Tuesday, December 20, 2016
“More of Gravy than of Grave” | Michael Caine (1992)
Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project
The Muppets use CG to provide a great transformation scene with the knocker. No superimposed faces here; we get to see the knocker slowly morph into Marley's face - or a Marley's face - before our eyes. It's Statler of Statler and Waldorf. A spooked Scrooge identifies him as Jacob Marley before the ghost moans Scrooge's name so loudly that he startles the horse pulling Gonzo and Rizzo's carriage. Gonzo and Rizzo spill out and when we cut back to the door, Marley is gone. Scrooge takes a close look on it and decides, "Humbug."
Gonzo narrates some more, focusing on Scrooge's fondness for the dark and generally making Scrooge out to be recovered from the incident, but wary. Scrooge lights some lamps and searches his rooms. He looks determined, but he also picks up a poker from the fireplace to carry as a weapon. And in a great bit, he attacks his own dressing gown, thinking that it might be an intruder. He even pounds on it a couple of times on the floor, before realizing in horror that he's abused a valuable piece of clothing.
The scene then cuts to Scrooge by the fire, wearing the gown and taking some bread and cheese. No gruel for this Scrooge. He's not a spendthrift, but Michael Caine's Scrooge enjoys his wealth. He just doesn't share it with anyone else. As he eats, the servant's bell gives a little jingle. Scrooge looks at it and it goes still, but when he returns to his dinner, the bell goes crazy before settling down once more.
Scrooge's fire doesn't grow larger at Marley's nearness, it goes out completely, which is probably a better visual. We're used to rooms getting cold before spirits appear and that's the sense that I get here. There's some distant creaking and maybe some footsteps, but the music does most of the work in building suspense until the Marleys pop up.
In this version, there's no door separating Scrooge's sitting room from the staircase. There's just a bannister, so the Marleys (Statler and Waldorf this time) fly up the stairwell to hover near the rail. Their moans turn into the duo's trademark heckling laughter and they immediately launch into insults about Scrooge's looks. When the disbelieving Scrooge asks who they are, they introduce themselves as Jacob and Robert (get it?) Marley. They're pale and transparent, but neither wears the traditional bandage for some reason.
Caine's Scrooge has already demonstrated a sense of humor, so it's fitting that he uses it here to convince himself that he's hallucinating. The Marley's are into it, too, chuckling to themselves until Scrooge gets to his gravy quip. That's when they go into full heckling. "What a terrible pun!" Jacob says. And Robert: "Leave the comedy to the bears!" Scrooge's reaction is telling. At first he begs, "Please don't criticize me!" But then he scowls and points. "You always criticized me!"
Of course that would be the case. Statler and Waldorf are horrible people and they make fitting Marleys. I can't imagine working with them and it builds sympathy to think of Scrooge's having to endure them as partners, even as mean as he is.
When he asks why they're there, they launch into a song that explains their plight and how Scrooge is heading down the same path.
I have some of the same problem with this interpretation that I do with Goofy's playing Marley in Mickey's Christmas Carol. Not to that same extent, because an additional part of Goofy's problem is that he's generally known for being a good-natured pal, so he's not a natural fit for Marley. Statler and Waldorf are at least reasonable choices. But they do the same thing that Goofy does, which is to try to balance remorse over their past deeds with a humorous pride. It doesn't work any better for Muppets than it did for Mickey, so I generally don't care for these Marleys at all. I doubt that this visit to Scrooge was their idea. They seem like the kind of guys who had to be forced into it.
Their song is good though and I love that their cash boxes and padlocks join in for a line. It's also great that Caine plays the whole thing straight. He's appropriately frightened and seems to take their warning to heart. It's hard to get a good sense of where he's at, because he's just interjecting lines into a song, but if there's no great insight to Scrooge's mindset, we can at least accept that he's shaken up. There's been no real change in him yet, though. It'll take more than a fun, but silly song.
When the song is done, it's interesting that the Marleys have to be literally dragged back towards the bannister by their own chains. They struggle to get out the last of the message, but manage to tell Scrooge about the coming spirits. They're vague about the timing though and only mention that the first is coming that night at 1:00.
When they reach the stairwell, their chains continue to pull at them, down the well (or into hell, if your imagination wants to go there). As they descend, they go back to their song, "We're Marley and Marley!" It's just a musical end cap, but there might also be something to their trying to hold onto their identities as they rejoin the nameless forces that have both sent them there and are drawing them back. Maybe that's deeper than you want Muppets to go, but the movie shows some surprising depth in other areas, too, so I'm going with it.
There's no host of phantoms trying to help a homeless mother in this version. As the Marley's disappear with a final command for Scrooge to "Change!" the lamps go out and everything is dark for a couple of seconds. Then Scrooge's fire roars back to life.
The scene shifts outside for some more narration/shenanigans by Gonzo and Rizzo, then back to Scrooge's bed as he climbs in. He's holding the poker again, still unnerved, but he gets out a whole "humbug" as he pulls closed the curtains.