Movie Review: Scrooge (Pain Box)

Posted: December 10, 2009 in Holiday, Movie Review, Pain Box, Reviews
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Scrooge (1935 Dir. Henry Edwards)

Just to add to the confusion, they gave this movie two titles!

This is one of seven… no eighth version of this story I could have done a review for. If I went to the store, I could get a ninth and tenth, as well as the new one that came out this year. Don’t look at me like that! Like none of you have ever bought way too many versions of a story before. I don’t even have all that exist. There are some 67 stories in which Ebenezer Scrooge appears according to IMDB. With that sort of number, owning 8 different versions is hardly a lot. Now wait until I tell you how I have three distinct versions of this movie and that I didn’t actually pay for two of them. There is a 63-minute cut, a 59-minute cut and a 78-minute version of the film. I’m using the longer one for this little review, which makes it a bit of a cheat. The 59-minute version is what actually came with the Pain Box, but I’m guessing no one will care if I use the 78 minute cut just like no one will care that technically I’m recycling this review and adding some notes to update the whole thing.

Yeah, don’t talk to him before coffee time.

What I’ll try to do here is give the movie a fair assessment, but I don’t really see that coming off with any great success. I have a fairly intimate acquaintance with the story, having been raised on it and then having been in it on the stage when I was nine. I’ve read the book a dozen times or more and I’ve watched just about every version that’s ever shown during my lifetime until I was in my 20s and swore off television. Yes, this means I’ve never seen the Kelsey Grammar version and don’t intend to, musicals make me shudder. I also haven’t seen the new Jim Carey version because I have these spooky things called standards. I’m about to shoot that last statement in the foot though, because I’m going to admit to watching this sober. If I really had standards, I’d have to get drunk for this.

You’d drink too if you were trapped in this movie.

This is the earliest version of the story I have in film form, so I’m going to go down a little check list and see what they have and don’t have. Bob Cratchit is seen trying to warm his hands over the candle and the two men who inspire the “Are there no prisons” speech come along right after that. The speeches from these scenes are repeated and unless I’m wrong, they are spoken for the first time in the annals of sound film. The coal argument is had right after they leave and things seem to be going well. Music is often used sparingly in early sound films, but this one uses enough of it when it wants to. When Fred shows up, there is a good bit of what sounds like a bit of library music, which comes and goes during the scene. The music even plays under the dialogue which is unusual for films of those days. It might be that these songs were added by later editors, during the butchering phase of putting this movie out for the bazillionth time. Fred leaves with Good King Wenceslas playing in the background and as often is the case in these flicks, this segues into the children singing that same song at Scrooge’s window.

Typical movie-chick flip-out that no woman would really do in 5… 4… 3…

Once scrooge leaves the office, after the request talk about Bob having the day off, there is a fairly interesting deviation from the book. There is some business with Bob walking home and Scrooge going to have his dinner, but that’s all well and good and too the book. What’s odd is that they show the Christmas celebrations at the royal palace, starting with people arriving and then working their way into the kitchen and back up to the dining room where guests are having the feast and everything. It’s an odd little moment that has nothing to do with the story as far as I can see, but there it is anyway. In many ways though, this may be seen as a visual representation of all the things Dickens was trying to get across. Although the crowd singing “God Save the Queen” is a bit out of left field for me. In many ways, the book was a representation of what Chuckles Dickens thought Christmas should be all about and how it should be celebrated. It’s a sort of upper-middle-class liberal view, including the very grateful poor and the kindly rich. It’s the sort of liberalism that when looked at from a distance makes you want to punch a hippie in the mouth. As much as this is my favorite Christmas story, there are bits of it that are a wee bit condescending. In the same way that Stalin was a tad paranoid if you see my point.

Joke 1) The stuff just kicked in! Joke 2) Burritos before bed time is a bad idea in the days of gas light.

When we do get back to the story, things go as planned. Marley in the doorknocker, check. Scrooge checking the place out, check. The bells ringing, check. The more gravy than grave line… strangely absent. You don’t actually see Jacob Marley in this version. He claims that only Scrooge can see him and I suppose this is why the camera cannot. A good half the time the actor playing Scrooge has to play the part to an empty room because the person playing Marley gets superimposed so as to be transparent like he is in the book, this is the only version I can remember where the actor is absent all together. Marley’s part is fairly truncated, flying through the lines and tying several of them together without the give and take we usually get between the two old friends. This makes me sad as I’ve always had a particular fascination with Marley. I’ve always wondered about the rest of his story and how he gained this one last chance for his old friend. Because of that, I always want him in the movie as long as possible. I know there is a book, but I’ve sort of avoided those like the plague because the idea is repugnant to me. I don’t care if Wicked is a best seller and a huge play, the concept of those books repels me.

Enter fart and or lisping joke here.

Christmas Past shows up only as an outline of light, and instead Scrooge’s childhood takes us to Belle telling him what a meany he is. She sees him doing business for thirteen seconds and announces that the wedding totally off because she wants a man who doesn’t care about money. She goes into some serious histrionics which proves that not all the over actors went out of work with the sound era. We are then treated to Belle having about 87 children, proving that clearly the whole uterus for a clown car thing isn’t a new concept. It annoys me to see the spirit of the past reduced to these two miserable scenes. No Fezziwig? What the hell? It’s not a movie of The Christmas Carol without Fezziwig! And it’s not Thanksgiving without the green bean casserole! The entire movie is pretty badly truncated, and consider if I watched one of the even shorter versions! I would be frothing at the mouth.

Seriously, there is a limit to how many children this one woman could have!

Christmas Present is at least visible, even if his acting… is so slow… that you keep wanting… to finish… the lines for him. With a touch of the Ghost’s robe, we are taken directly to Bob and Tim Cratchit, who are caught in one the fakest snowstorms in all of the long history of Christmas productions. Evidently the Cratchit family has also decided to subscribe to the clown car method, either that or they’re going with Jonathan Swift’s idea of having extra children around so you can cook them for dinner . The kid playing Tiny Tim must have been on morphine or something, because he gives his “god bless us everyone” line sounding about as bored as we feel at this point.

Yeah, totally doesn’t work as a screen cap… sorry.

At least instead of just ending at that scene we get to see this bitchin’ miniature of London, and a couple of guys hanging out in a light house. Some dudes seem to be partying on a boat, while the decks are being washed over with a mighty storm, laughing as if they aren’t about to be sunk under a massive wave and killed on Christmas day or all days. This segues nicely into Fred’s house, where he’s laughing as if he’s trying to audition for Refer Madness twenty years too early. He giggles and guffaws through the scene like someone slipped something stronger than rum into the punch. They have a little joke about how Scrooge isn’t universally loved, and then several members of the party actually start falling on the floor laughing. One presumes the camera cuts away just in time to avoid having to see the ensuing orgy, which is a mercy, believe me.

I feel like I’m just a shadow within myself. No wait, I’m within my shadow self? That sounds dumb. How do those emo-goth-punk kids do it?

So then, with no real warning, Christmas Future shows up. Future seems to be represented by shadows on the wall and a black border around the screen. There is an interesting effect where Scrooge’s face is projected into his own silhouette. We get the exchange, Old Joe’s pawn shop, the dead man in the bed, and the post Tim Cratchit family. This version is slightly unusual as it actually shows Tim dead and in the bed for a wake. Usually they skip showing the dead kid. Then of course, we get the bit in the cemetery when Scrooge is finally shown the tombstone where it’s explained that no one ever loved him and won’t be sad to see his passing. It’s not terribly convincing I’m afraid. Everything has gone by at such a rush that I don’t feel much of a connection with Scrooge in this version.

You can sort of tell that he’s about to smack someone, can’t you?

So Scrooge wakes up, and we get back to the checklist. Scrooge sort of creeps out his cleaning lady, which isn’t a requirement but it helps. Instead of babbling to himself, he talks to her about how he’ll send the turkey to the Cratchit family. Yeah, he sends the kid to buy the turkey. In a slight change though, the kid announces the shop is shut and he has to get Scrooge to help kick the door down because this is Christmas and if we don’t get a turkey then some one has to die! Fortunately, they get the turkey sorted so we’re spared the John Woo like two gun shoot out in the butchers. Or perhaps we’re cheated out of it. It would have lent an interesting end to an otherwise so-so adaptation.

This is a symbol for something… I just wish I knew what of.

The checklist is finished up with Scrooge meeting the two charitable gentlemen, his trip to Fred’s and his laudanum slurping pals as they giggle and nearly fall about each other. I fear that this dinner won’t end well. What with the knee bending and giggling, and the orgy we simply know is going to happen, this simply cannot end well. Sadly, the actor playing Fred ruins what might be a nice moment by performing as if he’s tanked to the gills. Hell, maybe he was tanked to the gills, he has that look about him. We continue my beloved checklist with Bob showing up late, Scrooge scaring the crap out of him and then raising his pay. The movie then strangely ends with Scrooge and Cratchit singing hymns in a church. We’re never told if Tiny Tim makes it or not, and we’re never told how the orgy at Fred’s turned out, I guess we’ll have to wait for the sequel.

Let the orgy commence!

I can’t really encourage you to go seek this one out, but then I got the copy I used for these screen caps free with a CD of silly songs my mother put in a stocking. If you get a CD in your stocking this year like I did a few years ago, you might get the movie whether you want it or not. That happens when the movies are in the public domain. If you really want to watch it though, be my guest. This is the 78 minute version…

Official Score:
-5 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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