Monday, December 18, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Reginald Owen (1938)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

The 1938 Christmas Carol jumps straight from Scrooge's hopping in bed to almost 1:00. Something wakes him up a few seconds early and he checks his pocket watch. He must decide that it's close enough to the appointed time, because he gets cocky, thinking that either Marley was wrong or that maybe he, Scrooge, dreamed the whole thing. But as soon as he says, "Humbug," the clock chimes one and the bed curtains pull themselves back.

I wouldn't call Scrooge frightened at this point, but he's startled by the appearance of a glowing figure that gradually solidifies into the Ghost (as she calls herself) of Christmas Past. Director Edwin L Marin has taken some big liberties with his version, but I'm not going to complain. Ann Rutherford (from the Andy Hardy movies) plays the Ghost and she's absolutely gorgeous.

In addition to being very young and very female, she doesn't carry a cap or holly. And after the initial glow effect of her appearing in Scrooge's room, she's not particularly shiny. She does wear all white though with some sparkles. And her face and hair are fair. So she does stand out in contrast to the dark room and that must be what Scrooge refers to when he complains that the light hurts his eyes. "It blinds me," he adds, being a little over-dramatic.

She doesn't have a snuffer cap to put on (in fact, she's already wearing a snazzy hat with a glittery star on it), so Scrooge doesn't offer a suggestion for what he wants her to do about the light. Which means that her reply is less huffy than the Spirit in Dickens' version. She simply says that she's not surprised that the light bothers him. "It's the warming light of thankfulness. The light of gratitude to others."

That's a different interpretation than the one I came up with. Dickens is vague about what the light represents, but I've always thought of it as the illumination that comes from self-reflection and remembering the past. Making it specifically about appreciation feels out of nowhere, but it could work if that's a theme that the Ghost repeats throughout the scenes that she shows Scrooge. Something to keep an eye on.

In a surprising display of self-awareness, Scrooge admits that he's never seen this light before. Although I believe that his comment is actually a complaint that no one has ever shown him any gratitude. Reginald Owen's Scrooge is a lonely man who seems to be interested in human connection, but doesn't know how to appropriately ask for it. He may think that he's putting signals out there - his snide comment that Cratchit might make something of himself if he worked overtime comes to mind - but his abrasiveness keeps people away. And in this moment, I'm sensing that he resents it.

The Ghost turns Scrooge's comment around on him, though. She's says that of course he's never seen gratitude, because his greed has caused him to forget it. In other words, he doesn't care enough about people to show them any gratitude, so why should he expect better from them?

This makes Scrooge think. "Oh," he says. And it seems to me that Scrooge is being shockingly gentle with the Ghost. He's still abrupt and cranky, but he seems willing to listen to her. And she doesn't appear willing to take any crap from him either. She reminds me of my wife, actually. I've known some notoriously miserable people who emotionally bully others and just get meaner the more that their victims back down. But Diane won't take it from them. She pushes right back and these people respect and like her for it. That's what I sense is going on between Scrooge and this ghost.

He asks what her business is with him and she declares, "Your welfare," before immediately adding, "Your reclamation." There's no hint that he's making jokes to himself about unbroken rest; she's just clarifying what kind of welfare she's talking about. Perhaps so that he doesn't think that she's referring to financial benefit.

She orders him to rise and walk with her and he obeys. He looks curious more than anything else. As if he's trying to figure out who this woman is and why she's affecting him the way that she does.

She leads him to the window, which opens by itself, and steps up onto the sill. Scrooge looks a little worried and makes a motion with his hand. He could be asking for help up onto the sill or he could be indicating the outside and the long drop to the street. He doesn't actually need help climbing up though, so it's probably the latter. And once he's up there, he looks around silently, clearly confused about what's going to happen next.

Her response to him feels a little oblivious. "We spirits have no fear."

So he says what I'm thinking, "But I'm not a spirit."

This is where she asks him to "bear but the touch of my hand on your heart," but instead of telling him that he'll be uplifted, she simply says, "And you shall be safe." I'm disappointed that she loses the double-meaning of Dickens' line.

He does bear her touch on his chest though, and he even places his own hand over hers. And they float out the window and into the air.


Caffeinated Joe said...

She looks like a cross between Glinda the Good Witch and a nurse. I get the feeling with the picture and your description that this is one of the times that a deviation from the source material went too far and lost part of its impact.

Michael May said...

I'm not sure. It's been awhile since I've watched this one all the way through, but as much as I like alien-ness of what Dickens describes, I think it's helpful to have a relatable, human face on screen.


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