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.