Thursday, December 17, 2015
His Usual Melancholy Tavern | Seymour Hicks (1935)
Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project
Director Henry Edwards' Scrooge does a lot with our scene this year and it's one of the reasons I wanted to keep it separate instead of rolling into another one. The movie picks up a lot of things that Dickens had earlier in the story and presents them in the time between Scrooge's leaving the office and arriving home. There's Cratchit's joining the neighborhood boys for a slide on the ice, but we also check in on other Christmas celebrants. Fred comes home with loads of packages while Cratchit makes it safely to his place with the holiday bird and sprig of greenery. The music is cheery and all the dreariness of the earlier outdoor scene is gone. Christmas is finally in full force.
There's an especially lovely bit at the Lord Mayor's house, making this one of the few versions to adapt that part of Dickens' text. It's not exactly as written, but we get to see all the preparations for a luxurious feast as guests arrive and the wine-tasters, bakers, and various chefs go about their business. In a beautiful representation of Dickens' primary theme, we also see a crowd of street people looking hungrily in through the window at the bustling kitchen. And it's gratifying when one of the chefs brings over a plate of unusable food to distribute to them. Later, when the Lord Mayor leads his guests in a toast and a chorus of "God Save the Queen," those outside the mansion sing just as faithfully and loudly. Politics aside, it's a touching example of camaraderie and national pride.
All this joy is contrasted with Scrooge as he "Humbugs" his way past well-wishers and enters his tavern. It is quite melancholy, since he's the only patron. The landlord is actually sleeping at a table until Scrooge enters and wakes him up with a rap of his cane on another piece of furniture. After a solitary meal, Scrooge makes his lonely walk home and we get this version's account of the blind man's dog that doesn't like the old miser.
It's tough to figure at what point Scrooge arrives at his house. The scene has him walking through a couple of sets to get there and when he goes through a large gate just before a cut to his front door, I can't tell if that's the gate to his house or just another part of London. If it's his house though, it's impressive. Either way, by having Scrooge go through so many empty sets, the movie does a nice job of expressing how isolated and out of the way his place is.
It also finds a clever way to reveal that Scrooge isn't the original owner of the place. On the front door is a sign with Marley and Scrooge's names on it and - just like the one at the office - Marley's is scratched out. I guess that implies that Marley and Scrooge were housemates, rather than Scrooge's inheriting it from his partner, but it's cool that the sign is right under the infamous knocker that's about to call Marley's existential status into question.