Looking Back At SCROOGE (1935 Seymour Hicks Version) - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At SCROOGE (1935 Seymour Hicks Version)

Tony enjoys some old fashioned humbug...

Everyone has a favourite Ebenezer Scrooge. In the same way that people have a favourite Doctor, a favourite starship captain and a favourite Disney princess, Scrooge is a character that doesn’t so much divide people as define their point on a spectrum. The Scrooge that’s right for you might not be anyone else’s favourite – and that’s fine. He’s right for you.

Even so, it will probably be only an elite handful of Christmas Carol fans who choose Seymour Hicks from the 1935 movie, Scrooge, directed by Henry Edwards as their favourite incarnation of the hard-hearted man of business.

And d’you know something? That’s a crime.

An absolute crime, because Seymour Hicks makes for a dammmmmn fine Ebenezer Scrooge in an otherwise gutted interpretation of A Christmas Carol. Within the opening minutes of this 1935 version, he delivers a Scrooge more rational, more reasonable than many – his dialogue is naturalistically spoken, despite being taken more or less word for word taken from the novel. He doesn’t, at any point early on, feel like he’s doing ‘Scrooge-Acting.’

You know Scrooge-Acting – the hunch against the cold and the inevitability of human contact, the scowl of decades of distrust of human beings and their self-delusion, the drawn-out catchphrase of ‘Bahhhh! Humbug!’ Too often, actors rely on these visual and vocal tics to deliver a Scrooge who seems fundamental, set in stone. While there’s a reading of the book that allows for that – the more set in stone is his heart initially, the greater the journey of discovery, and the greater the ultimate triumph of the message of Christmas at the end – it never makes for an especially believable human being in those early stages.

Seymour Hicks is an absolutely believable human being at the start of Scrooge. Normally, the early scenes with Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and the men from the charitable institution, seem to show us emissaries of human warmth, dashing themselves against a flinty heart (three human spirits of Christmas, obviously – compassion in Cratchitt, family in Fred, fellowship with the wider human race in the charity men). In Scrooge, Hicks’ performance is not of a fundamental curmudgeon so much as a reasonable, busy man, beset by festive gittery, like a modern man on a deadline, plagued by people in Christmas jumpers playing George Michael every chance they get. He’s realistically and – which is the more impressive, given that it’s a 1935 movie – modernistically – irritated with the idiots who try to get him to join in the fun and frolic.

There’s more than a chance you’ll sympathize with him.

Now, there’s no point in denying that much of the rest of the movie rather falls apart. The text of the story has been hacked within an inch of its life, which might well be why this is Scrooge, rather than A Christmas Carol. For instance, the charity collectors…never appear, robbing the viewer of that fundamental Scrooge-defining conversation about there being no workhouses, and that if the poor would rather die than go to such places, they had better do it ‘and so decrease the surplus population.’

There is no section with the Ghost of Christmas Past that shows young Ebenezer at school. No flicker of redemption when his sister brings him home from that cold and desolate place. No background scene of young Ebenezer at Fezziwig’s, at a time when he could truly enjoy the spirit and the fellowship of Christmas – and so, none of the backstory of his developing relationship with Belle, the woman with whom, had he made different choices, his life could have been blessed with love and children. Belle does make an appearance, but she’s granted only the ‘You’ve changed, you only love money now’ scene and a flash forward to her own life full of laughter and children - the life that could have been his.

The inherent social commentary has also been mercilessly stripped out. The Ghost of Christmas Present, with its pretty hardcore and revolutionary pre-Socialist socialism, doesn’t trouble us at all in 1935 (significantly before the Second World War, and the subsequent Labour government that established the Welfare State). The demon-children, Ignorance and Want, who are fostered by an unkind world to steal from every hand and hate the hand they steal from are nowhere in evidence.

It’s true that the scene at Fred’s house on Christmas Day where everyone plays interminable parlour games more or less to show us how much of a by-word for misanthropic parsimony Scrooge has become is usually too long and a little tortuous. But here, by virtue of its absence, you realise how necessary a scene it is – there’s nothing of the cheek-blazing humiliation of Scrooge when he realizes how people actually see him, compared to how he’s always thought they see him. Here, in an effort to cut for time, the visionary scene is removed, and when he turns up at Fred’s door on Christmas Day, he does it just because he can.

It would be churlish to chide the film for its handling of the various spirits (though a simple empty chair and a voiceover for the ghost of Jacob Marley does rather minimize the potential impact of Hicks’ performance). There is some early effect-work, and there are some interesting stylistic touches – when scrooge observes events in other times, he sometimes appears as a small distance talking head within a larger silhouette of himself, a voice of realization dwarfed by the darker shadows of his own history. These slashes to the storytelling though undoubtedly hurt the movie. They unpick the chain of consequences and leave you without a believable journey to the Scrooge we have. In turn, that robs his eventual contrition of a lot of its power. Scrooge ends up feeling more like a sequence of played scenes from A Christmas Carol, rather than anything with the power of the original – which to give them their due, most modern versions (Yes, including the Jim Carrey one with the seeming video game journey in the middle) properly deliver.

That’s ultimately the tragedy of Seymour Hicks’ Scrooge.

Reduced to a running time of just an hour and a minute, much of the underpinning for his character’s journey – which is all he has with which to convince us of the redeeming power of an altered perspective – is slashed out from under him. Scrooge does not, ultimately, amount to that great a rendering of Dickens’ distillation of the human spirit.

But in among it all, aided and abetted by Donald Calthrop as a slightly wooden but always pure-hearted Cratchit, and a Tiny Tim who in all honesty looks like he should be advertising vitamin supplements he’s so evidently full of beans and vitality, there’s Seymour Hicks, Scrooging as though his life depended on it, selling the drama with every heroic ounce of skill at his disposal – and that’s a lot.

The tragedy of Scrooge is that it has one of the better cinematic performances of an eminently human Ebenezer Scrooge, without the connective tissue of his journey into the cold and his redemption into the human race again.

If you’re doing a round-up of Scrooges this Christmas, prepare yourself for a significantly abridged 1935 version of the story, but a Scrooge who’ll connect you quickly with the humanity of the character’s folly.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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