Wednesday, December 23, 2015

His Usual Melancholy Tavern | George C Scott (1984)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Director Clive Donner's version cuts abruptly from the merriment in front of the Exchange where the band is playing and kids are sliding on ice. As Cratchit and Tiny Tim head home from that happy scene, Scrooge has a downright spooky walk towards his house.

The sun has gone down and the fog is rolling in, but that's not the worst of it. Donner goes full out chilling - foreshadowing what's going to happen at Scrooge's door - by having a hearse roll by and a disembodied voice call Scrooge's name before the hearse disappears into the fog. The disappearance is a nice effect, by the way. It looks like the hearse vanishes supernaturally and if you watch the scene closely, that's clearly what it's doing. But it's replaced by so much fog that if you were in Scrooge's shoes, you wouldn't be sure that it hadn't just been obscured by the natural mist.

None of this is in Dickens [UPDATE: It is, but in the next scene, once Scrooge goes inside.], so we have to speculate about what's going on there. The voice calling Scrooge's name sounds like Marley, so Marley must be starting to cross through the veil between his world and ours. He's working up to it. First we get a voice, then we'll get his face on the knocker, and then we'll get the whole ghost. But why the hearse? It could be a vision of Scrooge's future or simply a generic reminder of mortality. I'd love to hear other theories in the comments.

Because of the long, scary walk to Scrooge's house, it does feel withdrawn. In fact, Scrooge's gate is off a grungy-looking alley that's lined with ladders and barrels and a cart. There's no indication that he shares his building with office space, but he's certainly living next door to some. And skipping ahead to Christmas morning, there won't be any traffic to speak of in that alley either. This version does a great job communicating a house that's hiding from the rest of London.


Wings1295 said...

Maybe Marley was using a spectre of his own trip in the hearse as his first visit to Scrooge. A ghost from his own past, perhaps?

Michael May said...

I like that! Better than my own theories, actually.


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