as anything else.

Once Fred's gone, Scrooge gets up to watch him through the shop window and catches Cratchit smiling. "You find my nephew amusing, Cratchit." The clerk tries to keep his humor in front of his boss, but he's unable. His face has fallen before he's finished saying that Fred is a pleasant fellow.

He gains a little courage though when Scrooge accuses him of being "another Christmas lunatic." Cratchit averts his eyes, but responds, "If you say so, sir."

That actually seems to please Scrooge. He looks amused when he says, "Oh! It seems you doubt me, Mr. Cratchit. What are you then?"

It's an unfair, nonsensical question, but Cratchit answers as best he can. "Your clerk, Mr. Scrooge."

Scrooge returns to his desk mocking his employee for "babbling about Merry Christmas" while receiving such a small wage. He's grinning cruelly as he announces that he'll retire to Bedlam. We may have seen Scrooge in some vulnerable moments in the opening scenes, but that's all gone now. Now we see the mask he wears for everyone else. And we see why people hate him.

With most adaptations, we end the scene there, but this one cuts outside where a couple of gentlemen ask Fred for directions to Scrooge and Marley's. They explain that they're collecting charitable donations and Fred is obviously shocked. They don't notice though and he lets them go without a warning, but with an amused, stunned look. It's a nice transition if for no other reason than it's a different twist on the usual.

Monday, December 17, 2012

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Michael Caine (1992)

Since Gonzo narrates The Muppet Christmas Carol as Dickens, this version has opportunities the others don't; like explaining who Fred is (and giving his name) before he even arrives onscreen. Gonzo stresses that Fred is Scrooge's only living relative, which plants seeds about Scrooge's loneliness. Scrooge hasn't appeared particularly lonely up to now - or not to care about being lonely at any rate - so at this point, it really is just information to file away for later.

Steven Mackintosh (Tanis from the Underworld movies) is a young, very pleasant Fred. He's perfectly cast, but unfortunately doesn't get enough to do in the movie. I want to see more of him, but his Fred's not a vital character for this version. He even has to share this introductory scene with another major scene, but more on that in a minute.

Fred doesn't enter abruptly in this version. He knocks at the door first and announces himself before entering. That's kind of odd and the only reason I can think of for him to do it is out of respect for his uncle. Mackintosh's Fred won't be afraid of a little confrontation with Scrooge, but early on, he's a considerate visitor. That lack of abrasion is one of the reasons I like his Fred so much.

He is here to wish Scrooge a "Merry Christmas" though, and he's even carrying a wreath. (A couple of the other Fred's have had wreaths and it's how I often picture the character, even though Dickens doesn't describe him that way.) Scrooge's "Bah" has a scoffing laugh in it. He punctuates it with the "Humbug."

Fred senses the humor in Scrooge's voice and is up for some verbal sparring with his uncle. They deliver their initial interaction in a quick back-and-forth, both confident in their wit. Fred delivers, "What right have you to be miserable? You're rich enough" with a swagger and a cocky grin, as if he's won the argument. Rizzo even comments on it before Scrooge drops the smile and delivers the "stake of holly" line with serious venom. He's done playing.

Fred tries to keep his humor (he's still smiling), but it's clear that he feels that Scrooge has gone too far. Scrooge tries to finish the conversation with "you keep Christmas in your own way and let me keep it in mine." Instead of continuing to plead like the literary version, this Fred launches straight into the speech. He's not sappy or sentimental as he delivers it, but confident and charming. In the outer office, Cratchit and the staff look up and Cratchit nods approvingly.

When Fred finishes, Cratchit and the rats all raucously shout, "Hear! Hear!" and create quite a noise that Scrooge has to shout over. He's not just shouting to be heard though. There's genuine anger in voice as he asks how one celebrates Christmas on the unemployment line. Even Cratchit - who so far has held special privilege above the rest of the staff - seems shaken and quickly goes back to work. I don't think he's really afraid for his job, but he seems to realize that he's crossed a line and really ticked off his boss.

At this point, The Muppet Christmas Carol does a startling thing and introduces the charity solicitors while Fred is still around. I guess that's not so surprising, but Fred's sticking around for part of their scene is. It works well though. Fred adds some humor to the solicitors' introduction by egging Scrooge on and misrepresenting him to the solicitors. At this point, Fred seems to have lost his patience and is just screwing with his uncle.

After a while, Scrooge loses his own patience with Fred and asks him if he has other things he needs to do. Fred takes the hint and excuses himself, but not before donating a few coins to the solicitors (a lovely touch) and fulfilling the rest of his purpose for visiting. He almost forgets and is at the door when he turns and remembers to invite Scrooge to Christmas dinner with "me and Clara" the next day.

This is Disney, so there's no "I"ll see you in Hell first" line. Instead, Scrooge's response seems to come out of nowhere. "Why ever did you get married?" It's so sudden that it has to be something he's been thinking about and has just now had his opening to bring it up. He's not smiling about it either. He's the personification of Judgment. This is a serious barrier to his relating to Fred.

Fred doesn't sound surprised by the question, but thinks it's an extremely stupid one. "Why? Because I fell in love!" The "duh!" is unspoken, but definitely there.

Now Scrooge is laughing. "That's the only thing sillier than a Merry Christmas!"

Fred keeps his Christmas humor, hangs the wreath over Scrooge's door, and wishes his uncle a "Merry Christmas" again. His final "Merry Christmas" to Cratchit is warm and genuine; not at all for show in front of Scrooge like some of the other versions. An important element to Fred is that he needs to be able to stand up to Scrooge and keep his Christmas spirit, but without being a jerk about it. Mackintosh pulls this off beautifully.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Got a New Book Coming | The Avenger: Roaring Heart of the Crucible

I've got a story in the upcoming Avenger anthology: Roaring Heart of the Crucible. Not Marvel or Mrs. Peel, but the Avenger; singular.

He's a classic pulp character from the '40s, created by the guys who created Doc Savage and The Shadow, and written mostly by a man named Paul Ernst. The Avenger has a powerfully touching origin story in which his wife and small daughter are passionlessly murdered in an unbelievably horrifying way, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlike, say, Batman, where that tragedy is usually played out in a few panels, the first Avenger story is all about his attempt to uncover what happened, take his revenge, and come to terms with his own role in their deaths. That last part may be mostly in subtext, but it's heart-wrenching stuff nevertheless.

The Avenger doesn't actually go by that name in the stories I've read. His real name is Richard Benson and that's pretty much what people call him. He gathers together a small team of like-minded people who've also been treated unjustly by criminals and they form an organization called Justice, Inc. They all have their areas of expertise, so it's kind of like a super team, though only Benson has what you might call super powers.

Due to the shock of losing his family, Benson's lost all pigment in his skin and hair, and his facial muscles have been paralyzed. He's able to do this thing where he can move his face around with his fingers and change his appearance. That's tough to explain scientifically, but before he became the Avenger, Benson was kind of wealthy, globe-trotting, Indiana Jones-like adventurer, so I imagine that something he encountered in those days combined with his shock to give him his ability. I wonder if anyone's told that story. I still have a lot of Avenger reading to do.

What fascinates me about the character is the theme of emotional vulnerability. He has so much rage and hurt inside him, but he's physically incapable of expressing it. I'm intrigued by how that affects his team, who have their own heartaches, but seem to follow Benson's lead in keeping that stuff swallowed up.

My story takes place really early in Justice, Inc.'s career, just after my favorite member of the team has joined. Her name is Nellie Gray and she's an awesome butt-kicker with a deceptively fragile appearance. She's also my emotional hook into the team, so I wanted to tell a story from before she's fully assimilated. If I get the chance to write other Avenger stories, I'd love to follow her some more and explore how Benson's team affects the way she expresses herself and relates to people.

Not that it's all character stuff for me. This is a pulp hero after all, so there's also plenty of action and a string of robberies committed by a murderous, bulletproof scarecrow.

Anyway, the book comes out in March and has stories by lots of cool writers: Matthew Baugh, James Chambers, Greg Cox, Win Scott Eckert, CJ Henderson, Matthew Mayo, Will Murray, Bobby Nash, Mel Odom, Barry Reese, Chris Sequeira, John Small, and David White. It'll be over 300 pages of Avenger action for only $19 (less than $13 on Amazon). There's also going to be a limited edition hardcover for $33.

Here's how Moonstone describes the collection:
The greatest crime-fighter of the 40’s returns in a third thrilling collection of original action-packed tales of adventure, intrigue, and revenge. Life was bliss for millionaire adventurer Richard Henry Benson until that fateful day crime and greed took away his wife and young daughter…and turned him into something more than human.

Driven by loss, compelled by grief, he becomes a chilled impersonal force of justice, more machine than man, dedicated to the destruction of evildoers everywhere. A figure of ice and steel, more pitiless than both, Benson has been forged into an avatar of vengeance, possessed of superhuman genius supernormal power. His frozen face and pale eyes, like a polar dawn, only hint at the terrible force the underworld heedlessly invoked upon itself the day they created…The Avenger!

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | George C. Scott (1984)

I loved him as Robin Colcord on Cheers, but Roger Rees is my least favorite Fred ever. Rather than joyous and exuberant, he's sappy and sentimental. One could point out that Dickens too is sappy and sentimental, but Dickens also has an awesome sense of humor that Rees' Fred never delivers.

Even his entrance is subdued. There's no bursting in, and no surprise. As Cratchit humbly makes his way back to his desk after getting chewed out in the last scene, the shop door opens and Fred comes in. He has to walk through a windowed vestibule to get to the inner door, so we see him do that too. It's a very long entrance already, but it's dragged out even more by Fred's stopping to greet Cratchit at his desk before talking to Scrooge. Both men are very warm in their Christmas greetings, but there's no joy in it.

Though he's in the same room, Scrooge ignores them until Fred comes over to repeat his "Merry Christmas" for his uncle. Surprisingly, Scott's Scrooge doesn't get upset. He just stares at Fred like he's crazy until Fred repeats the wish. Then - even more surprisingly - Scrooge laughs.

Scott's Scrooge is arguably the most relatable version there is. In the previous scene, he wasn't a horror of a boss, but simply a man who'd just about reached the limits of his patience with his lazy, wasteful clerk. In this scene, he's the one with the sense of humor, not mushy old Fred. He chuckles when he says "Humbug" and downright guffaws when he comes up with "buried with a stake of holly through his heart." He's obviously the only one in the room who thinks he's funny, but he's also the only one in the room making any attempt at humor. Fred, meanwhile, takes Scrooge's remarks about Christmas personally and looks genuinely hurt by them. I keep finding myself able to see the story through Scrooge's eyes, which is remarkable.

Rees is good with Fred's speech - after all, that's the part where Fred is supposed to be passionately sincere - and Scrooge's line about his being "a powerful speaker" is well-earned. Cratchit's clapping at the speech is funny in a way that's different from the book. He doesn't try to cover it up by poking in the fire, but he does stop quickly at a glare from Scrooge and then completely disappears behind his desk as he tries to return to work. The sense I get is that Scrooge is feeling ganged up on by Fred and Cratchit, but knows that he can control at least one of those men. He does, then turns back to Fred.

It's interesting that Fred's the one who brings up his marriage in this version. After Scrooge says (with another laugh) that he'll see himself in Hell (I think that's the first time we've gotten the whole line without euphemisms) before having Christmas dinner with Fred, his nephew says that entertaining Scrooge would be a great joy to him. "And to my wife," he adds.

Scrooge doesn't seem affected by it. He acts like he's just remembered that Fred's married and says that he's "told" that Fred's wife brought very little to the marriage. He disapproves, but only when he's reminded. He doesn't have any strong feelings about it. Obviously, the marriage isn't the reason Scrooge has a bad relationship with Fred.

What seems to be the problem is that Scrooge just doesn't care. Not about Christmas, and not about Fred. He's engrossed in his own stuff and nothing else really matters to him. Unfortunately, I can relate to that all too well, too, in some moments. Hopefully never to the extent that Scrooge has separated himself from the people around him, but I still know what it's like to get selfishly wrapped up in my own business and forget the needs of people around me.

There's a hint of something that's contributed to Scrooge's detachment. In response to Scrooge's crack about Mrs. Fred's lack of fortune, Fred simply smiles wistfully and says, "I love her. And she loves me." That makes Scrooge pause. "Love," he says, nodding knowingly and looking away.

It's not that he disbelieves Fred. In fact, it appears to be the one time that they're completely on the same page and that Fred has actually reached his uncle. But Scrooge wants nothing to do with it. He looks Fred in the eye, but can't hold it. His "good afternoon" is dismissive, but calm. He's defeated, but he's also done. There are no further, shouted "good afternoons" in this version. Scrooge substitutes, "You're wasting my time," and "Good bye," and he's in complete control of his emotions. Or rather, he's trying very hard to look like he's in complete control.

As Fred gives up and leaves, he extends wishes to Cratchit and his family. Scrooge simply shakes his head at his departing nephew and proclaims him, "Idiot."

It's a great scene and beautifully acted by both Scott and Rees. (I may not like Rees' interpretation of Fred, but there's no denying that he's perfectly effective in conveying what he's trying to convey.) By refusing to let Scrooge become a caricature, Scott's performance makes sure that I'm never able to simply judge and then dismiss him. Instead, he takes me on Scrooge's journey with him and serves as a powerful warning against becoming too much like him.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

That F*ing Monkey Podcast (feat. Me)

Ken O and Brandon from the That F*ing Monkey blog have started a podcast with their pal Eron and allowed me the honor of joining them for Episode 1.

As promised by the logo, the podcast focuses on comics, games, and booze. We talked about Kill All Monsters! some, but also Hawkeye, Rocketeer, JJ Abrams, the state of North American genre TV, and Eron reviews Batch 19 beer.

I don't remember if video games came up, but they definitely did in the team's Episode 0, a test episode that they decided to release for public consumption. They're a bunch of funny guys talking about alcohol and nerd stuff, so check them out.

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Scrooge McDuck (1983)

In Mickey's Christmas Carol, Fred doesn't enter abruptly (he's announced by the clanging of Scrooge's bell on the door), but he does enter boisterously. He's played by Donald Duck, after all, who's never been known for having a subdued personality. He enters with wreath in hand and shouts, "Merry Christmas!"

Donald's an interesting choice for Fred. Of course, he is Scrooge McDuck's nephew, so the casting is a no-brainer on that level, but Donald's famously short temper doesn't fit with how Fred is usually portrayed. That's why we see none of it in this short film. Here, Donald is all about enthusiasm for the Day and he makes a delightful, if somewhat dim Fred.

Most of Dickens' dialogue is right out the window in this version, replaced with jokes that still manage to get across the point of the scene. Fred loves Christmas; Scrooge doesn't see the point. In a variation on Dickens, Scrooge declares that Christmas is "just another workday and any jackanapes who thinks else should be boiled in his own pudding." As with the other short versions of the story, Scrooge and Fred's bad relationship is centered entirely around Christmas, with no mention of Fred's marriage.

I mentioned before that Donald's Fred is a bit dim. That fits with Donald's personality, but it does mean that someone else will have to do the heavy lifting in expressing the true meaning of Christmas to Scrooge. As you might expect, that's Mickey's job. He bravely inserts himself into Scrooge and Fred's conversation a couple of times, good-naturedly defending Christmas to his boss. There's no fear of his being fired here, but that's to be expected too. An integral part of Mickey's personality is his pluckiness and optimism, so his Cratchit can't be timid and afraid of Scrooge. Especially not when Scrooge is already being played for laughs. Scrooge's grumpiness is comical, not frightening, and Cratchit reacts accordingly.

He does show a little timidity though when there's a laugh to be had from it. For instance, he quickly explains his applause at Fred's "speech" (actually just Donald's shouting "Merry Christmas!" some more) as an attempt to keep his hands warm.

Scrooge ultimately kicks Fred out of the office, so there's no time for Fred and Cratchit to exchange Christmas greetings at the end of the scene. They did a little of that when Fred came in though, and once he's gone we also hear Cratchit remark that Fred is "always so full of kindness."

"Aye," Scrooge says. "He always was a little peculiar."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kill All Monsters!, Chapter 3 is out!

I've been neglecting some personal announcements in favor of getting Christmas Carol posts up every day, but I shouldn't do that. Some of this stuff really ought not to wait until January.

Like how Kill All Monsters!, Chapter 3 is now on Artist Alley Comics and available for owning at only 99 cents!

For the past two issues, the Kill Team has been worried about the development of a giant, killer robot that works completely outside of any human control. This issue, he shows up. And so do some mutant pig-people.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Marvel Classic Comics #36 (1978)

I like Fred's sudden appearance in Marvel's adaptation. He walks into the office unannounced as the caption is still talking about how cold and miserable Cratchit is. Fred's a dapper, young man who looks like a sea captain once he takes off his top hat. He's not festively decked out, but he's mostly smiles except for one bit where he loses his temper.

Though Marvel only uses a page-and-a-half for this scene, the dialogue between Scrooge and Fred is pretty much unaltered except for some very minor trimming and a couple of interesting substitutions. Instead of "What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough," Doug Moench writes, "You're poor as a door mouse." That's just a weird simile and I have no idea why Moench uses it. It doesn't make anything clearer, unlike another change when Scrooge threatens that Cratchit's in danger of losing his "job" instead of his "situation."

The main page of this scene is rather text heavy, but I like how much of Fred's speech it includes. It's during the speech that he looks angry, or at least passionate, so that's appropriate. In general, this scene is a lot better done than the introductory one. I also dig how as soon as Fred finishes his speech, he plops himself into a chair and lackadaisically invites Scrooge to dinner. It creates an almost bipolar Fred, but communicates the character pretty well in an abbreviated way. Fred is generally easy going, but he's also passionate about Christmas and what it represents. Moench's script even includes the line that I like so much about thinking "of people less fortunate as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

When Scrooge refuses the dinner invitation, Moench tweaks it just a little to read, "The day I dine with you will be the day we're both roasting in --" He leaves it as unfinished as Dickens does, but also intensifies it. I wish he'd completed the line though, because there's no good reason for Scrooge to cut it off. Fred does speak next, but it's in a different panel, so it doesn't appear that he's interrupting. The rhythm sounds like Scrooge was ready to swear, but inexplicably censored himself.

The comic stays focused on Scrooge and Fred, so though Cratchit applauds Fred's speech and Scrooge threatens Cratchit's job, it's only in one panel that shows Cratchit clapping from the shadows of the office. We don't learn anything more about Scrooge and Cratchit's relationship in this scene, except for when Fred leaves and says goodbye to the clerk. Moench includes the line (slightly altered), "There's another lunatic - my clerk, earning fifteen shillings a week, with a wife and family, talking about being merry."

He closes the scene with another interesting dialogue change. In Dickens, Scrooge says, "I'll retire to Bedlam," indicating that all this Christmasing is driving him crazy. Moench changes that to, "He'll (referring to Cratchit) retire to bedlam." It doesn't have as nice a ring to it as Dickens' line, but it's actually funnier since Scrooge has just been talking about Cratchit's wages. The only retirement plan Bob has is the insane asylum.

It also fits well with Dickens' segue to the next scene when he writes, "This lunatic (again, referring to Cratchit), in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had let two other people in." In Dickens, that makes two potential lunatics: Cratchit and Scrooge. Moench condenses it to one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)

I did this last year, too, but I forgot Classics Illustrated #53. I think I've got that fixed so I won't do it again next year, but here it is, out of chronological order.

Classics Illustrated devotes two pages to Fred's introduction.The nephew is drawn young and cheery; carrying a Christmas wreath and wrapped packages. He's not overly jolly, but he's obviously enjoying the holiday season and doesn't seem to resent the duty of coming to visit Scrooge. The text says that he "suddenly" announces himself, so there's the abrupt entrance.

The conversation is true to the text for a while, with only minor edits, until it gets to Fred's speech, which is trimmed way down to fit into a single panel. Cratchit's reaction to the speech is pretty funny, but unintentionally. He claps, Scrooge threatens his job, and it's at that point that Cratchit starts poking the fire and accidentally makes it go out. Unlike Dickens' version, the fire's going out isn't what's funny in the scene. In fact, because of the way the panel is colored with bright yellow and orange filling the fireplace, it's impossible to tell visually that there's not a raging fire in there. Only the caption box explains what's going on, so the joke is lost. What's funny is Cratchit's humbly poking the fire and thinking to himself, "When will I ever learn to control my emotions?" Indeed, Bob.

It doesn't look like Cratchit's genuinely afraid for his job though. Scrooge is unpleasant, but he's already threatened Cratchit a couple of times in this adaptation, so one would think that those threats are pretty toothless by now.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Scrooge does finish the "I'll see you in Hell first" line in response to his nephew's invitation, though he substitutes "Hades." It's kind of odd that they choose to keep it, because the rest of their conversation is severely trimmed down in the last part of the scene. There's no discussion of Fred's wife or any hints as to why Scrooge dislikes his nephew. It's just, "Come to dinner," then, "Go to hell." Fred takes off right after that.

Without any other clues, Scrooge's refusal is all about Christmas and not about his nephew. That's the second time we've seen this in an abridged version, and I bet it won't be the last.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Merry Christmas, Uncle: Walter Matthau (1978)

As we noticed last time we looked at The Stingiest Man in Town, Cratchit announces Scrooge's nephew as a diversionary tactic to get the boss' attention off himself. Since this happens before Fred can get to the door, some of the nephew's boisterousness is lost, but Cratchit's strategy supports an idea introduced in the previous scene that the clerk has a deceptive side. B.A.H. Humbug has already revealed that he and Cratchit have been smuggling coal behind Scrooge's back for some time. This Cratchit is a wily character, but Matthau's Scrooge is so dull and unpleasant that I don't care.

Fred's jolly enough. In fact, he's literally skipping up the street as he approaches the counting house. Scrooge of course thinks he's a fool, but Cratchit boldly states that he likes Fred. "His smile warms my heart."

What bluster was lost by Cratchit's announcing Fred is picked up again when the nephew (looking sort of like Bilbo Baggins from Rankin-Bass' The Hobbit) bursts through the door, singing. Scrooge turns the number into a duet by disagreeing as often as possible. I'll put Scrooge's lines in parenthesis:

Merry Christmas, Uncle Scrooge!
Oh, be merry, Uncle Scrooge!
(Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!)

(What's so merry on Christmas Day?
The merry money you throw away?
The merry bills you have to pay?
When you say "Merry Christmas," I say "Bah!")

Here's a present, Uncle Scrooge!
(Humbug! I think you are a fool to waste your cash.)

(What's the present you always buy?
A handkerchief or an awful tie?
Look at this tie and you'll know why
When I get Christmas presents, I say, "Trash!")

But everything at Christmas is so jolly
And lively!
The Christmas trees and wreaths of holly...
(Poison ivy!)
The boys and girls who dream about St. Nicholas!
(Saint Nicholas? Ridiculous!)

Don't you like him, Uncle Scrooge?
Good old Nicholas?
(That's a lot of slush!)

(I abominate old Saint Nick.
His reckless spending makes me sick!
I think St. Nick's a lunatic!
When you say, "Old Saint Nicholas," I say, "Bosh!)

As they sing, Fred does indeed give Scrooge a tie that Scrooge tosses at Cratchit. The nephew also offers a poinsettia and Scrooge throws that to the ground, smashing it. The gift-giving is an interesting addition to Dickens' story and I almost wish that some of the other versions tried it just to see how their Scrooges would've reacted. Matthau's reaction sort of makes sense in light of Scrooge's principles, but I could also believe a Scrooge who selfishly kept the gifts rather than refusing or destroying them.

I also like what the gift-giving does to Fred's reason for coming to see Scrooge. This isn't some half-hearted attempt made from habit (as in Richard Williams' cartoon). It's obviously an annual occurrence, but a sincere one. Even if his gifts do kind of suck.

The song takes a short break while Fred invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner. Scrooge refuses, but his reason is again all about the occasion, not about Fred himself. In this simplified version, his only beef with his nephew seems to be about the holiday, but it defines their relationship.

Oh, don't you like a juicy Christmas turkey?
(Detest it!)
Plum pudding with a brandy sauce?
(Can't digest it!)
You'll get a mellow feeling for humanity.
(Humanity? Insanity!)

You'll enjoy it, Uncle Scrooge!
(Humbug! It may be fun for you, but not for me!)

(I'm not merry on Christmas Day.
I'm never happy; I'm never gay.
If you think I could feel that way,
Then you are just as stupid as can be.)

(If you think I'd be merry
And chirp like a canary,
Then you are even dumber than a dumb bug.
When you say, "Merry Christmas," I say, "Nonsense! Fiddlesticks! Poppycock!"
And just plain, "Humbug! Humbug! Humbug! Humbug! Humbug!")

Fred gives up after that, but tells Scrooge that he pities him. "Maybe I'll never be as rich as you," he says, "but I'll go to my grave still believing in a Merry Christmas."

That's where Scrooge starts his "Good Afternoons" as Fred continues throwing laudatory adjectives in front of Christmas until Scrooge throws him out. All the best lines have been cut out of their conversation in favor of the song. Disappointing, but not surprising.

Friday, December 07, 2012

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Alastair Sim (1971)

In Richard Williams' animated version, Scrooge's nephew is introduced with the tinkling of the bell over the front door and a flurry of wind that scatters Scrooge's papers. He intrudes on what till now has been a soundless scene except for the ticking of a wall clock and the scratching of quills on paper. His intrusiveness is further emphasized by the animators' having him lean in close to the camera - his face filling the screen - as he questions his uncle's calling Christmas a humbug.

At first I thought this might just be the animators' showing off a bit - the shot is rather fancy and highlights the smoothness of the character's movement as well as the detail in his face - but when we cut to both the nephew and Scrooge in the same shot, the nephew's face is still very close to Scrooge's.

The nephew is friendly, but not overly jolly. That's a weakness in the animation. Though the characters are well-designed, they're not very well-animated. Their expressions don't change much and while their movements look natural, they're far too slow. That gives the conversation the feeling of sort of just going through the motions. Which is perhaps what the nephew's doing. He doesn't seem to really want Scrooge to come to dinner; he's performing an obligation as a family-member. Is he purposely being invasive too in hopes that that'll discourage Scrooge from accepting?

Unfortunately, Scrooge also seems to be just performing his duty as a character in the story. He recites his lines about boiling celebrants in their own pudding, but he stammers his way through them without seeming to mean them. There's no juice in him.

Cratchit is all but absent from the scene except for a reaction shot to... well, it's hard to tell what he's reacting to because the cartoon cuts to him at "every idiot" and cuts away again at "Merry Christmas on his lips," well before the mentions of boiling pudding and holly stakes. It's like Cratchit's cued in on the word "idiot," but it's equally difficult to tell what he's thinking about it. He looks surprised and a little mortified. Does he think Scrooge means him? So what if he does?

In the interest of time, Williams cuts the nephew's big speech and any mention of the wife. So there's no applause from Cratchit and no apparent reason for Scrooge's refusal to come to dinner other than his not liking Christmas. Partly because of this; partly due to the limitations in the characters' acting, Scrooge doesn't seem to dislike his nephew so much as simply disagree with him on this particular issue.

His first couple of Good Afternoons are even pretty laid back. He doesn't get really cranky until Cratchit opens the door for the nephew and the two exchange Merry Christmases. Is Scrooge less tolerant of his clerk's celebrating than he is of his nephew's? It's impossible to tell yet because we've had so little interaction between Scrooge and Cratchit.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

‘Merry Christmas, Uncle!’ | Albert Finney (1970)

When we last saw Finney's Scrooge, he was roaring at the front door, thinking that the knocking there was some carolers returning to inflict more misery upon him. Instead, it's his nephew, played by Michael Medwin, who's a comical-looking fellow with large teeth. "Uncle Ebenezer!" he smiles. "I can't tell you what a joy it is to see your happy, smiling face." Behind the scowling Scrooge, we see Cratchit crack another smile. That's good, because my first impression of Scrooge's nephew is that he might be a witless buffoon. Cratchit hints that there's some intelligence there though and that he and the nephew are in on a joke. Unfortunately, it'll prove to be rather a cruel one.

As the nephew enters, the familiar conversation begins. "A Merry Christmas, Uncle Ebenezer! God save you!"

Scrooge rightly suspects that Cratchit may be deriving some entertainment from this and glares at the clerk before returning to his desk. "God save me from Christmas. It's a lot of humbug!"

The dialogue proceeds mostly as Dickens wrote it while Scrooge returns to his desk and uncovers his money to begin working again. There's a clever, added line after the nephew says, "What right have you to be miserable? You're rich enough!" Scrooge retorts, "There's no such thing as rich enough!" He continues his rant as he takes the tray of money and locks it away in a safe, making him seem a bit distracted as he recites the line about "buried with a stake of holly." Is he not really thinking about what he's saying?

On the other hand, the nephew grins and shrugs at the comment as if he doesn't believe Scrooge is serious. This fits with the pitiful old curmudgeon that Finney seems to be playing. His Scrooge doesn't have a lot of teeth, figuratively speaking. The nephew smiles patronizingly throughout the conversation like he doesn't believe that Scrooge is all there. Like Scrooge is a child. It's kind of infuriating actually.

This nephew is also weakened by having his big speech cut out. After Scrooge asks to be allowed to "leave Christmas alone," he adds, "And be good enough to leave me alone during business hours."

At this, the nephew finally turns serious and with all the passion he can muster says, "Seven o'clock on Christmas Eve! That's not business hours! That's drudgery for the sake of it and an insult to all men of good will!"

At which Cratchit sort of sighs, "Hear hear."

Scrooge gets quiet for a moment and walks over to Cratchit's desk. When he speaks again, it's to threaten Cratchit's job and he seems very serious about it. Cratchit apparently takes it that way. Scrooge seems to have some power at last.

In spite of the nephew's weak "speech," Scrooge still pays him the "powerful speaker" compliment. That gets the nephew laughing again and he invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner with "my wife and me."

Scrooge has never stopped walking around the office and working throughout the entire discussion. He doesn't look up at his nephew here, so we can't see his face, but from the way he inquires about his nephew's marriage it sounds like this is the first he's hearing about it. His objections don't appear to be financial though, but prejudicial. "If there's one thing in the world more nauseating than a Merry Christmas, it's the hypocrisy of a happy marriage with some idiot, love-sick female. Good afternoon."

The nephew allows himself to be dismissed with the clarification that the offer still stands. On his way out, he and Cratchit exchange pleasantries and it's interesting that I sort of despise them both right then. I seem to have gained some genuine sympathy for Finney's Scrooge - unlikable though he is - who doesn't seem so hateful as much as just wanting to be left alone and constantly having this Christmas stuff shoved in his face. Cratchit and the nephew's pleasant greetings to each other - completely ignoring the tension of the scene that's just played out - feel like passive aggressive platitudes. I don't doubt that the two men like each other and are genuine in their well-wishes, but the subtext is that they're teaching Scrooge a lesson of some kind by showing him how regular people behave at Christmastime. That cheapens what they're doing and makes me like them less.

To make matters worse, the nephew turns at the door for one more dig. "Oh, and uncle... Happy New Year!" His smile as he cheerfully ducks Scrooge's final "Good afternoon!" is malicious.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

James Biggie's Kill All Monsters! print

Today would be where we talked about Scrooge's nephew in the Teen Titans #13 version of A Christmas Carol, if the comic actually included that character. Since it doesn't, I'll use the break to show you this awesome poster James Biggie made for Kill All Monsters!.

James writes Robot God Akamatsu, an awesome comic that also happens to feature giant robots slugging it out with giant monsters. Though Frankie B. Washington draws RGA, James is a talented artist and designer his own self as you can see. He's given us permission to use the poster as a Kickstarter reward once we get that up and running, so you'll soon have the opportunity to own one of these for yourself.

Thanks again, James!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

‘Merry Christmas, Uncle!’ | Fredric March (1954)

With its run time of less than an hour, the Christmas Carol episode of Shower of Stars had to be super efficient with its storytelling. As we noticed last year, it begins not with Scrooge and Cratchit, but with the charity solicitors. We’ll look at their scene next year (and how it’s a suitable introduction to Marley), but this year we’ll pick up with their leaving Scrooge’s office.

Before Fred arrives, Cratchit comes into the office from a side door just as the solicitors are leaving through the front. The clerk is holding a coal shovel and Scrooge scolds him for having been gone five minutes. “Let it go out,” Scrooge orders, referring to Cratchit’s neglected fire. Cratchit seems especially timid in this version. He stammers and shuffles about uneasily, walking on egg shells.

As he disappears back into his alcove, the door opens and in walks a jubilant Fred with a boisterous, “Merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!” Ray Middleton plays the role in a cartoonish, overly expressive way like a department store Santa. He’s deepening his voice and flourishing his arms in big, sweeping movements. He preaches at Scrooge about Christmas as if he’s instructing school children. In short, he’s trying way too hard.

The dialogue sticks close to Dickens with a few edits. He gets to give most of his speech, but there’s an interesting change when he gets to the part about Christmas’ being a time when folks “think of people below them as if they were really fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” Instead of “people below them,” he refers to “their neighbors.” Then he changes “another race of creatures bound on other journeys” to “customers to be sold something at a profit.” In other words, his concern is more about commercialism than humanitarianism. That’s a weaker Fred, in my opinion.

His speech still elicits applause from Cratchit, but not as humorously as Dickens described. In this version, since Cratchit’s fire is dying, Cratchit’s staying warm by sweeping the office, but he puts down the broom long enough to clap. His face is pretty priceless though when he realizes Scrooge is glaring at him. When Scrooge threatens to fire him, Cratchit goes back to work with a disgruntled glance in Scrooge’s direction. He doesn’t seem actually afraid for his job; just troubled by the general tension Scrooge creates in the office.

The adaptation also includes Scrooge’s comment about seeing Fred in… “Well,” he interrupts himself, mumbling, “You know the place I mean. I’ll see you there first.” Fredric March (best known as 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, though he’s almost unrecognizable in his Scrooge makeup) plays Scrooge with a weird sense of humor that we’ll look more closely at next year, but it comes up again in this line. He seems embarrassed that he almost said “Hell,” which is pretty funny after all his other meanness. Fred looks pretty amused by it too.

On his way out, Cratchit whispers “a very merry Christmas” to him and thanks him for his speech about the day. I like Bob Sweeney’s soft-spoken Cratchit. He’s got a nice, gentle spirit when he’s alone with Fred and it’s a shame that Scrooge suppresses it. I’m looking forward to watching him more closely.

Monday, December 03, 2012

‘Merry Christmas, Uncle!’ | Alastair Sim (1951)

Like the 1910 silent version, the ’51 Alastair Sim adaptation puts the Charity Relief Committee in front of the nephew. I wasn’t sure what the purpose of that was in 1910, but it makes more sense in this one. The Sim’s version began by showing us Scrooge at work, interacting with other businessmen. When he gets back to his office, he has more ‘business’ to conduct, but with people looking for handouts. Seeing how he reacts to them makes a nice transition from the business world to the purely personal visit of Scrooge’s nephew.

The two solicitors have just left Scrooge’s office and he’s started working when he hears a noise and looks up, startled. In this version, Scrooge has a separate office from Cratchit with its own door, so we never see Fred burst in from outside. He still manages to surprise Scrooge though, and Scrooge never fully recovers for the rest of the scene.

Fred comes in from the outer office and Scrooge tries to go back to work, dismissing his nephew. “Oh, it’s you, is it? What do you want?”

Fred offers his hand and assures Scrooge that he’s not there to borrow money (interestingly, he phrases this in a businesslike way, not even entertaining the idea that he could possibly be there for a handout), but simply to wish Scrooge a “Merry Christmas.” Fred’s not particularly cheery. In fact, he’s quite serious. He doesn’t expect Scrooge to receive him very well and looks like he’s politely going through the motions. Ignoring Fred’s hand and not even looking up, Scrooge skips most of Dickens’ dialogue for the scene and goes right to, “Keep Christmas in your own way and let me keep it in mine.”

The conversation proceeds like the book for a couple of lines until Scrooge points out that not “much good [Christmas] has ever done you.” The nephew protests that it’s certainly never done him any harm either, which gives Scrooge the opening to voice his objections about his nephew. “No, your wayward nature has done that. And your marriage.”

They argue for a second about whether Fred’s marriage was the making or the ruin of him, and Fred sees his opening. “Why don’t you come and see for yourself if you won’t take my word for it? Come and dine with us tomorrow.”

That finally gets Scrooge to look up from his work. He actually looks hurt by the suggestion, as if surely Fred knows Scrooge’s answer already and how dare he make them both go through this conversation. Scrooge shakes his head, but is surprisingly polite. “No, thank you.” No mention of seeing Fred in Hell first. Though there’s an obvious rift between Sim’s Scrooge and Fred, Scrooge seems oddly vulnerable around his sister’s son.

Fred is baffled by the degenerated relationship and goes back to Dickens’ text. “But why? Why?”

As in Dickens, the issue is Fred’s marriage (though we’ll learn later in a non-Dickensian scene that there’s actually more to it than that). The conversation proceeds more or less according to Dickens from there, with a couple of noticeable variations. First, when Fred says that he married because he fell in love, Scrooge doesn’t growl at the idea, he simply mocks it, pointing out that Fred’s wife is “a woman as penniless as yourself.”

As they continue to argue, Fred becomes angrier at Scrooge’s stubbornness. He more or less shouts his final “And a Happy New Year!” The affect this has on Scrooge is startling. He’s visibly shaken as he raises his own voice to bid Fred, “Good afternoon!” His hand is still trembling as Fred goes back to the outer office and Scrooge shouts a lame “Humbug!” at the retreating nephew and attempts to return to work.

The Scrooge we saw on the Exchange and Scrooge as he is around his nephew are very different characters. On the Exchange, Scrooge is energetic and dangerous. Where his sister’s boy is concerned, Sim’s Scrooge is much less sure of himself. It’s the first chink we see in the armor he so effectively wears around other people of business, including the charity solicitors. By switching Fred and the solicitors around, the film can head into the next events with Scrooge less at ease and less on his guard. It’s a great piece of character development.

The scene’s not quite over when Fred leaves the inner office. We get to see him stop and chat with Cratchit a bit, which is important since this is the first real look at Cratchit the film offers. Cratchit was all business with the solicitors, just taking their coats and whatnot. With Fred, we learn a little more about the clerk as Fred asks after the various Cratchits, including “the little lame boy” Tim.

Fred’s demeanor with Cratchit is pleasant and warm, as if he’s relieved to be away from his uncle and interacting with a normal person. Cratchit seems a bit nervous though. Scrooge is in the other room and not paying attention as far as we can tell, so maybe Cratchit simply feels socially inferior to Fred. That fits with the way he talks about Fred later on during the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, when he acts pleased and grateful that Fred would condescend to offer condolences about Tim and again ask after Cratchit’s family. In spite of Scrooge’s insult about Fred’s being penniless, Fred and Company celebrate Christmas much more luxuriously than the Cratchits, so there’s something of a class difference there. You don’t feel it from Fred, but Cratchit may have a different view.

Another explanation for Cratchit’s unease though could be that it’s just the way he generally is at work. We haven’t seen any real interaction yet between him and Scrooge, but knowing the kind of businessman Scrooge is, it’s not surprising that his clerk would be a nervous fellow. We’ll see more of their relationship in coming scenes, but I like how the film gives us hints already without our having to see them so much as speak to each other. Unfortunately, the movie cuts out Fred’s big speech and Cratchit’s comical reaction to it, but by doing that it adds a subtle, sinister element to the Scrooge-Cratchit relationship that’s quite effective.


Related Posts with Thumbnails