Friday, December 06, 2013
'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Alastair Sim (1951)
Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project
1951's Scrooge is another adaptation that puts the visit by the charitable solicitors in front of Scrooge's nephew. I speculated why that was last year and I'm happy to see that my previous thoughts match the theory I came up with this year, which is that putting the solicitors first is a way of presenting Scrooge's general worldview before honing in on his personal issues with Christmas and his nephew.
Alastair Sim's version began by showing us Scrooge at work at the London Exchange, interacting with other businessmen. When he gets back to his office, he has more ‘business’ to conduct, but this time 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 his nephew.
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, he's 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, 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.
As for the solicitors, they're waiting for Scrooge when he gets back to his office from the Exchange. This version has them as thin men, which I won't read into, but is a departure from Dickens. Curiously (since they've been hanging out with Cratchit for who knows how long), they still don't know if Scrooge is Scrooge or Marley. Wouldn't Marley's death be something they learned when they introduced themselves to Cratchit?
There's a great, comical moment when the lead solicitor talks about Marley's "generosity" being represented by his surviving partner and Scrooge simply walks away and goes into his office. He's not inviting the gentlemen to follow, he's dismissing them, very rudely, and the speaker misses a beat of his speech as he tries to process what just happened.
He recovers though and with his partner follows Scrooge into the office, explaining the reason for the visit. The rest of the scene isn't played for laughs, but Sim is darkly funny as he questions the men. "A few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund," one of them says, "to buy the poor some meat and drink and means of warmth." "Why?" says Scrooge. And he genuinely doesn't know.
As the solicitor explains, Scrooge smiles, amused by the notion. He actually laughs when they ask how much they can put him down for. He's still very confident and in control, which will change once Fred shows up.
The solicitors, on the other hand, are shocked and confused by Scrooge's statements. They're severe, serious men (not like the pleasant gentlemen from Reginald Owen's version who seemed so passionate about their work), but they're also quite genuine in their concern for the poor and don't understand why Scrooge doesn't share it. "You wish to be anonymous?" doesn't come across as a legitimate question, but as a last-ditch effort to get a donation. These men know what's going on, but are grasping at straws.
I love that this version includes Scrooge's line about the poor not being his business. The script changes Dickens' text dramatically and effectively. "Isn't it, sir?" replies the lead gentleman in a way that makes me want to cheer. Sadly, Scrooge gets even more grumpy and insistent that no, it's not any of his business. He quickly dismisses the men with a gruff "good afternoon" and they exchange a frustrated look between themselves and leave.