There are scads — nay, dozens — of film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ rightly revered novella A Christmas Carol. (Tobias Fünke voice: “Dozens!”) There are too many for all but the most devoted Ebeneziados to keep track of. Which means, of course, that there are plenty of underappreciated versions floating about out there like so many Ghosts of Christmas Past. You may have even read about some of them on this very entertainment blog.
Everyone has their favorite A Christmas Carol. There are also people who don’t like the Muppets; as it is the holidays, we will simply ignore them. For now. Instead, I ask you to turn your attention to a noteworthy curiosity in the Christmas Carol canon: the 1935 Scrooge, also known as the earliest surviving adaptation of Dickens’ tale. There was apparently a silent version released in 1928, but no print survives — and that’s just as well, since it’s almost impossible to imagine a literally darker, foggier, more bare bones interpretation. The 1935 Scrooge looks like it was filmed in a chimney and sounds like it was recorded in an earmuff factory.
Aah, but you are already asking: Is it any good? To that I can only give one response: Who cares? It’s interesting! And so: In chronological order, here are the 34 best and most compelling reasons to watch the very first Scrooge ever put to film with sound and live to tell the tale.
1. The jangly Tom Waits band outside Scrooge’s office. Beneath the gaslight there, you will find a horn trio playing the most out-of-tune, lurching version of “The First Noel” possible this side of an elementary school recital. They sound demented and well-meaning. They basically sound like this:
2. Bob Cratchit runs his fingers through his lone candle to warm them.
3. The two plague doctors. Maybe it’s the supremely gloomy atmosphere doing a number on me, but I say the two gentlemen soliciting donations for the poor look for all the world like two plague doctors come to offer hope for the gravely ill.
4. Sir Seymour Hicks is maybe the most sinister looking Scrooge of all time.
As it happens, he is also perhaps the Joe Manchin-lookingest Scrooge of all time. These two things are probably not related.
5. There are zombie children caroling at Scrooge’s window.
6. The London fog really does look like it wants to murder you.
This is an unaltered shot from the movie. I know it’s a very old print, and hasn’t been restored or cleaned up in any way. But I also know that this movie was obviously one of the inspirations for the Game of Thrones episode “The Long Night,” which is longer than this entire movie. They took their inspiration well.
7. Sometimes, we just get spliced into other movies. After Scrooge lets Cratchit leave to go have his piddling little Christmas, we get treated to several scenes completely unrelated to the rest of the narrative. They’re a juxtaposition of rich folk arriving at the Lord Mayor of London’s Fancy Christmas Banquet; the kitchen staff bustling about to prepare all the good food and drink for the banquet; and street urchins caroling outside the kitchen windows.
They’re meant to reinforce the story’s already pretty obvious morality. And that’s fine! But they are also a bizarre five-minute deviation for a movie that’s only 75 minutes long.
8. Sometimes, the blocking makes for grotesque & comic accidents. Like this shot of a rich banquet attendée needlessly obscured behind a candelabra such that he looks like a headless avenger.
9. Some of the shots of the street urchins look like Expressionist paintings.
10. Marley’s name is crossed out on the nameplate at Scrooge’s house. I don’t recall seeing this particular detail in any other adaptation of A Christmas Carol. And it tickles me because, though the movie never brings this up, Dickens’ novella does state that Scrooge’s house used to belong to Marley. So Scrooge was too cheap to replace the nameplate at home, just as he was too cheap to do so at the office. A+ for continuity.
11. Scrooge eats two suppers. He goes to a tavern for supper after work; then, upon arriving at home, he has another whole cup of what I’m guessing is Miser Soup in front of a(n empty) fireplace at home. This is hardly thrifty. One would expect the old skinflint to subsist entirely on crusts of bread dipped in water that he takes at his desk while working without cease. But no: Here, we are treated to the marvel of Two-Supper Scrooge. Behold the mystery — the wonder.
12. Marley is invisible. This was another first: when the ghost of Jacob Marley arrives, Scrooge just stands there talking to the open air. There’s not a light; there’s not a fizzle; there’s not a rattle of chains. There is a big ghostly voice, which makes sense. But I wish they’d actually omitted Marley’s lines, too. If your first ghostly reveal involves nothing to look at, you might as well go the rest of the way and remove everything to listen to as well.
13. Spoiler alert: There are almost no ghosts in the 1935 Scrooge. Marley is invisible; the Ghost of Christmas Past is a creepy white haze; Christmas Present is a real live human named Oscar Asche, in one of his final film roles; Christmas Yet To Come is the shadow of a hand, pointing at stuff. Fresh off of Marley’s non-appearance, and upon realizing that there would be almost no ghosts for the rest of the movie, my wife said, “So the whole movie is gonna feel like Scrooge’s audition.” (Second spoiler alert: She was right.)
14. But the Ghost of Christmas Past does look kinda creepy.
15. Seymour Hicks, 64 years old at the time of filming, plays both Old and Young Scrooge.
This was perhaps an ill-advised casting decision.
16. Scrooge’s former fiancé Belle appears to have around sixteen children, all of them the same age. After Belle breaks off her engagement with Scrooge, we flash forward in time: Now Belle is married to someone else, and dancing around the Christmas tree with a whole damn litter of kids. There are no other adults in attendance. You might think that Belle simply has very selfish brothers and sisters, all of whom foist their children upon her at the holidays.
This is faulty logic, logic from which you must run as though you are being chased by wolves. The only sensible conclusion is that Belle became pregnant with sixteen children by her husband: eight at the beginning of one calendar year, and eight at the end of the same year. Embrace this logic as though you are being kissed by wolves.
17. There are only two scenes in the past. One of the ways you can indulge in a five-minute unrelated party scene is by trimming Scrooge’s past down to two scenes, one of which he doesn’t appear in at all.
18. The Ghost of Christmas Present is Baron Harkonnen. Never before have I seen the spectre as corpulent or bacchanalian. I’m pretty sure he is astride a keg at his introduction.
19. Tiny Tim is played by Timothée Chalamet.
20. Inexplicable Thematic Deviation #2: Now we’re on a boat.
Why are there rocks and a lighthouse? Because we’re on a boat, obviously. (Coach Beard voice: “Metaphor.”)
21. The captain of the boat hurls his empty mug at his crew and laughs. Oh — but then we’re also on a literal boat, in another of those fabled splices into completely different films. Why does the captain throw his mug? Did his crew chase him up into the crow’s nest? Are we in medias res on a mutiny?
22. The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is kinda effective. A shadow of a hand pointing at stuff can be a bit hokey. But that’s basically all this spirit ever does anyway. And since Scrooge himself says it’s this spirit’s job to show him the shadows of things that might be, why not have a literal shadow do the work? A- for creativity.
23. Old Joe’s theme is a xylophone nightmare. The music is absolutely the unsung hero of the 1935 Scrooge. Old Joe, the creepy pawnbroker who buys the curtains and linens and clothing the ragpickers take from Scrooge after he’s dead, has his very own song, and it’s just xylophones and accordions and sounds like what you dance to when you get married in hell.
24. Tiny Tim’s corpse. Have you ever seen a version of A Christmas Carol with a dead Tiny Tim in it? I sure hadn’t. But I have now. And so can you!
25. This shot of Scrooge observing the future from inside his own shadow looks like the cover of the Tom Waits album Foreign Affairs.
26. Scrooge fights back against the Ghost of Christmas Past. After being shown his own grave, the shadow of Scrooge’s arm rises up and grabs the pointing shadow of the Ghost, trying to hold it back. Other than sobbing into this spirit’s robes, I don’t remember ever seeing Scrooge have the courage, adrenaline, or outright stupidity to damn near attack one of his spirit guides.
27. Whatever is happening with the butcher’s pants here.
28. Scrooge hesitates a moment before entering his nephew Fred’s Christmas party. Hicks’ portrayal of Scrooge is rife with the kind of overemoting and overprojecting you’d expect from someone who played the role on stage for most of his life. But there are also a handful of quiet, unexpected gestures, and this is one of them.
29. Apparently this is how people used to cut bread.
30. The story actually continues into the day *after* Christmas. Usually, we see Scrooge arrive at Bob Cratchit’s house with a giant turkey, and he pretends to be a dick but then reveals he’s actually kind now, and everything is groovy. In this version, we see Cratchit have breakfast with his family on the 26th, and they rush him out the door so’s not to anger Scrooge.
31. Cratchit nearly kills Scrooge. His boss is mad with kindness. When Scrooge says “Therefore,” as in, “And therefore, Bob Cratchit, I’m about to raise your salary,” he pushes Cratchit the way Elaine pushes Jerry when she says “Get out!” So, yeah, Bob reaches for the nearest beatin’ stick.
32. Scrooge steals Tiny Tim’s most famous line. Evidently his reformation only goes so far, because Scrooge swipes “God bless us, every one” for himself. (Tiny Tim does say it once during the Christmas Present scenes, but that is like driving a race car the day before the race.)
33. The movie ends in church. Scrooge attends a Boxing Day mass with the Cratchit family. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen another version of this story with a single scene in a church. If it’s meant to be a moral ending, it feels kind of tacked on.
34. After his initial reveal, we never see Tiny Tim alive again. Actually, this is a lie. I really thought it was true! I was delighted by such a deliciously bleak oversight. But then I checked and the little scamp does appear at breakfast on the 26th with the rest of his family. Scrooge steals his big line, though, so he might as well be dead.
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