Based on Paul Ryan’s least favourite novel, Henry Edwards’ Scrooge is the first feature length sound version of the classic Charles Dickens work A Christmas Carol. This 1935 feature is classically British and spends a considerable amount of its lean runtime examining class issues and matters of morality before the titular character’s renowned epiphany.
Of course, the Dickens tale is as compelling today as it was upon its release and its themes of economics and greed in light of broader moral questions still require plunging. From a cinematic standpoint, Edwards’ movie isn’t exactly the stuff of the 1951 version with the same name. That said, it’s still an interesting movie from a historical standpoint.
Sir Seymour Hicks stars as Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser with the counting house. Donald Calthrop is Bob Cratchit, his lone worker. As the Christmas season comes around, Scrooge’s loathsomeness grows and he barely lets Cratchit have the day off. He doesn’t donate a dime to charity and humbugs everyone he comes in contact with.
This leads to a night he’ll never forget. A series of spirits visit him and expose him to the ramifications of his greed. From the Spirit of Christmas Past (Marie Ney) to the Spirit of Christmas Future (C.V. France), the spectres reveal various the consequences of Scrooge’s passion for gain above all else.
The character of Scrooge is an interesting one from the outset, especially in these modern times. His believe that the impoverished should seek refuge in, say, prisons is no longer scene as an unrealistic stance for many of the Conservative persuasion. The notion that society ought not to look after those who cannot look after themselves is an integral component, too.
For Scrooge, allowing “sentiment” to enter his counting house is tantamount to disaster. He can’t simply give people breaks out of compassion or he’ll lose shillings. When the Past visits Ebenezer, however, he becomes aware of just how cold-hearted the idea is. As Belle (Mary Glynne) excoriates him for having gain as his only passion, Scrooge begins to see the light.
Indeed the great message of Dickens’ novel and Scrooge is its criticism of greed as being inhumane. No matter how many Gordon Gecko types there are in the world, greed doesn’t warm hearts. On the contrary, it leaves men like Scrooge with little but gold and silver to be picked over once the flesh decays.
Hicks, who was no stranger to playing Ebenezer, does an admirable job as the title character. He crafts a loathsome man initially and, while his portrayal is nowhere near the iconic performance delivered by Alastair Sim, his moral restoration feels authentic.
From a cinematic standpoint, Edwards has some interesting ideas. The use of shadows is on-point, especially during the appearance of the murky Ghost of Christmas Future. The dark fingers scaling across Scrooge’s face are creepy and the superimposition of his face against the blackness is a nice touch. The appearance of Marley’s ghost in the doorknob is another satisfying effect.
This is also one of the only version of Scrooge to show the body of Tiny Tim (Phillip Frost) after his passing. It’s an interesting decision, but it does tug at the heartstrings. Cratchit’s response of compassionate calm comes from the Christ-like foundation of his character, which is something Dickens was very interested in.
Scrooge isn’t the best telling of the classic Christmas narrative, but there’s a lot to like about this early version. Edwards delivers the tale in classic British style, showing the ins and outs of rich and poor Britain before allowing Ebenezer into the darkness of his own unfettering.