Saturday, December 14, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | George C. Scott (1984)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Yesterday I went on about how Scrooge McDuck is the most relatable Ebenezer Scrooge, completely forgetting that I'd already awarded George C. Scott that distinction last year. I should quit making it a contest, because each character is believable in different ways. The joy with which McDuck celebrates his wealth feels familiar and human, but it's an exaggerated, comical glee. The way Scott relates to his money is more subdued. He's a smart businessman and I get the feeling that he finds more pleasure in a shrewdly negotiated deal than in wealth for its own sake. That becomes really apparent in a scene that the '84 Christmas Carol adds to Dickens' text.

This version moves the charitable solicitors to a little later in the story and by the time we get there, Scrooge has become less sympathetic than he was in the first two scenes where he seemed put upon by Bob Cratchit and Fred. We'll cover Scrooge and Cratchit's time-off negotiation in detail next year, but Scrooge makes some good (if entirely selfish) points about paying for work that's not done. As I'm still sort of reluctantly nodding my head at that though, Scrooge has a couple of moments of pure meanness. The first of which involves Tiny Tim, who's waiting outside the office for his father. I think I'll cover that more next year.

The second moment is what I was alluding to above about Scrooge's attitude towards business. He leaves the office to finish his day at the Exchange and we see him playing hardball with some other gentlemen. Scrooge has corn that the others desperately want, but they haven't yet agreed on a price. Scrooge demands five percent more than what he asked the day before and threatens to raise the cost another five percent the following day if they don't agree to his terms. They point out that if he doesn't sell to them he'll be stuck with a warehouse full of useless corn, but he doesn't seem to care. I suspect he's bluffing, but he's very good at it and they cave. He's thoroughly convincing that he'd rather eat the cost of the corn than not be able to exploit these men and in turn their customers who - though poverty stricken - will have to pay more as well.

With that act of ruthlessness still fresh, the charitable solicitors (one of whom is played by Alfred from the '90s Batman movies) approach Scrooge. Still pleased from his victory over his peers, Scrooge is immediately rude to the solicitors before they even explain what they want. Unlike Reginald Owen's version though, the incivility of Scott's Scrooge makes sense. That's partly because the encounter is at the Exchange and he doesn't know of any business he needs to conduct with these guys, but even if he did have business with them, we've already seen the incivility with which he conducts his affairs. People do business with Scrooge because he's powerful and they have to, not because they want to. Dickens says that Scrooge is a powerful man on the Exchange, but unlike adaptations where Scrooge comes across as petty and pathetic, Scott makes me believe it.

Though Scrooge is mean to them, he does it with a perfect, gentlemanly smile until they mention giving to the poor. At that point his grin drops and it's clear that he thinks they're complete lunatics. The conversation follows Dickens closely, which means that it's a little weird and the two, kind-hearted gentlemen come off as clueless at best and doddering at worst. They don't pick up on the clear message that Scrooge not only isn't interested, but is morally opposed to helping anyone but himself. With that, I'm back to understanding him again. I may not like him, but I get why he feels superior when surrounded by such fools.

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