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.