Not counting a presumed-lost short film, Henry Edwards’ SCROOGE is the first sound version of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. While this 1935 British picture isn’t generally thought of as one of the grand interpretations of the classic tale, it does bear more than a few points of interest. This outing features a screenplay by H. Fowler Mear, who wrote a number of things for London’s Twickenham Studios, and it stars the matchless Seymour Hicks.
It is Christmas Eve and Ebenezer Scrooge (Hicks) is working in his counting house. His clerk Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) is trying to keep warm. After repudiating the benevolent request of two businessmen, Scrooge rails about Christmas to his nephew Fred (Robert Cochran) but grudgingly grants Cratchit the day off. Scrooge heads home and is visited by the ghost of his departed business partner, who promises visitation by three other spirits representing the past, present and future.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL is one of the more important holiday tales and SCROOGE manages to get at the heart of Dickens’ intentions by drawing careful attention to class divides. This adaptation is one of the few to spend time on broader societal concerns, like when the Queen and Lord Mayor of London dine in contrast to a gathering of poor children. Food is thrown to the needy in what is considered a kindness, albeit with less compassion and care than one might lend to famished dogs.
Scrooge, therefore, is far from the only example of inequality and his life is indicative of Dickens’ larger critique. But in the spirit of SCROOGE, Hicks gives it all he’s got. He embodies Scrooge as essential avarice, a man who balks at charity because famine thins the herd. The rest can go to jail. SCROOGE is, of course, a fantasy. The wisdom of spirits and the benefit of perspective seems no longer mutable, just as the compassion and humility of the Cratchits seems as passé as Christmas pudding. But the thought counts, a shred of hope that the wisdom of concern may reach at least one soul.