Scrooge (1935)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

The sound of Victorian era church bells fill the air as I complete this review from my office in south London. Much like this great city, Scrooge (1935) is a film both old and new. A tale told dozens of times on stage and screen, yet one I had not seen before. The earliest sound adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, Scrooge (1935) was the inaugural production and release of Twickenham Film Distributors, Ltd. At just over an hour long, it’s an altogether more unpleasant, blunt, realistic version of the story, closer in-line with the novel source material which so clearly painted a picture of the horrors of poverty in Victorian England. While other later versions only hint at the horrible inequalities, here we are treated to a scene where the Mayor of London’s Chef who, while preparing a banquet in service to the Queen, literally throws out scraps to the masses from the window of the Mayor’s opulent mansion kitchen. A shocking image when compared to the stylized feel-good versions that likely would have had the populist author rolling in his grave. 

The performances are darker as well. When compared to the performance of Alistair Sim, who played Ebenezer Scrooge with an over-the-top humorous insanity who became bitter and twisted only following the death of his sister, star Seymour Hicks, who appeared as Scrooge over 2,000 times on stage, plays the title role as a right bastard, not likeable on any level. This is the version of A Christmas Carol we need in the winter of 2022 – known in the UK as “the winter of discontent.” A colder than average winter where just about everyone is on strike with nurses standing on line at the food banks and many working families unable to heat their homes while the wealthy worry about what Prince Harry said in his new Netflix documentary. 

This is the version, more than any other, where I felt a satisfaction in watching this greedy prick frightened into paying his underpaid, overworked employee Bob Cratchit a living wage. And with such a truncated script, it doesn’t take nearly as long for old Ebenezer to become repentant. Ghosts and spirits tend to have that effect on people. Especially when they’re voiced by Claude Rains (uncredited), as the invisible Jacob Marley is here. 

Speaking of ghosts, the spirits here rely more on a German expressionist visual style than later versions, with the ghosts of the past and future rendered completely using a combination of light and shadows rather than utilizing actors. Along with great lighting, the sets are wonderful and, while many shots are locked down in the style of a filmed stage play, there is a fair amount of camera movement including one long dolly shot during the Mayor’s banquet which must have been quite complicated for the time and visually crystallizes eloquently the difference between the classes in Victorian (and increasingly modern) England. I was not expecting such an old version of this well-worn tale to connect so relevantly to modern concerns. Colorized and black and white versions of the film are available online for free. Watch it. 

https://www.pbs.org/video/scrooge-1935-y64qdm/

2 thoughts on “Scrooge (1935)

  1. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, December 17 2022 – Chuck The Writer

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