Wednesday, December 17, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Reginald Owen (1938)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Reginald Owen's Scrooge is a fascinating man, and not just because of that weird tuft of hair. He was consistently rude to the charitable solicitors, but in his conversation with Fred he showed some glimpses of humanity. There were parts of that scene where the conversation was pretty much over, but he re-engaged and kept it going. His dislike of Fred seems more like a defense mechanism than an honest reaction.

There's a little of that going on with Cratchit, too. Gene Lockhart is a funny actor and we get some great moments from his Cratchit. After the solicitors leave and Scrooge shuffles back into his office (Scrooge's walk is another interesting thing about him; Owen makes it look like he's in some kind of chronic pain that affects his posture), Cratchit looks at the clock and then listens to it to make sure it's ticking. He sighs heavily and then has some of the port that Fred left on his desk earlier. He's absolutely miserable, partly because of whom he works for, but also because it's Christmas Eve and those last fifteen minutes are gonna draaaag.

There's a dissolve and Cratchit is still watching the clock, but it's 6:30 now; forty-five minutes since the last time we saw him look. Scrooge comes out and catches him, leading to some great dialogue that's not in Dickens. "You keep close watch on the closing hour!" Scrooge observes.

"It's half-an-hour past," says Cratchit. I can't tell if he's supposed to close at 6:30 or if he was supposed to be done at 6:00, but either way he seems to have been waiting for Scrooge to come out and give the okay to go. Owen's Scrooge has a tight rein on his clerk.

"Then close up! Close up!" barks Scrooge. "Don't work overtime, you might make something of yourself!" It's one of my favorite lines in any adaptation. It's such a grouchy old man thing to say, but it also suggests the slightest possibility that Scrooge sees potential in Cratchit and is angry that Cratchit would rather get home and celebrate Christmas.

Based on some things that happen later, Owen's Scrooge feels profoundly lonely to me. It's his own doing, but I feel bad for him, especially when he keeps dropping hints that he'd like for someone to tear through his wall. That also adds a different dimension to his complaining about Cratchit's taking Christmas off. Not only does Scrooge have to pay Cratchit for no work; he's also going to be stuck at home by himself all day.

There's another added bit that's not in Dickens when Cratchit timidly mentions that it's payday. Scrooge is pretty unfair, but funny when he grouses, "Can't wait to spend 'em, eh?" But he pays up and sends Cratchit on his way, staying behind to close up.

This isn't the only version where Cratchit leaves ahead of Scrooge, but the others make it seem like a trust issue. Owen's Scrooge seems to sort of like Cratchit in a weird way, so that's not the case here. It's more of a work ethic thing. Cratchit can't wait to get started on Christmas while Scrooge hangs back to get some more work done (though he appropriates the bottle of port from Cratchit's desk to keep him company).

The movie follows Cratchit into the street, but he doesn't join the boys in sliding. We've already had a sliding scene earlier with Fred and Cratchit's sons (and will get another with Fred later), so Cratchit engages in a snowball fight instead. That becomes a significant part of next year's scene though, so I'll leave it until then to talk about.


Wings1295 said...

A classic version and many people's favorite version. Maybe partly because of how it actually expands on Dickens' classic and in a good way.

Michael May said...

It really does. As much as I love the Alastair Sim version, I get bored during its extended Christmas Past sequence. The additions in this one are way more entertaining and interesting.


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