Monday, December 31, 2018

Hellbent for Letterbox | Open Range (2003)

This Kevin Costner/Robert Duvall classic is easily the most requested movie that listeners have asked us to cover, so Pax and I finally hit the Open Range. Also: Pony Express brings talk of a Western Christmas Carol, the real-life history behind The Night Riders, and the 2003 TV show Peacemakers. And we share some cool, Western comics: El Mestizo and Bat Lash.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

Merry Christmas! It's Christmas Day, so to celebrate that and complete the first season of Sleigh Bell Cinema, I'm joined by the very funny Jeff Somogyi to talk about the very funny Ernest Saves Christmas. And Christmas Tree buying. But mostly Ernest, Santa, a homeless girl, a polite TV host, and the world's greatest agent.

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Patrick Stewart (1999)

Merry Christmas! We did it! Here's the last adaptation we're looking at this year. Thanks for joining me on this ride again.

Rather than having Scrooge and the Ghost pass through Scrooge's wall, TNT's Christmas Carol has the wall and floors dissolve around them until they're standing in a snowy forest. Scrooge has been trying his best to disbelieve so far, but he's amazed at what he's seeing. He says that he was a boy here, but nothing about being "bred." That could mean that his family's home is somewhere else and that this is just the region where Scrooge went to school, but let's see what else we can learn.

A small road cuts through the forest and Scrooge sees a series of small wagons pulling boys over a bridge and down the path. Scrooge recognizes the boys as old schoolmates and excitedly calls to them. I like how Stewart's Scrooge struggles to remember some of the names and how happy he is to come up with them. It's been decades of course since he's seen or probably even thought about any of them. Stewart is so good an actor that he simultaneously conveys wonder at what he's seeing and dismay that the boys aren't responding to him. The ghost explains that they're shadows who can't see or hear Scrooge, then - returning to his purpose for bringing Scrooge here - adds that the children are going home for the holidays. He doesn't wait for Scrooge to respond, but turns and walks up the road in the direction the boys just came from.

The film cuts to the exterior of an ornate, but crumbling old building that Scrooge recognizes as his former school. Some of the structure is in ruins, but inside it looks neat and kept up. There's nothing rundown about it. Likely it's just an ancient building and the school only occupies certain parts of it. Young Scrooge sits alone at a desk, just moping. He's not reading and this version says nothing about Scrooge's finding comfort in books.

Old Scrooge and the Spirit enter the room by the door and Scrooge walks over to sit and observe his younger self. He doesn't cry during any of these scenes, but he's clearly moved by the vision. The Spirit asks bluntly, "Why didn't you go home for Christmas?"

"I wasn't wanted," Scrooge says. "My father turned against me when my mother died. Sent me away. Didn't want to see me ever." Scrooge is hurt by the memory, but he doesn't want the Ghost's pity. When the Ghost says, "That's hard," Scrooge scowls and declares, "Life is hard!" He seems to look back on this suffering as a period of testing that he endured and triumphed through, emerging stronger on the other side. This is going to be another difficult Scrooge to change.

The Ghost lets it go and suggests that they see another Christmas. They stay in the same room, but their attention is drawn to a window where a young teen Scrooge paces aimlessly before hiding his face against a wall. He doesn't appear to be crying; it's more of a pout. Also indicating the passage of time are cracks that weren't in the schoolroom walls earlier. The place does look rundown now.

Old Scrooge perks up at the sound of footsteps in the hall and he says his sister's name just before his younger self turns to see her enter. She's called Fran in this version and I'm pretty sure one or two of the earlier versions used that name, too, though I wasn't sure and didn't call it out at the time. It's very clear in this one though. I don't know what that change is about.

Fran is younger than Scrooge by just a year or two. That adds a twist to Scrooge's explanation that his father turned against Scrooge when his mother died. Since she couldn't have died giving birth to Scrooge, there must be another reason for it. Perhaps Scrooge's father always had it in for Scrooge, but Scrooge didn't realize how much until Mom was gone and Father was left as the only parent. We can only speculate about why Scrooge's father didn't like Scrooge, because this version doesn't give us any more clues than Dickens did.

When Fran announces that she's come to take Scrooge home though, there's no mention of Scrooge's going to work after the holiday. She says that he's to stay home "forever and ever." So Father has either truly softened towards Scrooge, or he just hasn't filled in Fran on the complete plan yet. Again, there's no way to tell for sure, but I imagine that it's the latter.

The rest of the scene plays out like it does in Dickens, except that it leaves out the unnecessary schoolmaster. Fran leads Scrooge outside to the carriage and it's a nice, big one with two horses and a driver. Scrooge's father must be respectably well off.

As they drive out of the school's large gate, Fran leans her head sweetly on her brother's shoulder, though there's no way that Scrooge can see this, since he's not there. He and the Spirit have moved outside, but they're in the ruined part of the building as the Ghost starts the conversation about Fran and her "children." Once Scrooge confirms that the child is his nephew, he pauses and says, "Fred." He looks distracted and thoughtful. I don't know if he's remembering why he has a grudge against Fred or if he's realizing that he shouldn't. I suspect that it's the second option, since the film offers no solid reason for him to dislike Fred. At least not yet. I forget if we get something at the end, but the earlier scene in Scrooge's office suggested that Scrooge is angry about Fred's financial situation. That seems ridiculous, but could be a clue that Scrooge and Fred have simply made different choices in life - have learned different lessons from their hardships - and this could be what infuriates Scrooge. Seeing Fran as a girl again would of course soften Scrooge and make him reconsider his relationship with her son.

At any rate, this musing is interrupted by something that Scrooge sees ahead of him. The camera quickly pans over and we're in a nighttime city street outside a certain warehouse.

And that's it! Thanks again for reading. I'm already looking forward to next year when we get to visit Fezziwig's party. That's always one of my favorite, most festive scenes in the story.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Michael Caine (1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol includes a fun transition scene where the Spirit flies Scrooge out of his room and over London. Not wanting to be left behind, Gonzo and Rizzo snag Scrooge's robe with a grappling hook and tag along. As they fly over the city, Scrooge sees a light in the distance. He asks what it is and the Ghost tells him that it's the Past. The light expands and envelopes the group, then they're through some kind of wormhole and flying over snowy forest. A cluster of buildings appears in a valley ahead and that's where the Ghost descends. It's Scrooge's school, but a cool version of it with lots of outbuildings. Instead of a mansion, it looks like it was converted from a farmhouse. That may say something about the kind of education Scrooge's father could afford, but as we'll see, Scrooge's dad doesn't play a part in this version.

Scrooge is happy to see the place and even happier to see the kids running out of the building for their Christmas break. He names a couple of them and points out one as his best friend. There's no crying in this scene. Scrooge thoughtfully takes it all in and he's mostly happy to revisit this time.

Caine's Scrooge is going to be pretty easy to change. He wasn't especially frightened by the Marleys and had almost convinced him that they were a dream. Perhaps he still thinks he's dreaming now. He's been nothing but polite to the Spirit though and is open to whatever she has to show him. It's hard to tell what he's thinking, but as we'll see, he doesn't have all the hurdles that some of the other Scrooges have to overcome.

Inside the building, the music becomes light and pastoral with some kind of flute as the primary instrument. Actually, it reminds me of the Hobbiton theme from Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings score. It evokes fond memories of simpler times, not oppressive loneliness. Scrooge walks around the room remembering sights and smells. These were mostly good times for him. He finishes his little tour by saying that he chose his profession in that room. This introduces the main point of the scene in this adaptation.

The Spirit points out Young Scrooge sitting at a desk. He's not reading though. He's writing on a tablet; working. A couple of other boys run in and one of them tells Young Scrooge that it's time to go, because the last coach is leaving. He's excited about it and trying to be helpful, but the other boy corrects him. "Come on. He never goes home for Christmas."

Young Scrooge yells after them, "Who cares about stupid old Christmas?" and goes back to work. It comes across as a childish response that Young Scrooge doesn't really mean. He probably does actually care about Christmas. And Old Scrooge notes that he was often alone, but he tries to put a positive spin on it. "More time for reading and study. The Christmas holiday was a chance to get some extra work done. Time for solitude." His face shows that it affected him though. This is as close as we get to tears from this Scrooge and there is a slight tremble in his mouth.

There's no mention of Scrooge's family in this version, but even if you weren't familiar with other versions you could deduce that there's some kind of problem at home that lets Scrooge stay in school over Christmastime. Whatever emptiness is there from Scrooge's family, he's replaced it with hard work and dedication to his future career. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the point of every version of this scene. Fan's love for him notwithstanding, Scrooge comes from a miserable home where he didn't feel valued. He's going to try to form his own happy family with a woman he loves, but he's not going to trust it. He gets his sense of value from succeeding at work and accumulating wealth. The Muppets version makes this especially clear right in this scene, but it's the underlying psychology in the other iterations, too.

The Ghost invites Scrooge to see another Christmas at the school, but Scrooge isn't eager. Still looking heartbroken, he says that they were all very much the same. "Nothing ever changed."

She says that he did, though. And sure enough we see images of a gradually aging Scrooge until we settle on one in his mid teens. Fan doesn't appear nor is she mentioned, but the schoolmaster does in the form of Sam the Eagle. We learn that Scrooge is graduating from the school, so Sam is there to give him some last advice. It's a funny bit and Sam is perfect as the overly serious mentor who encourages Scrooge to "work hard, work long, and be constructive."

He observes that Scrooge has been apprenticed to a fine company in London, which of course we'll see in next year's scene. So there's no Father who's decided to pull Scrooge from school and start him working. This is just the natural progression of things and we can infer that Scrooge obtained the apprenticeship through his own hard work and merit, with perhaps a little assistance from Sam and the school.

Greystoked | Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)

Noel and I are joined by returning guest Melissa Kaercher to discuss teenage Boy, the return of Jane, and a hidden civilization of warrior women in Sol Lesser and Johnny Weissmuller's third collaboration for RKO.

Friday, December 21, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | George C Scott (1984)

Director Clive Donner likes using close ups of the spirits' icons to represent transitions. For Christmas Past, its her snuffing cap, so when she transports Scrooge to the country, Donner shows us the hat with a snowy forest and building projected onto it. This fades into Scrooge and the Ghost standing in some trees on the side of a snowy road.

Scrooge recognizes the place as where he was bred and grew up. Some boys ride by on horseback and Scrooge recognizes them, too. There's no mention that they've come from the school, but the building is in the background and clearly they're childhood friends of Scrooge. He mentions them by name and calls out to them. Daniel, Robert, and David are their first names, but Scrooge also gives them last names that I can't fully make out. I've always wondered if those are real people, though. Maybe friends of the screenwriter?

Scrooge is excited to see his friends, but he's not going to be as deeply affected by any of this as what Dickens described. Scott's Scrooge is a powerful and ruthless businessman. It's going to take a lot more than memories to help him. These are a necessary first step for what the Ghost is trying to do, but we'll get no trembling or crying.

As the boys ride on, the Ghost tells Scrooge that it's time for them to move, too. We cut to the exterior of the school and then inside to a hallway leading into a classroom. The camera shows us Scrooge's point of view as he moves into the room where Boy Scrooge is sitting on a bench, reading. The Ghost tries to nudge Scrooge's emotions with observations like, "It's your school," and "It's Christmas Day." Scrooge acknowledges the truth of these facts, but isn't shook by them. Rather, he sounds like he's enjoying the memories.

He does note that the boy is "neglected," but he doesn't say by whom. The Spirit provides that, saying that he's been "deserted by his friends and his family." I like the word "deserted," because it's as ambiguous as "neglected" in describing intent. Scrooge's friends have physically deserted him and the school for their own families, but that doesn't imply that they're malicious about it. For Scrooge to be deserted by his family, though, especially at Christmastime, is another matter.

Scrooge explains the situation. "His mother is dead. His father holds him a grudge." He goes on to reveal the same situation as in Alastair Sim's version: That Scrooge's mother died giving birth to him.

The Spirit continues trying to push Scrooge into an emotional reaction. "Weep for the boy if the tears will come." But Scrooge isn't having it. He doesn't feel pity for his former self, but pride in how he adapted and overcame his suffering. "He has his friends," Scrooge explains, "even on this day," referring to the book his young self is reading. Old Scrooge calls out some specific examples that Dickens mentioned: Ali Baba and other characters from the Arabian Nights. And then I love what the script does next. Instead of having these characters make some kind of hallucinatory appearance, the film has the Spirit continue goading Scrooge.

"But not a real child to talk to. Not a living person," she says.

Scrooge disagrees. "Robinson Crusoe, not real? And Friday? And the parrot?" Scott delivers the line with such calm conviction and I want to high five him. As an introvert who spent a lot of time in books as a kid, I totally relate. They are real to Scrooge and this simple argument makes the point Dickens was after, but better.

Scrooge goes on being proud of himself. "He made do, this boy." Once again, this is a Scrooge that I deeply relate to.

The Spirit gives up on this one and suggests that they look at another Christmas Day. She looks towards the door and a young woman walks in. Fan.

She looks to be about the same age as Young Man Scrooge, but we know from Scrooge's earlier comments that she has to be older than him. She tells Scrooge that she's come to bring him home and has to repeat it a couple of times. That's how Dickens wrote it:
"I have come to bring you home, dear brother!" said the child, clapping her tiny hands, and bending down to laugh. "To bring you home, home, home!"
But it takes on a different tone in this version. When she says it the first time, Scrooge's face - initially excited to see her - falls as he tries to process what she's said. Her repeating "home" doesn't make it any better though and he looks disappointed as he sinks back down to his bench. As the conversation goes on, I start to realize that he's not just trying to wrap his head around the news. He's actually dreading the thought of going home. His father's grudge must be severe indeed.

Fan tries to set Scrooge at ease by saying that Father is much kinder than he used to be, but of course that's a relative statement. Scrooge clearly doesn't know what to expect, but he puts on a smile for his sister's sake. "You're quite a woman, Little Fan."

"And you are to be a man," she says, "and never come back here." That's straight from Dickens, too, but we'll get some detail to that statement shortly. Because Fan hasn't come alone. She takes Scrooge's hand and says, "We mustn't keep Father waiting." Dun dun DUUUN!

Cut to the exterior of the school and a stern-faced older man is standing by the carriage. He has a severe, black hat and he's holding a cane that he uses to stop Scrooge from running up to embrace him. It seems weird that Scrooge would run up to his dad, but he and Fan have both rushed out of the building holding hands and Fan's excitement has temporarily infected Scrooge.

Father looks over Scrooge judgmentally and declares, "They haven't been overfeeding you, that's certain." Rationally, that's a complaint about the school, but it comes across as critical of Scrooge himself and I suspect represents a lot of interactions between these two. Scrooge tries to make small talk with, "I've grown, I think," but his father's only response is, "Yes, most boys do."

Father explains that Scrooge is indeed not returning to school. He's arranged an apprenticeship with Mr Fezziwig, who expects Scrooge in three days. Fan complains that she wanted more time with Scrooge, but Father insists that "three days is quite long enough for both of us." He adds, "Don't you think, Ebenezer?" To which Scrooge replies that it will be "quite long enough."

During this conversation, Scott's Old Scrooge has moved behind Young Scrooge and is looking over his shoulder at Father. Old Scrooge is hard-faced and disapproving. It's a powerful, fascinating image. Scott's Scrooge is older now than this memory of his father, and likely more wealthy and powerful. (There's no evidence that this is a cheap, rundown school. If anything, Father's comment about the food implies that he expects a certain level of value from it that he may not be getting, but I might be reading too much into that.) Scrooge is likely hating the fact that these are but shadows right now, because he clearly has something to say to this man. He continues glaring as the family gets into the carriage and drives off.

Once the carriage is gone, the spell is broken and Scrooge talks to the Ghost about Fan. He appreciates her generous nature and says that she died too young. "Old enough to bear a child," says the Ghost, not confusing the quantity in this version. The conversation turns to Fred and Scrooge is matter-of-fact about it. He acknowledges Fred's existence, but doesn't seem to have any feelings about his nephew one way or another.

The Ghost tries to change that by pointing out that Fred bears a strong resemblance to Fan. Thinking about it, I don't know how true that is in terms of facial structure or whatever, but Fred's sincerity and earnestness does seem like the product of being raised by someone as kind and gentle as Scrooge's sister. I think that's what the Ghost is trying to point out, anyway. That Fan still lives through her son if only Scrooge will see it.

Scrooge briefly entertains the idea, but then brushes it off by saying that he never noticed. The Spirt expresses surprise and says that she's beginning to think that Scrooge has gone through life with his eyes closed. "Open them," she commands. "Open them wide." And with that I think she gets at the heart of this Scrooge's problem. These memories aren't trying to reboot old emotions, but an attempt to show Scrooge things that he's missed because he was so inwardly focused. As she said when they first met, her light isn't just the light of recollection; it's the light of Truth.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Albert Finney (1970)

The musical Scrooge has no transition scene between Scrooge's room and the countryside. There's a simple fade from one to the other. Before we even see Scrooge and the Spirit there though, we're treated to a long caravan of wagons filled with sweetly singing children.

The song they're singing is the same as the one that played over the film's opening credits:

Sing a Christmas carol
Sing a Christmas carol
Sing a Christmas carol
Like the children do

But as they sing, they also work in other children's songs like "London Bridge is Falling Down" and "Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush." It's a lovely medley and the kids are all dressed in costumes: harlequins, faeries, princesses, knights, and animals. There's even a carrot and a turbaned character that may be a reference to the Arabian Nights stories that Dickens mentions in the book.

Instead of asking if Scrooge remembers the place, the Spirit asks if he remembers the children. He says that he does. "All of them." And he recognizes a very young Fan in one of the wagons. It's when he calls to her that the Spirit informs him that these are but shadows.

Scrooge looks disappointed to see them ride around the next bend, but his wistfulness quickly turns to resentment. "I could never join those Christmas parties," he grouses.

This is going to be one of the toughest Scrooges to change. He never quite bought that Marley's ghost was real and he's continued being grouchy with Christmas Past. He doesn't cry in this scene or at the school; he's just grumpy and bitter. He doesn't grieve over the injustice of his childhood; he's angry about it.

After Scrooge's comment about not going to the parties, the Spirit brings up the school. It sounds like a non sequitur, but it's not. "The school is not quite empty, is it?" The reason Young Scrooge couldn't go to the parties is because he was stuck in school. And then the Spirit says something really interesting: "A solitary boy neglected by his family is left there still." Not neglected by his friends, but by his family.

When we cut to the school and Young Scrooge looking longingly out a window, we can still hear the kids singing in the background. So as Dickens implied, the school is in the same area as Scrooge's family, because Fan is out there with the other children celebrating within earshot of Young Scrooge. His father is just that mean that he's going to keep Scrooge at school over the holidays rather than let him come home, even though the family lives close by. Horrid.

We don't see Young Scrooge interacting with any other children, so we don't know what his relationship is with them, but this version doesn't care about that. It's all about Scrooge's family; particularly his father.

Old Scrooge and the Spirit go into the school and find Young Scrooge reading (though we're not told what and there's no mention of the characters coming to life). The school is sparsely furnished, but it looks kept up well enough. And Fan was dressed well, too, so I don't see evidence that Scrooge's family is poor.

As mean as this Scrooge still is, he does have a soft moment as he looks on his former self. He calls himself a "poor boy" and mentions that he should have given the carolers something the night before. His remembering himself as a victim has created some empathy, but he's still super grouchy about it and impatient when the Spirit asks questions.

She moves on, inviting him to look at another Christmas. An older Fan (maybe 15 now?) comes in and tells an older Scrooge (maybe 17?) that she's come to bring him home. She says that Father is kinder and that Scrooge is to spend the whole Christmas break at home, but there's no mention that Scrooge is going to work afterward and won't return to the school. That doesn't necessarily mean anything, but I've always been uneasy about the declaration that Scrooge's dad is yanking the boy out of school to put him to work. Even if the school is miserable, sending Scrooge into the world seems less like a kindness and more just an acknowledgment that it's time for Scrooge to grow up. Although maybe any kind of acknowledgment of Scrooge by his father is a relatively kind act. If the omission of that detail in this version is intentional and important, it reflects well on the father that he really is just letting Scrooge come home and celebrate the holidays with the family.

Since Fan is younger than Scrooge, their mother can't have died giving birth to the boy. In fact, Mom isn't mentioned at all - just like she's not in Dickens - so we can only imagine what Dad's problem has been with young Ebenezer.

There's no schoolmaster in this version. Fan and Young Scrooge rush out of the room, leaving Old Scrooge and the Spirit behind to discuss Fan and her future son. Scrooge gets especially cranky during that. He doesn't want to talk about Fred. To her reference to children he shouts "One child!" at her. And she sternly concedes, "Your nephew," before pointing out the window at the next Christmas she wants him to revisit.

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Krampus (2015)

I'm joined by Evan Hanson (Mystery Movie Night) to talk about this holiday horror flick starring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, and Emjay Anthony. Evan explains how it's a deeper movie than you might think, so listen and hear what it has to say about Christmas and how it relates to Mr Rogers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Fredric March (1954)

Last year, we noted that the Spirit of Christmas Past resembles someone specific from Scrooge's past, but we didn't have enough information to know who that was yet. Likely guesses were either Fan or the woman whom Scrooge was once engaged to.

This year, we can deduce that it's his fiancée, because when the Spirit leads Scrooge out of his window and into another room, she skips Scrooge's boyhood and school entirely. I'm guessing we'll get no mention of Fan at all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Alastair Sim (1951)

There's a transition scene from Scrooge's bedroom to the countryside, but it's a unique one. Instead of having the Spirit and Scrooge fly out the window and over scenery, a mist forms in Scrooge's room and then dissolves into what looks like some kind of tunnel with an hourglass floating through it to represent the passage through time. This then dissolves into a country scene with a quaint bridge in the foreground, a little village in the distance, and Scrooge's school off to the left in between.

As Scrooge and the Spirit talk about this being where Scrooge grew up, riders on horseback appear from behind a building and cross the bridge. They might be students leaving for the holidays, but neither Scrooge nor the ghost mentions or addresses them. Scrooge is distracted by the sight of his school, which he says looks lonely and deserted. "Not quite deserted," corrects the Ghost.

Sim's Scrooge has already been humbled by Marley and is being very polite to the Ghost. He's enduring an experience that he believes that he needs, even though he's unconvinced that it can actually help him. He never cries in this scene, but when the Ghost talks about the solitary boy left behind by his friends, Scrooge remembers and smiles sadly. "I know," he says. I like that the Ghost refers to Young Scrooge as being "forgotten" by his friends instead of neglected. I think that's an accurate, less confusing way to describe what Dickens was getting at.

The scene cuts to a schoolroom where a shockingly old Scrooge sits alone, writing on a piece of paper. Director Brian Desmond Hurst chose to use one actor for all the Young Scrooge scenes: 26-year-old George Cole. He's good, but way too old to play a schoolboy. Unless that's part of the point. Is this a Scrooge who has been left at school far too long when he should have been sent out into the world already to begin his career? As we'll see, that's a possibility given the feelings of this Scrooge's father about his son.

Young Scrooge hears a carriage outside and goes to the window to look, but he can't see it and doesn't know who's knocking on the schoolroom door. The door opens and a young woman walks in. It's Fan of course, but she looks to be about the same age as Scrooge. The actor who plays her (Carol Marsh) was four years older than Cole though and we'll learn that this Fan is older than her brother. Since we've skipped past Boyhood Scrooge, there are no literary friends to mention, but I'm cool with that.

Fan sees Ebenezer in the room and runs towards him. Old Scrooge cries out a heart-wrenching "Fan!," but she passes right through him to the younger version of himself. Sim is so good and I feel the ache in his soul at seeing this beloved woman again after having lost her so many years ago.

Young Scrooge's conversation with Fan begins faithfully enough, but screenwriter Noel Langley adds dialogue to reveal a lot of extra details about Scrooge's relationship with his father. I don't know if this is the version that came up with these details, but it's the earliest in the versions I'm looking at. It starts after Fan says that Father is so much nicer than he used to be and that home is like heaven. "For you, perhaps, but not for me," Scrooge says. He adds that their father doesn't even know Scrooge or what he looks like. It's implied in other versions, but stated clearly here that Scrooge has never been home since he started school. In fact, he goes on to admit that he hardly recognizes Fan, but I can't imagine that this is the first time they've seen each other since childhood. The actors aren't playing the scene that way. But it may have been several years since they last met.

Talk of Fan's looks leads to talk of their mother, whom Scrooge says Fan resembles. Fan admits that this might be why Dad has softened. Having Fan around may be helping the old man finally move through the grieving process, though I suspect it's had a negative effect on her. Marsh is 30-years-old and even though she's playing younger that's way past Old Maid status at this point in British history and culture. She's possibly given up marriage to stay home and comfort a father who likely doesn't appreciate her. When she says that he's kinder than he used to be, that earlier lack of kindness had to have been directed at her, since Scrooge hasn't even been around. 

She tells Scrooge that he's to come home and "never to be lonely again," a promise that Scrooge grasps onto and repeats. "Never as long as I live," she adds, which is again heart-wrenching since we know that she hasn't survived to the present day. The script unfortunately hangs a lantern on this point by having Scrooge ridiculously declare that Fan must live forever. He emphasizes this twice, which seems excessive as if he really is demanding that she somehow become immortal. I let it go, understanding that it comes from a place of deep loneliness, but it's overly dramatic.

As Fan gently chides him for his foolishness, the schoolmaster makes a cameo through the window as he orders Scrooge's box to be brought down and loaded on Fan's carriage. Watching Scrooge and Fan climb aboard the carriage, the Ghost talks about Fan's large heart and her children. Old Scrooge is staring out the window at his departing sister and he's getting angry at the mention of Fred. "She died giving him life."

"As your mother died giving you life," adds the Ghost. "For which your father never forgave you." And then, so insightfully, "As if you were to blame." Scrooge says nothing, totally getting the point, but too hurt to concede it. Ouch, this scene.

One last observation: It just occurred to me this year that Scrooge's father could carry some indirect blame for Fan's dying in childbirth. Clearly she did eventually get married, but her delay in doing so may have made her old enough to have had age-related complications when giving birth to Fred. If her waiting was due to her father's not being able to get along without her, then maybe Scrooge should have directed some of his anger there. Maybe he did and we just don't see it. Or maybe his feelings about his father are complicated enough that he didn't want to add that to them and it was easier to just follow Dad's example and blame the baby.

Monday, December 17, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Reginald Owen (1938)

The 1938 Christmas Carol has the Spirit leading Scrooge out of his window and in a flight, first over the city of London, but that fades and becomes a snowy country scene. (I don't know how this section was shot, but I assume the filmmakers created miniatures and they are amazing.) Scrooge is already smiling while still in the air. He's got no fear of falling at this point and seems to be enjoying himself. I don't know if he recognizes the specific places yet, but it may be bringing back childhood memories already.

They hone in on a particular building: a large mansion surrounded by a walled estate. The camera lowers as it slowly zooms in, indicating that Scrooge and Spirit are landing here. There's a clever fade from the miniature to the front gates of a location shot where the camera is still lowering from a high angle to ground level. Through the gate, we see a crowd gathered around a large carriage. There's a lot of pleasant conversation as people direct the loading of their things and make their goodbyes to each other.

Another fade and we're looking at Scrooge and the Spirit standing near the wall. This is where Scrooge exclaims that he recognizes the place, but he doesn't say that he was bred here. He just says that it's his old school. By tweaking the line, the film has already made a statement about Scrooge's experience. In Dickens, the area of the country is a source of joy for Scrooge, while the school is a symbol of loneliness for him. Now, the school is a joyful memory, as Owen clearly indicates through his acting. He's smiling and leads the Spirit through the gate and into the yard for a closer look.

The full carriage pulls away from the school with lots of shouting, waving boys aboard. As it leaves, another pulls up for the next load of kids. Scrooge waves at the first carriage, recognizing several of the students on it. These are his friends and he has good feelings about them. He calls out a bunch of names (Harry, Joe, Tommy, and Percy) before getting to one that I recognize: Dick Wilkins (Scrooge includes the last name as he calls, extra excited by seeing his particular kid). If I'm not misremembering, Dick is Scrooge's fellow apprentice at Fezziwig's, but this version has him and Scrooge also being classmates. I like that. School was generally a happy place for this Scrooge and the place where he formed one of his longest lasting friendships.

Scrooge is deeply affected by being here and the Spirit notices that he's trembling. He blames it on the cold, as he also does later when she notices something on his cheek (which is good, because in Dickens, Scrooge tries to claim that the thing on his cheek is a pimple instead of a tear and that's super lame). I really enjoy their interactions in this version. Scrooge has a huge smile on his face and is enjoying this, only sobering when the Spirit tosses straight-faced zingers at him to make him think. She sets him up ("You remember this way?"), lets him respond enthusiastically ("Remember it? I could walk it blindfold!"), then sweetly nails him ("Strange to have forgotten it for so many years") before leading the way herself. Maybe I'm just in love with Ann Rutherford, but the way she plays Scrooge and his emotions is beautiful to watch. It doesn't appear to bother Scrooge, either. She's so gentle about it that he's smiling even after she's stung him.

Owen's Scrooge is going to be an easy transformation, I think. The early scenes showed him to be a lonely man who seems to be interested in human connection, but doesn't know how to appropriately ask for it. He may even think that he's putting signals out, but his abrasiveness keeps people away. The Ghost is showing him a time when he had that connection and it's rebooting his system. If he can remember how he used to relate to people before he erected some of the barriers he's currently got in place, he can be saved.

The Spirit leads Scrooge to the front door of the school where Scrooge recognizes his younger self saying goodbye to a boy named Jack. Young Scrooge is in his early teens, because this version is combining Dickens' two visions at school into one. That means that we lose the Ali Baba and Robinson Crusoe references, but I don't miss them. This version is making a different point and it sticks to it marvelously well.

Scrooge and Jack are friendly with each and Jack asks if Scrooge's parents are coming for him. Scrooge explains that he's staying at school (and that he always does), but describes it as a mutual decision reached by him and his father. He's not very convincing about it though and Jack criticizes Scrooge's dad. Surprisingly, Scrooge defends the old man and gets a little huffy. Jack apologizes and then has to leave because he's being called to the carriage. Once he's aboard, he and the other departing students wave goodbye to Scrooge and wish him Merry Christmas.

So in this version, Young Scrooge isn't neglected by his friends at all. They seem to like him and his only problem is that his father doesn't seem to want him around, which stings especially hard this time of year. Scrooge gives a sad wave to his classmates, then walks dejectedly back into the building. He wanders into a classroom where he looks out the window and breaks down into tears. The score is lovely in this version and grows especially beautiful and heart-wrenching during this scene.

The classroom looks nice and not at all rundown. This may or may not suggest anything about the finances of Scrooge's dad. The point seems to be just that this is generally a happy place for Scrooge, though no substitute for family. He wants to be home and is heartbroken that he's not welcome there.

He's already composed himself though by the time the schoolmaster appears. This isn't a sad, pathetic character like in Dickens, but a jolly-looking man with a kindly voice who announces that Scrooge's sister has come to see him.

Fan is younger than Scrooge; about nine years old. And the little actor who plays her (Ira Stevens) is wonderfully accurate to Scrooge's description. She's bubbly and joyful about bringing Scrooge home; almost annoyingly so, but Scrooge is so delighted to see her and to hear her message that it's impossible to be irritated. She's young, so she's focused on Scrooge's coming home for Christmas, but she does throw in the line about his going to work after the holiday and not returning to school. That sounds like a kindness in Dickens, but I can't help but think that this Scrooge may not see it that way. He looks understandably confused by Fan's announcement. There's a lot for him to process in there.

I don't know if Scrooge ever got any answers about why his father has changed his plans for Scrooge. The film doesn't suggest any and the point of the scene is that Scrooge more or less had a decent childhood except for the lack of this one, very important relationship with his dad.

As Young Scrooge leaves the room with Fan, Old Scrooge and the Spirit talk about Fan's love for Scrooge and the Spirit brings up her "children."

"One child," Scrooge corrects, absent-mindedly because he's still thinking about his sister.

"Your nephew, Fred," the Spirit pokes. Scrooge looks at her, getting what she's saying and doubtlessly remembering his last interaction with his awesomely jovial relative. Her point made, the Spirit sweetly, almost shyly invites Scrooge to come with her to the next scene.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Home Alone (1990)

I'm joined by my son and frequent podcasting co-host David May (Dragonfly Ripple, Mystery Movie Night, Thundarr Road, 'Casting Off) to talk about the film that made a star of Macaulay Culkin and signaled the end of John Hughes' reign as the King of Teen. Is Home Alone just slapstick shenanigans or something more?

Friday, December 14, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Seymour Hicks (1935)

Henry Edwards' Scrooge skips this scene completely. There's not even a transition sequence. The Spirit addresses Scrooge in his room and then instantly they're in another. But it's not the school or even Fezziwig's warehouse. We won't have much to say about this version for another couple of years when we catch up to it again.

Dragonfly Ripple | Jessica Jones: Season 1

David and I talk about the dark and hard-to-watch first season of Jessica Jones.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Mark McDermott (1910)

In keeping with its limited budget and just general shortness (the whole film is less than 14 minutes long), Thomas Edison's Christmas Carol hits this scene quickly and all in Scrooge's room. The Spirit of Christmas (one ghost for all three time periods) simply calls up vignettes for Scrooge to look at.

The relevant one to this year's scene has Young Scrooge sitting dejectedly at a desk as a younger girl sneaks up behind him to cover his eyes. He stands up and turns around, excited to see her, then kisses her on the cheek. They pantomime her inviting him to leave the room with her and he's unbelieving at first. She convinces him though and they dance around together briefly before she playfully pushes him out of the room and follows him. I can only imagine how this would read to someone unfamiliar with the story. You really have to know what's going on ahead of time, because the film explains nothing.

Old Scrooge has mostly rejected the ghosts' help to this point. He's just wanted the whole thing to be over. But watching his younger self and (Dickens readers know) sister, he's affected. He puts his hands on his heart and then holds them out towards Fan as if he wants to embrace her. Not being able to, he balls his fists in frustration and pouts, going back to not looking at the ghost or engaging with it. The Spirit knows that it's on the right track though. It got through to Scrooge briefly, so it calls forth another scene...

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Jim Carrey (2009)

Robert Zemeckis plays a lot in this animated format, unbound by the limitations of filming live action. Sometimes that's to a fault, but his instincts are pretty good in this scene. The Ghost of Christmas Past never walks anywhere with Scrooge when he can fly the two of them there at a crazy and exciting speed. So we get a transition scene of them zooming out of Scrooge's bedroom and into the snowy countryside. They continue zooming through trees and over fields until they reach a small, country town with a church and a bridge and lots of cute houses. It's very picturesque.

Jim Carrey's Scrooge has already been deeply affected by the ghosts so far. He's frightened and humbled by them, willing to listen to what they have to say. He's visibly moved by the sight of his hometown, smiling and speaking breathlessly about it. The Spirit notices that Scrooge is trembling and thinks that it spots a tear, but Scrooge claims that it's "something in my eye." (I doubt very many adaptations will stick with the lame pimple explanation that Dickens had him use.)

I'm sure I've mentioned before that Carrey is a very good Scrooge. He's acting his heart out in the role and it's touching to see Scrooge so emotional about being home again. He's truly excited by the town and his schoolmates whom he sees riding out of it on horseback and in a wagon. He doesn't call them by name, but says that he knows "every one of them." Their wagon is plastered with a big Merry Christmas banner and though Scrooge doesn't call it out as a reason for joy, he's clearly not humbugging it either.

The Spirit zooms again with Scrooge, this time through the town and to a large, brick schoolhouse on the other side. Scrooge recognizes it with less excitement. His face grows sad and pained as he looks at it, and the Spirit puts those emotions into words, talking about the solitary child neglected by his friends.

They fly again, through the front door, up a grand staircase, and down a hall to Scrooge's classroom. The building doesn't look especially run down, but it is bare and lonely looking. Young Scrooge sits alone in the classroom, singing "O Come, All Ye Faithful" to himself in Latin. He's getting a good education clearly and he's not yet given up on the holiday. He's trying to make himself merry as much as possible, but his voice is sad. As the camera swings around to his face, he gives up the song partway through and frowns in misery. "Poor boy," says Old Scrooge. "Poor, poor boy." And I believe it. There's not even any consolation in fictitious friends, either. The movie skips that part, but I feel like its for a reason: taking away even that little bit of comfort from Young Scrooge.

The Spirit invites Scrooge to see another Christmas and the room darkens and decays around them. The Boy Scrooge fades away as a Young Man Scrooge fades in at the other end of the long room, walking the aisle despairingly as Dickens wrote. He's tearing pages and throwing them on the floor, but the movie doesn't reveal what that's about. They're loose pages, not a book, so maybe it's a letter? Or maybe it's just paper. Something for Scrooge to do instead of sit and feel horrible.

Fan interrupts his bad mood with all the excitement of a young girl. She's maybe nine or ten, much younger than him. Her dialogue is right from Dickens with no embellishment, so we learn that Scrooge's dad does bear some kind of grudge against Scrooge, but we get no details about why that might be.

Old Scrooge is heartbroken by the scene. Memories of his sister rush in and he clearly loves her as he talks about her large heart. He's thoughtful as the Spirit mentions Fred, but there's no time to dwell on Scrooge's nephew. The Spirit takes Scrooge's hand again and they zoom down the long room, through a large opening that was probably a blackboard a minute ago, and into London.

Mystery Movie Night | A Christmas Carol (1951), Lethal Weapon (1987), and Krampus (2015)

It's a special Christmas edition of Mystery Movie Night as Dave, David, Erik, Evan, and I celebrate with a trio of holiday flicks. It's ghosts, guns, and grandmas on this very merry episode.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Scrooge McDuck (1983)

Like The Stingiest Man in Town, Mickey's Christmas Carol also includes a flying scene, but Christmas Past bypasses the school and takes Scrooge's right to Fezziwig's.

The Spirit does get in a cute line though. When Scrooge expresses fear, Past says, "I thought you enjoyed looking down on the world."

Monday, December 10, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Walter Matthau (1978)

Rankin-Bass' The Stingiest Man in Town doesn't include this year's scene, but it does have a transition sequence where the Spirit flies Scrooge out of the window and over a surreal, unnerving cityscape. Scrooge says something about not knowing where they're going, but that it seems "strangely familiar" to him. Where they end up going is Fezziwig's warehouse though, so we'll catch up with them there next year.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Alastair Sim (1971)

Richard Williams' animated version does have a transition scene between Scrooge's bedroom and the countryside, but it's quick and super cool. The Spirit takes Scrooge's hand and leads him towards the camera, which lingers on Scrooge's face as the background strobes around him and we see city rushing by. There's no music or sound except for some bird wings just before the images settle on Scrooge in the country. It's surreal and jarring, but still suggestive that a flight has taken place.

This Scrooge has been relatively humble and compliant since partway through Marley's visit and that continues here. When the Spirit asks Scrooge what that is on his cheek, Scrooge wipes away a tear and says that it's nothing, but he doesn't expect the ghost to actually believe him.

As the ghost explains that they're witnessing unconscious shadows of the past, the scene becomes the schoolhouse. The children are already outside, dancing together in circles. There are both girls and boys, so maybe they aren't actually students. I don't know much about Victorian boarding schools, but I've never imagined them to be co-educational where gender is concerned.

The Spirit mentions the "solitary child neglected by his friends" and the scene shifts to inside the school where Scrooge sits reading alone in a room. We can't see the title of the book he's reading, but above his head dance images of a sultan on horseback, Robinson Crusoe's parrot, and soldiers of some kind. Scrooge wipes his eye again and declares his younger self to be a "poor boy," but we never get a reason for it. The Spirit takes Scrooge immediately from this scene to Fezziwig's warehouse.

There's no mention of Fan, much less Scrooge's father. Knowing that Fred is Scrooge's nephew, we know that Scrooge has to have at least one sibling, but they don't play a part in the story. All we know is that Scrooge was a lonely child for undefined reasons.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Teen Titans #13 (1968)

The Teen Titans version of A Christmas Carol isn't an adaptation, but just an adventure inspired by Dickens' story. The Titans have noticed similarities between Dickens' characters and the people involved with the Titans' current case, so they're using Christmas Carol tactics to try to redeem Ebenezer Scrounge.

Kid Flash poses as a makeshift Ghost of Christmas Past, but there's only one part of Scrounge's past that the speedster references and it doesn't have anything to do with Scrooge's boyhood or school life. Which is a long way of saying that the Titans version skips this year's scene.

Friday, December 07, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics (2010)

As I mentioned last year, Alex Burrows and Micah Farritor's version smash cuts from Scrooge taking the spirit's hand to their being outdoors in the country. This version is super abridged, so Scrooge has so far been fairly easy for the ghosts to convince. This scene continues that with Scrooge feeling exactly what Christmas Past wants him to. He's excited to see the village where he grew up and he's saddened by the sight of his boyhood self alone in the school. There's an especially nice panel where Scrooge is covering his mouth as if he's holding back sobs.

We see some boys leaving the school, but there's no talk of their "neglecting" Scrooge. Instead, the schoolmaster (or maybe its just a teacher) notices aloud to Scrooge that "you are the only one left again." Young Scrooge doesn't look particularly disturbed about it, though. He's reading at the time and appears fairly content. There's no mention of Scrooge's literary friends, but the book Scrooge is reading has a genie lamp on the cover in a nice homage to that part of Dickens' story.

The school isn't especially rundown. In fact, it's colored in warm browns and yellows so that it looks cozy and inviting. Scrooge's father is never mentioned, so there are no suggestions here about either his financial state or his relationship with Scrooge.

Fan is younger than Scrooge and appears to be about eight or so. All she says is that Scrooge is to come home and that they are to be together for the holiday. It's up to the reader to infer why Scrooge hasn't been able to go home before now, but I suppose it's fairly easy to make some guesses about his home life from that information.

Other than possibly that earlier panel when we first saw Young Scrooge, the schoolmaster doesn't appear in the story. Fan says that she's come to get Scrooge and right away they're in the carriage (really more of a flatbed wagon) with a driver. Scrooge is pointing towards something off panel, presumably home.

During these final panels, the Ghost mentions Fan's child, which puts a pensive look on Scrooge's face as he watches the wagon drive off across the snowy landscape.

Dragonfly Ripple | Ant-Man (2015)

David and I talk about our favorite parts of the superhero comedy and whether its villain is worthy of the rest of it. We also start ranking the MCU heroes in this episode and wonder why we haven't been doing that all along.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Campfire’s A Christmas Carol (2010)

Scott McCullar and Naresh Kumar's version is surprisingly faithful to Dickens for how abbreviated it is. They've only got two-and-a-half pages for this scene, but do a remarkably nice job with it. They of course follow Dickens in having no transition scene between Scrooge's room and the his childhood's countryside.

I've criticized Kumar's art in past scenes for being inconsistent about facial expressions and emotions, but Scrooge is persistently thoughtful and even kind in this scene. I speculated earlier that the ghosts in this story might be all in Scrooge's head; manifestations of his conscience trying to battle its way through layers of malevolence and possibly even sociopathy that Scrooge has been building for years. If that's the case, then retreating into his memories has a profound effect on him.

The version skips the visit by Scrooge's literary friends, which is for the best. This Scrooge is troubled enough. After showing us little, lonely Scrooge it immediately jumps forward in time to Fan's visit. She's younger than Scrooge, but looks like she could be in her mid-teens.

She mentions that their father is kinder than he used to be, but leaves out the part where she asked him if Scrooge could come home for Christmas. The result is that it seems like Dad has just been generally unpleasant rather than particularly spiteful towards Scrooge. If that's the case, then I understand why these memories could have a calming effect on the old man. He mentions his regret about the boy caroler from the night before and when he talks about Fred, he seems downright serene. For all the loneliness leading up to these memories, they're pleasant ones for Scrooge.

The scene closes with him and Fan in a carriage with a driver, but doesn't include anything about the schoolmaster. It also says nothing about how Fan died or whether that affected Scrooge's attitude toward Fred.

Weird Christmas | Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories

One of my favorite Tumblrs is Weird Christmas. It covers more holidays than just Christmas, but it gets especially busy this time of year documenting strange, vintage holiday cards, photos, ads, etc.

Proprietor Craig Kringle also has a podcast and for his episode about Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories he rang the Krampus bells to see who would be interested in helping read an actual Christmas ghost story. I volunteered and Craig kindly let me join in.

The story he picked is Algernon Blackwood’s “The Kit Bag.” It's a fun, creepy one and I got to read the ending. Craig also talks to Dr Tara Moore about the whole Victorian Christmas ghost story phenomenon, so it's just an all-around cool episode. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (2008)

Sean Michael Wilson and Mike Collins' adaptation is super faithful to Dickens with only a few changes. Like in Dickens, the Spirit leads Scrooge directly from his room to the countryside and Scrooge reacts the way he does is Dickens: with joy and tears.

The tears fit with how this version has presented Scrooge so far. Marley made some headway on this Scrooge in a way that the Classics Illustrated and Marvel Marleys didn't, so Scrooge is in a receptive mood. It doesn't mention his being pleased with his schoolmates' wishes of Merry Christmas, but it does include the little market town and leaves room for Scrooge's schoolmates to have been genuine friends to him (though - also like Dickens - it doesn't explicitly say that they were).

The school isn't especially rundown and since this version doesn't say anything more about Scrooge's dad than Dickens does, we can't infer anything about the Scrooge Family's financial status. I like how Collins draws the furniture in the schoolroom with the long benches mentioned in Dickens as opposed to the individual desks in many adaptations. It's not something I'm keeping track of, but there's a nice big panel of the schoolroom in this version, so it stands out.

Scrooge's literary companions are mentioned just as Dickens did, but because Scrooge seems mentally sound in this version, there's no reason to be concerned about Ali Baba and Company's appearing to Scrooge one Christmas. If it was an hallucination, it was a passing one. And it's more likely that Scrooge is just describing a vivid fantasy he had one Christmas when he was especially lonely.

Fan is younger than Scrooge and seems to be about eight or nine, which fits how I read her in Dickens. Her speech is right out of Dickens, too, and - as I said above - reveals nothing extra about Scrooge's dad. His unkindness towards Scrooge is still a mystery in this version.

The graphic novel is so faithful that it even includes the schoolmaster and dedicates a panel to his goodbye scene with Scrooge and Fan. It doesn't call attention to the wine and cake, but does show the Scrooge siblings eating. Contrary to Dickens though, they're apparently enjoying the snack and Scrooge even gives the schoolmaster a little smile when it's time to say goodbye.

Appropriate to Fan's age, she's been brought to the school in a carriage with a driver, but it's an open carriage in this one where Dickens described his as having a top for Scrooge's trunk to be tied to. C'est la vie.

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Love Actually (2003)

I'm joined by the very funny Rob Graham to talk about the Ultimate Romantic Comedy. Love Actually can be a divisive movie, but Rob and I are united in our actual love of it.

Advent Calendar House | How the Grinch Stole Christmas

If you've listened to the first episode of Sleigh Bell Cinema, you know that the idea of doing a seasonal Christmas podcast was heavily influenced by my pal (and first SBC guest) Mike Westfall's Advent Calendar House. So it was a special treat when Mike invited me to join him and Michael DiGiovanni (The Atomic Geeks, Classic Film Jerks, Pop Culture Retrofit) in kicking off the new season of ACH. We talked in-depth about all three adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas: the great one, the horrible one, and the... well, you'll have to listen to find out what we thought about the other one.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Marvel Classic Comics #36 (1978)

Never a publisher to pass up a chance for exciting action, Marvel's adaptation has the Ghost of Christmas Past whisk Scrooge out the window for a super-powered flight over the city and into the countryside (with Scrooge showing entirely too much thigh for me in one panel, but maybe that's your thing).

My read on Marvel's Scrooge is that he's legitimately mentally ill, but that the ghosts are real and are trying to help him heal. His severe mood changes from his office reassert themselves in this scene so that he does experience the full joy of seeing his childhood companions again, but also the full despair (complete with visual sobbing) of re-experiencing his childhood loneliness. He's also hearing voices that aren't there. The Ghost's line about the "solitary child neglected by his friends" is given to a caption box, so no one is saying it aloud, but Scrooge responds anyway with, "Yes... I know," before breaking down into tears.

Scrooge is running the gamut of emotions in this scene and it appears to unhinge him even more. It adds a scary, but fascinating element to Scrooge's vision of the literary characters and his insistence (right out of Dickens) that "one Christmastime when I was left here all alone, Ali Baba did come -- just like that!" Is this the moment when Scrooge snapped?

Marvel takes out some of the lesser known literary friends from Dickens and replaces them with Aladdin and his genie (while explicitly showing that Scrooge is reading 1001 Arabian Nights). As the visions conclude, Scrooge explains that he had been "left all alone to manufacture his own Christmas joy." This isn't from Dickens, so I give it extra meaning in describing the mental state of Marvel's Scrooge. This is no random Christmas plucked from Scrooge's childhood. This is the one that broke him.

Something I like is that writer Doug Moench doesn't try to blame this on Scrooge's schoolmates. The description of them is right out of Dickens, which means that we can take the word "friends" seriously and understand their neglect of Scrooge to be without malice. We don't see any interaction between Scrooge and the other kids, so it's possible to read it either way, but I prefer the idea that Scrooge's profound loneliness is the product of thoughtlessness rather than deliberate ill-will. Not that this makes it any better. If anything, it's a challenge for us to always be on the lookout for people who feel excluded so that we can welcome and draw them in.

Marvel doesn't spell out the condition of the school, but does mention after the time jump that it's "a little darker and more dirty" than it was before, implying that the school's administrators aren't keeping it up very well. This could be another form of neglect as easily as it could be evidence that Scrooge comes from a poor family. It might not be that this is the best Scrooge's father can afford. Maybe it's all he cares to give the poor kid.

Fan does mention their father. Her dialogue is pretty faithful to Dickens, so she says that Father is kinder now and that he considers Scrooge old enough to leave the school. Like Dickens, she also implies that the trip home isn't permanent: "You're to be a man! But first, we'll be together all Christmas long and have the merriest time in all the world!" That's all we know. There's no suggestion about why Scrooge's dad has been unkind in the past.

Fan is younger than Scrooge, but not by much. Like the Classics Illustrated version, she looks to be in her early teens. Possibly a bit older. And unlike Dickens, she's driven the coach herself to the school. There's no postboy (or schoolmaster) in the scene. Scrooge just gets in the carriage with her and leaves.

There's also no mention of how Fan dies, just that she does. Which may be what Scrooge is thinking about when a final caption tells us, "Although they had just emerged from the school, Scrooge felt an uneasiness of the mind." That's a paraphrased line from Dickens where it refers to Scrooge's thoughts about Fred. In Dickens, Scrooge's memories of Fan is causing him to regret how he's treated her son. This is less clear in Marvel though, and "uneasiness of the mind" only further solidifies my reading of Scrooge as needing mental healing, having re-witnessed the events that disturbed him in the first place.

Monday, December 03, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)

Classics Illustrated is trying to be faithful to Dickens and has Scrooge and the Spirit walk through the wall of Scrooge's room to appear immediately in the countryside.

This version of Scrooge has been especially mean and businesslike, so it's surprising that he actually does cry in this scene. He doesn't enjoy the Merry Christmasing like in Dickens' version though and his tears are mostly in pity for himself as a child. He's feeling sorry for himself, in other words. Connected to the way Scrooge has behaved so far in this version, I read it as a selfish reaction. At least initially.

To Dickens' description of Scrooge's being "neglected" by his friends, Scrooge adds the word "shunned." That kind of treatment makes them more schoolmates than "friends," but children use the word "friends" to refer to schoolmates, even when they're not acting particularly friendly. I think that's how this Scrooge uses it. Or perhaps he's saying that he felt shunned. Either way, it's safe to say that none of these kids have reached out to him in any sympathy for his having to stay at school over Christmas. Earlier, when Scrooge sees the kids leaving school, he just says that he knows them; not that he has any real relationship with them. He seems to be excited, but that's probably just the thrill of being plopped into so vivid a recreation of his memories.

A note on how Classics Illustrated depicts the "shadows of things that have been": All the people in these scenes of the past are colorless, ghostly outlines. It's not my preferred way of imagining it, because it doesn't make as much sense that Scrooge would forget they're not real and try to interact with them. But it's a decent visual representation of what Dickens describes is going on.

There's not enough detail in Scrooge's school to see if it's run down or not. We go straight from the countryside to inside the schoolroom, so we never see the exterior. Some furniture inside has color to it, so I don't think that the building is supposed to have the same ghostly form as the people in it, but the lines representing the Spirit's brightness overpower the rest of the drawing, so we can just tell that it's a schoolroom, but not its exact condition.

All of Young Scrooge's literary companions show up - even Valentine and Orson - but there's no context for them. The Spirit just says, "Remember those characters?" and Scrooge says that he does and excitedly names them, but there's no solid suggestion that they're replacing real, human friends for Scrooge. You have to imply it.

Helping the implication is that Scrooge gets sad again after these visions. A caption explains that he's "seized with pity for his former self" and he's crying, "Poor boy! Poor, poor boy!" It sounds like Young Scrooge is the poor boy, but in the same word balloon he adds, "I wish, but it's too late now..."

The Spirit asks him what the matter is and he explains about wishing he could have tipped the boy singing the Christmas carol. Incidentally, Classics Illustrated left out that earlier encounter, but it's easy to imagine that it happened, and probably has many different times with different singers. It would be effective though to contrast the image of that lone caroler with the lonely Scrooge in his schoolroom. I don't remember any adaptations that do that, but it could be powerful.

Some adaptations changed the caroler to a group of carolers, some including women or girls, so the comparison wouldn't work with those. But that's possibly another reason why a lot of adaptations leave out this particular regret of Scrooge's.

At any rate, this moment is the first sign of real change in Classics Illustrated's Scrooge. It's the first time that Scrooge has thought about anyone but himself, so it's important. And the catalyst for it is all from within him. Bringing Scrooge back to the past hasn't reminded him of friends and a time when Christmas was still special to him. It's been nothing but a reminder of his own loneliness as a child. And somehow he's connected that with the kid outside his office. There's not an in-story explanation for it, so it has to be the result of the Spirit's touching Scrooge's heart earlier. That's not as cool as Scrooge's coming to it through more natural means, but this wicked, resentful Scrooge needs extra, supernatural help to get to where he needs to be.

When Fan shows up, she looks younger than Scrooge, but not exactly childlike. I'd put her in her early teens with Scrooge maybe a few years older. She says nothing about Scrooge's father, just that she's there to bring Scrooge home. Her joy at coming to get him implies that he's been on some kind of exile from home for a while, but there's no explanation of why Scrooge has been cast out (if that's even what happened). All we know is that he's been lonely at school, but now he's headed home.

Since Scrooge's father isn't part of the story, there's no need to wonder what happened to Scrooge's mother and no reason to connect that with what happened to Fan. The Spirt mentions that Fan died an adult and Scrooge concedes that she had one child, his nephew.

There's no mention of the schoolmaster either. They go straight from the schoolroom to a particular warehouse...

Sunday, December 02, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Dickens

Illustration by Harry Furniss.

As usual, as we look at Dickens' text, I'm going to copy the entire text of the section in bold italics and insert commentary. That'll help identify elements that we want to pay attention to in the adaptations.

As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood upon an open country road, with fields on either hand. The city had entirely vanished. Not a vestige of it was to be seen. The darkness and the mist had vanished with it, for is was a clear, cold, winter day, with snow upon the ground.

A lot of adaptations insert some kind of transition scene here. Scrooge and the Ghost flying over London and into the country, or something like that. I don't know why they do it, but I don't mind. It always reminds me of Peter Pan taking the Darling children over London and off to Never Never Land. Which isn't a bad thing to be reminded of.

"Good Heaven!" said Scrooge, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. "I was bred in this place. I was a boy here!"

I never noticed this before, but the statement that Scrooge was "bred here," suggests that he was born in this area, too. I don't know why, but I always assumed that he went to school a long way off from home, but since his little sister comes to get him by herself, it makes sense that the family home isn't that far away. Which makes it even sadder and more of a statement that Scrooge doesn't go home for the holiday. But I'm getting ahead of the story...

The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle touch, though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the old man's sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten!

"Your lip is trembling," said the Ghost. "And what is that upon your cheek?"

Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would.

Scrooge is already affected. Marley wore him down to the point where he acknowledged that there may be some need for change, though Scrooge wasn't ready to commit to making those changes. Then the Spirit of Christmas Past placed its hand on Scrooge's heart and promised that Scrooge would "be upheld in more than" just not falling out of his window. There was something supernatural in that, but now we see that it's symbolic of something mundane, but no less magical. The touch of the past - that is, the powerful recollection of vivid memories - gets through Scrooge's defenses and immediately goes to work on him.

Weirdly, it reminds me of what JJ Abrams said about making The Force Awakens. How in order to move the Star Wars saga forward, he first had to move it backwards. What he didn't say explicitly, but what I believe he meant, was that to move past the bad will generated by the prequels, he had to take viewers back in time to what made them fall in love with the series to begin with. That's what the first Spirit is doing with Scrooge.

"You recollect the way?" inquired the Spirit.

"Remember it!" cried Scrooge with fervour -- "I could walk it blindfold."

"Strange to have forgotten it for so many years!" observed the Ghost. "Let us go on."

They walked along the road; Scrooge recognising every gate, and post, and tree; until a little market-town appeared in the distance, with its bridge, its church, and winding river. Some shaggy ponies now were seen trotting towards them with boys upon their backs, who called to other boys in country gigs and carts, driven by farmers. All these boys were in great spirits, and shouted to each other, until the broad fields were so full of merry music, that the crisp air laughed to hear it.

Most adaptations leave out the town and go straight to the school, which is understandable, but too bad. It's very picturesque.

"These are but shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "They have no consciousness of us."

The jocund travellers came on; and as they came, Scrooge knew and named them every one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to see them! Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up as they went past! Why was he filled with gladness when he heard them give each other Merry Christmas, as they parted at cross-roads and bye ways, for their several homes! What was Merry Christmas to Scrooge? Out upon Merry Christmas! What good had it ever done to him?

Dickens is being cheeky. Scrooge hasn't always hated Christmas, even though - as we'll see - he had reason to. This is impossible to convey on film. We see Scrooge happy to see his childhood friends again, but without hearing his thoughts, we can't tell that he's digging hearing them wish each other Merry Christmas. The result is that it seems like Scrooge has always been grumpy about the holiday, which isn't the case. The Spirit is reminding him of that.

"The school is not quite deserted," said the Ghost. "A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still."

Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed. 

I bet not many adaptations have Scrooge sobbing.

Pay attention to "neglected by his friends." A lot of adaptations make it seem like Scrooge had no friends, even though we see him greeting them on the road. (Incidentally, his naming them "every one" means that adaptations have to come up with names for him to say, even though Dickens doesn't. I'm always curious about where writers came up with those names. Are they real people the adapter knows? I haven't been curious enough to try to find out, though.)

The truth is that Scrooge did have friends, but that they've forgotten him in their excitement to go home. I don't read this as an intentional snubbing; it's just a childish self-centeredness that's so focused on their own joy that they don't think about how miserable their buddy Ebenezer must be back at school. I think I remember that at least one adaptation tries to keep this nuance, so we'll watch for it.

They left the high-road, by a well remembered lane, and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick, with a little weathercock-surmounted cupola, on the roof, and a bell hanging in it. It was a large house, but one of broken fortune; for the spacious offices were little used, their walls were damp and mossy, their windows broken, and their gates decayed. Fowls clucked and strutted in the stables; and the coach-houses and sheds were over-run with grass. Nor was it more retentive of its ancient state, within; for entering the dreary hall, and glancing through the open doors of many rooms, they found them poorly furnished, cold, and vast. There was an earthy savour in the air, a chilly bareness in the place, which associated itself somehow with too much getting up by candle-light, and not too much to eat.

Dickens makes a big deal out of how run down the school is. Apparently, it was inspired by his own boyhood school, as was David Copperfield's as described in that book. Even though the school is probably close to Scrooge's home, this may also say something about the kind of education that Scrooge's father can afford for the boy. We see in the rest of the story that Scrooge has to work hard to get out of poverty, so it makes sense that his father wasn't especially well off. At least one adaptation though talks about an inheritance that Scrooge was able to invest, so maybe I'm misreading this. Something else to pay attention to.

They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to a door at the back of the house. It opened before them, and disclosed a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain deal forms and desks. At one of these a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he had used to be.

"Deal forms" are basically school benches or pews.

Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scuffle from the mice behind the panneling, not a drip from the half-thawed water-spout in the dull yard behind, not a sigh among the leafless boughs of one despondent poplar, not the idle swinging of an empty store-house door, no, not a clicking in the fire, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with softening influence, and gave a freer passage to his tears.

The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, in foreign garments: wonderfully real and distinct to look at: stood outside the window, with an axe stuck in his belt, and leading an ass laden with wood by the bridle.

"Why, it's Ali Baba!" Scrooge exclaimed in ecstacy. "It's dear old honest Ali Baba! Yes, yes, I know! One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor boy! And Valentine," said Scrooge, "and his wild brother, Orson; there they go! And what's his name, who put down in his drawers, asleep, at the Gate of Damascus; don't you see him! And the Sultan's Groom turned upside-down by the Genii; there he is upon his head! Serve him right. I'm glad of it. What business had he to be married to the Princess!"

Valentine and Orson need some explanation. They're from a fifteenth century French romance called The History of Two Valyannte Brethren, Valentyne and Orson. It's about twin sons who are born to a noble family, but separated as children. Orson is carried away by a bear and raised as a wild man, while Valentine becomes a chivalrous knight. It was translated into English in the sixteenth century and was included (abridged) in children's readers.

The guy from the Gate of Damascus and the Sultan's Groom are both characters from an Arabian Nights story called "Noureddin Ali of Cairo and his Son Bedreddin Hassan." In fact, "what's his name" is Bedreddin Hassan himself.

What's fascinating to me is the actual appearance of these characters "outside the window." And Scrooge's assertion that on one, particular Christmas, they "did come, for the first time, just like that." It sounds like the boy Scrooge had a visitation or at least an hallucinatory experience. But I think it's more likely that Dickens is just describing how real these characters felt to young Scrooge. That when Scrooge was abandoned by his flesh-and-blood friends, these literary friends stepped in to comfort him. It's a beautiful image and one that my own boyhood self would have been able to relate to, though the appearances would have been by Tarzan, Conan, Sherlock Holmes, and Robin Hood.

To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness of his nature on such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing and crying; and to see his heightened and excited face; would have been a surprise to his business friends in the city, indeed.

Again, Old Scrooge is totally getting into this.

"There's the Parrot!" cried Scrooge. "Green body and yellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce growing out of the top of his head; there he is! Poor Robin Crusoe, he called him, when he came home again after sailing round the island. 'Poor Robin Crusoe, where have you been, Robin Crusoe?' The man thought he was dreaming, but he wasn't. It was the Parrot, you know. There goes Friday, running for his life to the little creek! Halloa! Hoop! Halloo!"

From Robinson Crusoe, of course.

Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign to his usual character, he said, in pity for his former self, "Poor boy!" and cried again.

"I wish," Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: "but it's too late now."

"What is the matter?" asked the Spirit.

"Nothing," said Scrooge. "Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that's all."

This is remarkable and not something that many adaptations use. Scrooge is already gaining empathy for people he's recently used poorly and he's regretful about how he's behaved. This won't be the last time that something like this happens, and adaptations are more likely to keep one of the later examples. Maybe they don't want Scrooge changing this early.

The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved its hand: saying as it did so, "Let us see another Christmas!"

Scrooge's former self grew larger at the words, and the room became a little darker and more dirty. The pannels shrunk, the windows cracked; fragments of plaster fell out of the ceiling, and the naked laths were shown instead; but how all this was brought about, Scrooge knew no more than you do. He only knew that it was quite correct; that everything had happened so; that there he was alone again, when all the other boys had gone home for the jolly holidays.

He was not reading now, but walking up and down despairingly. Scrooge looked at the Ghost, and with a mournful shaking of his head, glanced anxiously towards the door. 

Dickens doesn't say why he's not reading. Maybe he's outgrown books as an escape? That's too bad, if true. He seems to be wallowing in his misery now.

It opened; and a little girl, much younger than the boy, came darting in, and putting her arms about his neck, and often kissing him, addressed him as her "Dear, dear brother."

Scrooge's sister isn't always younger than him in the adaptations. I want to try to figure out why some of them change that. I remember that some of them suggest that Scrooge's mother died giving birth to him, so Dad holds a grudge. Which would make it necessary for Fan to be older than Scrooge, unless they have different mothers. If the versions with older Fans are also the versions that mention how Scrooge's mom died, that makes sense. It'll be fun putting those pieces together and see if that's the case.

"I have come to bring you home, dear brother!" said the child, clapping her tiny hands, and bending down to laugh. "To bring you home, home, home!"

"Home, little Fan?" returned the boy.

She's apparently named after Dickens' older (and favorite) sister.

"Yes!" said the child, brimful of glee. "Home, for good and all. Home, for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home's like Heaven! He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, that I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you. And you're to be a man!" said the child, opening her eyes, "and are never to come back here; but first, we're to be together all the Christmas long, and have the merriest time in the world."

Here's another point where adaptations differ. Some of them make it seem like Scrooge is finally going back to a now-loving home environment. At least one shows that that definitely is not the case. The way I read this, Scrooge's father thinks that Scrooge is done with school and ready to get a job. Whether Scrooge's schoolmaster would agree or not doesn't come up. It might just be that Scrooge's dad has run out of money.

But before Scrooge goes to work, he does get to come home and spend Christmas with Fanny, which is what she's focused on.

"You are quite a woman, little Fan!" exclaimed the boy.

She clapped her hands and laughed, and tried to touch his head; but being too little, laughed again, and stood on tiptoe to embrace him. Then she began to drag him, in her childish eagerness, towards the door; and he, nothing loth to go, accompanied her.

A terrible voice in the hall cried, "Bring down Master Scrooge's box, there!" and in the hall appeared the schoolmaster himself, who glared on Master Scrooge with a ferocious condescension, and threw him into a dreadful state of mind by shaking hands with him. He then conveyed him and his sister into the veriest old well of a shivering best-parlour that ever was seen, where the maps upon the wall, and the celestial and terrestrial globes in the windows, were waxy with cold. Here he produced a decanter of curiously light wine, and a block of curiously heavy cake, and administered installments of those dainties to the young people: at the same time, sending out a meagre servant to offer a glass of "something" to the postboy, who answered that he thanked the gentleman, but if it was the same tap as he had tasted before, he had rather not. Master Scrooge's trunk being by this time tied on to the top of the chaise, the children bade the schoolmaster good-bye right willingly; and getting into it, drove gaily down the garden-sweep: the quick wheels dashing the hoar-frost and snow from off the dark leaves of the evergreens like spray.

The command to bring down Scrooge's box makes it into one of the adaptations, but I don't think it's explicitly stated that it's the schoolmaster saying it. I can think of only one other adaptation that even mentions the schoolmaster, but that scene is quite different from the way Dickens wrote it.

I love the humor in the comments about the schoolmaster's wine and cake. This really is a miserable school.

For those who don't know, the "chaise" is a one-horse carriage and the "postboy" is its driver. The "garden-sweep" is the curve of the driveway as it winds through the grounds.

"Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered," said the Ghost. "But she had a large heart!"

"So she had," cried Scrooge. "You're right. I'll not gainsay it, Spirit. God forbid!"

"She died a woman," said the Ghost, "and had, as I think, children."

"One child," Scrooge returned.

"True," said the Ghost. "Your nephew!"

Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and answered briefly, "Yes."

Some adaptations reveal that Fan died giving birth to Fred. That's not mentioned in this scene by Dickens, but it could come up later. I'll be interested in finding out if that (and the hypocrisy of Scrooge's holding it against Fred when he knows how it feels himself) is a Dickens move or something that screenwriters came up with.

So here's what we're looking for this year:

  • Any transition scene from Scrooge's room to the country?
  • How does Scrooge respond to these scenes? Is he as deeply affected by them as Dickens suggests? Does he cry? How does that relate to the way the adaptation has presented Scrooge so far?
  • Are any of Scrooge's friends sympathetic that he has to stay at school? Does Scrooge even appear to have any friends in the adaptation?
  • Is the school rundown? Does the adaptation imply anything about the wealth of Scrooge's father?
  • How does the adaptation handle Scrooge's literary companions, if at all?
  • Is Fan younger or older than Scrooge?
  • What does the adaptation suggest about Scrooge's father's change of heart? Has he actually warmed up to Scrooge? And does the adaptation suggest why Scrooge's dad has been unkind to the boy? Is it because Scrooge's mother died giving birth to him? If so, is there a connection between that and Fan's age (relative to Scrooge's) in the version?
  • Is the schoolmaster in the adaptation? If so, how is he handled differently from Dickens' version?
  • Is there a mention of how Fan died? If so, is this also a version that mentioned Scrooge's mother dying while giving birth to him?


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