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.