One of the nice things about Hollywood’s fondness for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is that not only are there so many adaptations, but so many of them are fairly good. And though the story is essentially the same every time, the interpretations of the characters can be different due to the actors. It gives the story a continual freshness, even though it’s been filmed from the earliest days of cinema to the present. It’s interesting to note that even in the early days, though, it was common to simply title the film Scrooge after it’s main character.
Director Henry Edwards’ 1935 adaptation is notable for another reason: It is the first non-silent film adaptation of the classic story. This means that instead of watching Seymour Hicks pantomime the old miser’s actions, as he did in a 1913 silent film, we get to hear him express his thoughts.
Which for Fred might not be such a blessing.
Hicks makes a terrific Scrooge. He harrumphs with the best of them, and has an air of petulant irritation about him. As Scrooge undergoes his spiritual transformation during the course of the night, so does Hicks’ performance gradually warm up. He’s even more fun to watch once Scrooge has been redeemed; there’s such a childish glee about him that it’s hard not to laugh. The scene where he pretends to still be miserly to tease Bob Cratchit is always a fun moment, but it’s even better when you can see Scrooge trying hard not to giggle. Cratchit is played by Donald Calthrop, who also does a terrific job. He has a cheerful air about him, often joking, but it’s done in such a way that the audience can see that Cratchit is mostly trying to put a brave face on things for the sake of his family. Showing the fragility behind the smile is a difficult act, but one that Calthrop pulls off. By contrast, Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Robert Cochran) has a more solid cheer to him, and his role seems to be expanded slightly, as — in a rarity for adaptations — we actually see Scrooge take him up on his offer of Christmas dinner after his change of heart. The sight of Scrooge hesitantly entering the dining room, as if he wonders if he’ll really be welcome after all his harshness, is a touching sight, as is the closing scene of Scrooge joining Bob Cratchit singing in church.
There is a weakness in the film, though, and sadly it’s in the part of the story that is most iconic: the visitations of the ghosts. The visit of Christmas Past is cut short, skipping over the scenes of Scrooge’s childhood that explain his early isolation and his early career showing Fezziwig’s counter-example to the image of the miserly businessman. Instead, it skips right to Belle leaving him, not out of feelings of neglect but due to clear repulsion at how hard-hearted he is towards the poor. It gives the impression that Scrooge was always this way, as opposed to it being a gradual development as in Dickens’ novella. Present and Future are given more complete renditions, including Present’s display of Christmas around the world, though on a small budget.
But what disappoints about the ghosts is that they are hardly shown at all. Only Christmas Present (Oscar Asche) has any real screen presence; he’s the only one to truly be present on the stage at the same time as anything that’s happening. Christmas Past is simply a static glow, and Christmas Future is a shadow on the wall. Jacob Marley isn’t even that, which is a baffling decision. Marley’s voice is heard, but only Scrooge himself can see the ghost; the audience cannot. Oddly, the scene of the other lost souls swirling outside the window is recreated, even though the audience isn’t permitted to actually see the ghosts. As the technology to superimpose the ghostly characters existed at the time, it’s a bit of a puzzler as to why the ghosts aren’t visible. If nothing else, they could simply have had Marley be shown as a solid person; it would have been superior to having Scrooge seeing something that isn’t there.
Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Senility.
Still, this complaint, though non-trivial, should not be taken as an unforgivable flaw in the film. Although it does lesson the enjoyment some, the fun of watching Seymour Hicks as Scrooge is more than sufficient to make Scrooge one of the more entertaining depictions of a A Christmas Carol.