Wednesday, December 16, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Alastair Sim (1951)

It's funny to me that after the Reginald Owen Christmas Carol skips this scene altogether, Alastair Sim's classic version more than compensates with a super extended look at not just Scrooge's fiancée, but a bunch of other stuff from Scrooge's past, none of which is in the book.

I remember the first time I watched this version. I was entranced by all of these apocryphal scenes. I'll run through them in a minute, but I loved the additional backstory and how it fleshed out Scrooge's descent into greed and misery. These days, having seen this version so many time, I get a little impatient with the extra material, but I'm still glad that someone decided to go there and fill all that in. (Although, like with the animated Sim version, it's hard to believe that all of these scenes take place at Christmas, so the Ghost feels out of bounds showing it.)

Before we get to the break-up scene, the Spirit shows Scrooge the following things:
  • Fezziwig's refusing to sell his old-fashioned, family business to an industrialist named Mr Jorkin who wants to modernize it. Jorkin is understanding, but patronizing. And Fezziwig seems to know that his way of doing business is probably doomed, but he's ready to die on that hill as a matter of principle. Young Scrooge is in the office, too, and eavesdrops on the conversation with interest. He then has his own discussion with Jorkin when Fezziwig is called away to deal with something in the shop. Scrooge attempts to defend Fezziwig's ideals, but Jorkin tests him by offering him a job in a new factory that will offer much higher wages.
  • Fan dies after giving birth to Fred. Scrooge is at her bedside and is furious at the baby (and Fan's husband) for killing her. He leaves when she goes unconscious and isn't there when she wakes up long enough to request deliriously that Scrooge take care of her boy. Old Scrooge hears her though, getting this information for the first time in his life, and he breaks down, begging her forgiveness. 
  • Scrooge starts work as an accountant with Jorkin's new factory and meets the other clerk, Jacob Marley. Scrooge confides to Marley that he thinks the world has become a hard and cruel place and that people must become hard to survive it. While he admired Fezziwig's philosophy, Scrooge also saw that it was leading his former employer to ruin.
  • Jorkin's company has bought out Fezziwig's and the new management is moving in. Scrooge agrees to let one of Fezziwig's employees stay on at a reduced salary, but can't bring himself to talk with Fezziwig himself when he has the chance.
Doing this project, I feel like I'm finally getting a handle on the Spirits' tactics and why they're effective on Scrooge. It has to do with his abandonment and neglect as a child and his fear of ending up like that again. His accumulation of wealth is all about control, which is why he's a miser with it (and also why you'll never catch Scrooge sliding on ice - voluntarily giving up control - the way other characters do in the various versions). Scrooge doesn't crave money so that he can spend it. He needs it so that he can feel secure. And he's instinctively suspicious (and I think, deep down, extremely jealous) of people like Fred who are willing to give up that safety net for love. 

Dickens is pretty subtle with his clues though, so I understand the desire for a movie like this to try to spell things out a little more clearly. Instead of Scrooge's dislike of Fred being out of jealousy for Fred's loving marriage, it's because of a side plot about Fan's death. The stuff about Jorkin and Fezziwig stays on point though and I think gets across the idea that Scrooge is making these decisions out of fear.

At this point, we see Alice (this movie's version of Belle) break up with Scrooge. The vision opens with her staring out a window in a house as the Spirit declares that "she is not changed by the harshness of the world." She's chosen love over fear.

She's not wearing black and doesn't appear to be in mourning, but one of the nice things about this version is that we've actually got to see Scrooge's gradual change in his attitude towards the world. Their conversation makes even more sense in the context of the preceding scenes.

There's a big change in the dialogue that continues the adaptation's trend of humanizing Scrooge. When Alice asks if he'd still propose to her today if he hadn't already agreed to it in the past, he hesitates, but declares, "Of course I would." That's much different from his non-answer in the book where he puts it back on her with, "You think not." 

She doesn't believe him though and releases him. He angrily snatches up her ring where she's left it on a table, saying that he must bow to her conviction. He's ticked at her for breaking up with him and I don't think it's just wounded pride. I think he still loves her and wants to make it work, but she's forcing the issue because he's going down a path she can't accompany him on. Some of the other versions suggest that she's presenting him with a choice: money or me. And he chooses money. This feels more real than that. She's not offering him a choice, she's just breaking it off and he can't do anything but accept it, which is super painful. 

This is apparently her house, because he storms out and leaves her there by herself where she breaks down. This is another aftermath that Young Scrooge never witnessed, but Old Scrooge has to. Like in the book, he tries to get out of seeing any more, but the Ghost declares that they're not done yet. Instead of peeking in on what happened to Alice though, we have some more scenes from Scrooge's life:
  • Jorkin is accused of embezzling company funds and is being threatened with criminal prosecution by his partners. Scrooge (played by Alastair Sim from this point on) and Marley offer to pay off the discrepancy and save the company, but under the condition that they be given enough shares to control the company when all is done. They're now shrewd, cold businessmen.
  • Marley's housekeeper Mrs Dilber arrives at the office to let Cratchit know that Marley is on his deathbed. If Scrooge wants to say goodbye before Marley dies, he'd better get over there now. Cratchit delivers the message, but Scrooge refuses to leave until the office has officially closed in another couple of hours. Mrs Dilber, who is completely awesome in this version, says that she'll "try and get Mr Marley to hold out 'til then, I'm sure."
  • Scrooge leaves at the close of business, as promised. Cratchit tries to offer condolences, but Scrooge is completely cold and not having it. They have the same conversation about Cratchit's wanting all of Christmas Day off work that they will seven years from now in the main story, implying that this is an annual discussion that gets no easier for either one of them. "Every Christmas you say the same thing," Scrooge says. "And every Christmas it's just as inconvenient as it was the Christmas before."
  • Scrooge arrives at Marley's, which is the same house that Scrooge inhabits in the present day. Mrs Dilber and the undertaker are waiting for him at the top of the stairs. Scrooge mocks the undertaker for being there so promptly and the undertaker explains that his "is a highly competitive business." I like how that plays into the scene in Christmas Future where both he and Mrs Dilber will sell items to Old Joe that they've pilfered from the dead Scrooge. 
  • Scrooge goes into Marley's bedroom (same as Scrooge's bedroom later) and Marley is still barely alive. He can barely talk, but he looks miserable and desperate. "We were wrong," he manages to get out. "Save yourself." It's horrible and wonderful. Marley dies before he can explain further.
  • Scrooge signs the death register at Marley's funeral as the Ghost explains that Scrooge also inherited Marley's wealth and house as well as his half of their business. The Ghost points out that Scrooge was emotionless during this scene, except for the greed he felt over Marley's possessions.
With this last vision, the scene dissolves back to Scrooge's bed where Scrooge is now lying and moaning in his sleep, "No no no no no..."


Caffeinated Joe said...

Appears that they not only added scenes, but put work in to making them relevant and meaningful, adding to the backstory of Scrooge and his sad journey. Well done, I think. Most would see it as almost sacrilege to try and add to a classic like this, but this seems done with good intention.

Funny, your thoughts on Scrooge's motivations for his miserly ways. Feels very true and more fleshed out, rather than just 'he was selfish'.

I was thinking the other day when dealing with an unexpected expense that life would be easier with a windfall of funds. But then I pushed myself further, and realized even with more money, I would find some way to be worried about that and there might never be any true peace to be found. I don't know. Mind wanders.

Michael May said...

I think you're so right.


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