“What happened when Scrooge saw Marley’s face on the door knocker…and the clock struck twelve!”
Director: Henry Edwards
Cast: Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop, Robert Cochran
Synopsis: Ebenezer Scrooge (Seymour Hicks) is a curmudgeonly businessman who hates the Christmas season because it interferes with making money.
Although Charles Dickens’ festive tale of redemption and the endurance of the human spirit has been made for the screen more than a dozen times, it’s generally the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim as the incorrigible miser Ebenezer Scrooge that is best remembered. Some also recall the 1970 musical version starring Albert Finney or Patrick Stewart’s 1989 portrayal, but other than that few people know of the other versions. This one was made in 1935, in the midst of an era when most movies made in Britain were forgettable ‘quota quickies’ churned out by American studios, and while its antiquity might preclude it from appealing as much as the Sim version, which is itself getting a bit long in the tooth, it still delivers an enjoyably down to earth and relatively unsentimental story. It has long been in the public domain in a heavily truncated 60-minute version (which was for US release, and the one that I viewed), but is also now available in its original 78-minute version.
This version is directed by Henry Edwards, a leading man of the silent days who was married to Chrissie White, one of Britain’s biggest silent stars. For some reason, he turned his back on directing in 1937, but continued his acting career into the 1950s. He had as his Ebenezer Scrooge Sir Seymour Hicks, a highly successful stage actor and impresario (he built what is now known as the Gielgud Theatre, and also the Aldwych Theatre) for whom the part became something of a signature role. He played the curmudgeonly old miser thousands of times on stage, and prior to this version he had already played Scrooge in a 1913 movie. As you’d expect, then, Hicks gives a polished performance that is easily the equal of Sim’s (if not better), although noticeably different.
The movie covers pretty much all the bases (despite the 18 minutes of cuts!) even though Scrooge’s voyage across Christmases past, present and future does feel like a whistle-stop tour at times. As usual, it’s poor old Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) who bears the brunt of his employer’s steadfastly misanthropic nature, prevented even from adding a few lumps of coal onto the dying fire in his freezing office on Christmas Eve. Despite this, and the fact that his large family live in near-poverty, he’s a smiley type of bloke whose infectious good humour is shared by his wife and children, even Tiny Tim (Philip Frost), who we all know is in a bad way.
After begrudgingly allowing Cratchit to have Christmas day as a holiday, Scrooge makes his way home, but is startled to see the face of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley superimposed over the door knocker of his home. Now, as far as special effects go this is about as special as it gets with this film, because — guess what? — Marley’s ghost can only be seen by Scrooge. Usually when that happens in a movie it means that the other characters in the movie can’t see the spirit in question, but the viewer can, but not in this case. So Sir Seymour spends this brief part of the movie talking to the props before he’s whisked off to be reminded of the miserly past when his cold-hearted threat to evict an impoverished young couple from their home for non-payment of their loan resulted in his fiance (Mary Glynne) giving him the elbow. The Spirit of Christmas Present (Oscar Asche) shows Scrooge the warmth of the Cratchits’ modest but happy Christmas home — although not long enough for Tim to deliver his ‘God bless us, one an’ all’ speech, which presumably fail victim to the American editor’s scissors. By now, Scrooge is already convinced, but The Spirit of Christmas Future (C. V. France) has to really turn the screw by showing him his untended grave while his ex-fiance enjoys a happy family life with husband and child. Bastard — talk about kicking a man when he’s down…
Edwards makes up for the lack of money for special effects by making creative use of darkness, shadows and light to evoke the atmosphere of Victorian London at Christmastime, and manages to provide a nice mock-up of the snowy London skyline dominated by St Paul’s Cathedral in the background. The speed with which the edited version whisks through Scrooge’s revelatory journey through past and future Christmases is something of a problem, but presumably this is put right by the 78-minute version. The only other real criticism of an otherwise enjoyable seasonal movie is the way in which the intrusive musical score sometimes makes it difficult to hear what the actors are saying. Movies of the early to mid-thirties never seemed quite able to get it right when it came to music. They either had it blaring over everything or didn’t bother with it at all.
(Reviewed 16th September 2013)