Saturday, December 21, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Albert Finney (1970)

In the musical Scrooge, the schoolhouse scene ended with the Ghost pointing offscreen and declaring, "There's a Christmas that you really enjoyed!" I love this elderly, grand-dame version of the Ghost of Christmas Past. She's stuffy, proper, and will take none of Scrooge's guff. He enjoyed this next Christmas and there's no arguing about it.

The scene smash cuts to Fezziwig sitting at his desk, scribbling for a couple of seconds until he realizes that it's time to stop. He's played by Laurence Naismith, whom I know best as the chairman of the British diamond syndicate who helps M gave James Bond his orders in Diamonds Are Forever. He's not an actor that I know very well, but he has a kind, familiar face. He's bald except for a ring of his own, white hair. The film doesn't suggest that there's anything old-fashioned about him. He just really likes Christmas.

Old Scrooge and the Ghost appear in the warehouse nearby and Scrooge is thrilled to see his old boss; probably the happiest and most unreserved he's been the entire movie. As he comments on Fezziwig throughout this scene, it's clear that he not only liked Fezziwig, he also respected him. This Fezziwig is certainly jolly, but he doesn't come across as an out-of-touch fool (however endearing) the way that some other versions have suggested. He does have a very tall desk though.

Fezziwig has Dick and Young Scrooge clear away for the party, but the room is already mostly decorated with lush garland hanging from the rafters and chandeliers. Dick and Scrooge just have to clear out some huge sacks of corn. Old Scrooge comments on how good-looking and strong he used to be. "I used to carry sacks around all day," he says. So Fezziwig was exposing his apprentices to all sides of the business; not just the books.

Old Scrooge is also giddy about seeing Dick Wilkins again and there's nothing sad or "poor Dick" about the memory. "Nice young fellow," Scrooges remembers. "Very attached to me, he was." These are all great memories for Scrooge.

His young self and Dick don't put up any shutters, which is important, because just as they're finishing getting ready, we hear a fiddle and see through the warehouse's large windows that the guests have arrived. The fiddler leads them and they're all dancing and shouting and twirling and carrying bowls and baskets filled with treats for the party.

When Fezziwig ordered the shop closed, he mentioned needing to have it done before Mrs Fezziwig and their daughters arrived with the punch bowl. We don't know who any of the other guests are, but it's not important for this version. The focus isn't on Fezziwig's compassion for all outcasts (as pleasant as that is to see in other version). It's on his effect on Scrooge personally.

The fiddler hops up on Fezziwig's desk and Fezziwig announces that "there will now be happiness and contentment in this room the like of which none of us has ever seen before." He then points to the fiddler and orders, "Begin!" He's proper and commanding, but people follow him out of love, not fear.

As the guests clap, Fezziwig and Wife take the floor and begin the next musical number, "December the 25th."

Of all the days in all the year that I'm familiar with,
There's only one that's really fun: 

The crowd answers in unison, "December the 25th!" to which Fezziwig shouts, "Correct!"

He and his wife punctuate the song all throughout with that affirmation.

Ask anyone called Robinson or Brown or Jones or Smith
Their favorite day and they will say:
December the 25

I don't know why I love that as much as I do. Maybe it's just that it's so very English. It's a great song though and the dancing that accompanies it is complicated and boisterously exuberant.

During the dance, a particularly beautiful woman with blonde hair and an eye-catching blue dress tries to grab Young Scrooge's hand and pull him into the merrymaking. He politely shakes his head and puts up his hand.

Old Scrooge and the Ghost have moved up to a storage balcony to watch the party. "Why didn't you join the dancing?" she asks.

Scrooge is cranky and unapologetic. "Because I couldn't do it!"

She tut tut tuts him in response.

They continue watching and Fezziwig is having such a good time, flailing about and laughing uproariously at the dance's twists and complications. "What a marvelous man," Old Scrooge observes. And he believes it.

"What's so marvelous?" the Ghost challenges. "He's merely spent a few pounds of your mortal money." She's wonderfully stuffy and condescending the way she says it; I almost believe that she means it rather than being sarcastic.

Scrooge doesn't pick up on her sarcasm either, but defends Fezziwig honestly. "You don't understand!" he scolds. "He has the power to make us happy or unhappy. To make our work a pleasure or a burden. It's nothing to do with money!"

That last declaration slips out of his mouth so naturally that it puts a lump in my throat when I hear it. This is something that Scrooge has believed in the past and must still believe deep down, but he hasn't let himself believe it - much less express it - in a really long time. And even now he doesn't realize that he's said anything remarkable. The visions of the past are having their effect on him though.

This is the moment where Scrooge starts to change. He never quite bought that Marley's ghost was real and he continued being grouchy with the Ghost of Christmas Past. He didn't cry in the schoolhouse scene; he was just grumpy and bitter. But here, without his even realizing it, the lessons he learned from Fezziwig are beginning to peek out from the place where Scrooge has buried them.

The "December the 25th" number dies down as the scene fades to another, slower dance later in the evening. The woman in blue again seeks out Young Scrooge and this time, though he's clearly uncomfortable, he puts his arms around her and dances.

"Isabelle," observes Old Scrooge.

The Ghost tells us that this Belle is actually one of Fezziwig's daughters. I don't know why the film made that change. Maybe to consolidate characters. But the Ghost and Old Scrooge talk about how he was engaged to her and as Young Scrooge and Isabelle dance, I believe that they're in love. He's so clearly awkward and nervous about dancing, but even though his expression is rigid, it's also obvious that he wants to be exactly there where his is, dancing with her and making her happy. And she is happy. Completely pleased that he's making the effort. This can't be an easy relationship for either of them, but they both want it very much.

As Old Scrooge watches, he begins to sing softly to himself:

You, you were new to me.
You, you were Spring.
You, you were true to me.
You, you were everything.

It is 100% legitimately heart-breaking.

After this, the music livens again and the scene fades to another Christmas outside.


Caffeinated Joe said...

Have never watched this version. I am going to start a "to watch" list for the year, and this is definitely going into it. And glad we got some post-Christmastime posts from you this year. Late? Nah, just bonus Christmas fun!

Michael May said...

Thanks, Joe! I hate that I got so far behind so I really appreciate your saying that.


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