Saturday, December 20, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Albert Finney (1970)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Albert Finney's Scrooge falls somewhere between Walter Matthau's and Fredric March's. Like those two, he's more to be pitied than feared, but Cratchit neither openly defies him (as in Matthau) nor shy away from him (as in March). He was bold enough to show some camaraderie with Fred during the nephew's visit, but backed off when Scrooge got seriously pissed about it. He's walking a tightrope, this Cratchit.

Like some of the others, he's a clock-watcher and has to point out to Scrooge when it's time for him to go. And like Gene Lockhart's Cratchit, he also has to remind Scrooge that it's payday. Scrooge's response to that is to point out Cratchit's biggest flaw as Scrooge sees it: that Cratchit's only concerned about pleasure. I don't know if that's fair, but it plays into one of this version's biggest themes. Scrooge takes pleasure from nothing and he resents anyone who does enjoy life.

With that in mind, I may have judged Cratchit too harshly in the earlier scene with Fred. It looked like they were teaming up against Scrooge, but that was probably all Fred with Cratchit's simply looking guilty by association. Cratchit doesn't seem as brazen when he's alone with the boss. He's happy that it's quitting time and he even musters a couple of smiles for Scrooge, but he also knows how Scrooge will respond to them and is appropriately nervous. The thing is though that he can't help being who he is: an optimistic young man who finds pleasure in whatever circumstances he's in, including working with Ebenezer Scrooge. Seen that way, Cratchit's to be admired. When he wishes Scrooge a Merry Christmas before departing, I don't believe it's an intentional offense like Fred's was. I think he genuinely hopes that Scrooge will find some merriment over the holiday. Which of course he will.

Scrooge stays behind to get some more work done and to lock up, but the movie follows Cratchit outside for now. Instead of a sliding scene, we get a full-on Christmas celebration when Cratchit meets up with his two youngest kids, Kathy and Tiny Tim. Like Tim in the Alastair Sim version, we meet them as they're looking into a store window at toys they'll never be able to afford. But where Sim's Tiny Tim seemed to find all the enjoyment he wanted just by looking, these two have some longing looks, especially Kathy as she stares at a particular doll.

We aren't meant to feel sorry for them though. They're thrilled to see their father who asks them which toys in the window they like best. Kathy points out the doll, but Tim's more philosophical. "You said we can't have none of them," he says, "so I might as well like all of them." He's a boy after his father's own heart.

Not to be down on Kathy for having a favorite. She gets it too and the three of them launch into a song about how much they love Christmas, even on a budget. As they sing, they shop, and the scene keeps contrasting their shopping experience with those of richer people. Lavishly dressed children walk with parents carrying large bundles of festively wrapped gifts; then Cratchit and his kids buy brown-paper "mystery presents" at four for a shilling. At another shop, we get a preview of the prize turkey hanging in the window as Cratchit comes out with his tiny bird. All the while, there's not a hint of irony as they sing about the joys of the season. Kathy still wants that doll, but she's as content and excited as the rest of them.

The scene follows them all the way home to share their purchases and their song with the rest of the family, ending with Cratchit's lighting the candles of the Christmas tree. That segues into Scrooge's blowing out his candle at work just before he leaves. When he goes outside, he'll meet the charitable solicitors who will inspire a completely different kind of song from him.

It's not a subtly made point, but it's still a good one and faithful to what Dickens wrote in this year's scene. Celebrating Christmas has nothing to do with physical circumstances and everything to do with attitude and the ability to count one's blessings. And as this movie will go on to point out, the same is true of enjoying life in general.

Friday, December 19, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Fredric March (1954)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Fredric March's Scrooge is a pitiable old fart. It's hard to take him seriously. March was in his late 50s when he made this version, but he gives Scrooge a lot of energy and a weird sense of humor (like smiling broadly at things that aren't that funny). It feels like a young person playing an old person, even though that's not actually the case. The result is a Scrooge who's just slightly unhinged. He's not dangerous; just cantankerous and a little strange.

Fred certainly didn't take Scrooge seriously, but Cratchit has to and Bob Sweeney sells it with his sweetly timid performance. He has to approach Scrooge at quitting time to remind him of the hour and he does it with hat literally in hand. He's hunched over as if to make himself a smaller target and he stammers a little when he talks.

After being yelled at by Scrooge for wanting the whole next day off, Cratchit manages a little smile and turns to go, but he stops at the door. Scrooge has already gone back to work - staying behind to get more done - and sees none of this, but Cratchit looks back at his boss and smiles once more. That reminds me of the smile that Dickens wrote into this scene, something that most of the versions have ignored up to now. In this case, it's a smile of humble gratitude with maybe a some genuine affection mixed in. Sweeney's Cratchit wants a better relationship with his boss, but he has no hope that that will ever come to be. As he's standing there at the door, looking back at Scrooge, he clearly wants to say something (probably to wish Scrooge a "Merry Christmas"), but he doesn't and instead just leaves quietly.

Bernard Hermann's music during this scene has been somber and almost dreadful as if something bad is about to happen. Nothing does, but it creates an awesomely tense mood that lasts until Cratchit goes outside. As he closes the door behind himself, the score gives way to the carollers from the opening scene who are still in the street entertaining the crowds.

This is no ragtag band of amateurs belting out Christmas standards. They're a legitimate chorus with angelic voices singing original material while traveling with a festively decorated, horse-drawn carriage. Their effect on Cratchit is immediate. He blinks a few times as if waking up and begins to look around with curiosity. He straightens up and you can almost see the oppressiveness of Scrooge's office fall off of Crachit's shoulders. There's no sliding scene, but the carollers fill the same function and Cratchit is all full of smiles as he moves through them to head home.

It's a wonderful use of music and it reminds me to talk about something I realized the other day about the sliding scene. In the Reginald Owen version, sliding is a big deal for Scrooge's nephew Fred. He does it a couple of times in that movie and convinces other people to do it too. Rewatching that film this year and thinking especially about the sliding, it hit me that it's a metaphor for giving up control. I've been thinking about control a lot this year and how it's an illusion.

When Fred slides - or when anyone slides on the ice - it's a complete abandoning of that illusion. You can see it on their ecstatic faces. They're having an adventure, even though it's only a few seconds long. Giving up control transports them and puts them in a mindset that embraces life. It's something that Scrooge knows nothing about, but Fred - or in Dickens' story, Cratchit - does. The music in this adaptation does something similar. It's not a physical abandonment of control, but it has a similar effect on Cratchit in a spiritual way as it transports him to a different mindset that allows him to enjoy life.

It has the opposite effect on Scrooge, of course. As the carollers move down the street past his office, he comes to the window and scowls at them. They're far too big and professional a group for him to go after with a ruler, but he slams his shutters to keep their singing out. Scrooge is all about control and he's as uninterested in giving himself over to music as he would be giving himself over to the ice.

The same, oppressive score from before returns as Scrooge decides it's time to go. He grumbles to himself as he closes up shop. There are quite a few "humbugs" in there, but he's also cursing Kris Kringle (whom the carollers were singing about). He calls Santa "St. Hypocrite" and launches into a weird poem. Because he's muttering, it's tough to tell exactly what he's saying, but the gist seems to be that he doesn't trust Santa's generosity. He either believes that Santa's making a profit somehow and is hiding the fact, or that Santa should be making a profit and isn't to be trusted if he's not. Either way, Scrooge's primary issue is economic.

All the Scrooges are overly fiscally-minded, but the fuller depictions of him don't stop there. They suggest that there's something deeper in Scrooge that's broken. But this is the version that rephrased Fred's appreciation of Christmas from broader, humanitarian concerns to simply economic ones. That's too bad, because this version has a lot of other things going for it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Alastair Sim (1951)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Alistair Sim's Christmas Carol really knows what it's doing. By introducing Scrooge at the Exchange instead of in his office, it holds off on letting us see him and Cratchit together until closing time. And by switching Fred's visit with the solicitors, it builds to that interaction in a cool way. We go from seeing him conduct business at the Exchange to seeing him conduct business - or rather, refuse to conduct business - with the solicitors. But his next visitor, his nephew, gets under his skin and throws Scrooge off. The strong, confident man of the first two scenes isn't so invulnerable when it comes to his sister's son.

As Fred leaves, he says goodbye to Cratchit, which is the first good look we've had at Scrooge's clerk. Cratchit seems uneasy with the conversation, which could be due to the class difference between him and Fred, or it could just be that he's generally nervous at work. It's too soon to tell, but the movie's about to make up for that.

Rather than letting time elapse in the office, the movie cuts to the city street. That's partly to let us see the Christmas festivities going on out there, but it's also to introduce us to Tiny Tim. Cratchit's youngest son is standing at a toy store window, waiting for his mom to finish an errand. When she's done, they walk towards home with Mrs. Cratchit complaining about Scrooge and how he'll want to keep her husband as late as he can.

That's the segue back to the office where the clock's chiming 7:00. Scrooge scowls at it and checks his watch to verify that it really is time to quit. He packs up methodically and walks to the front door where Cratchit is already getting ready.

Scrooge has had time to recover from his conversation with Fred and he's coldly professional the way he asks about Cratchit's wanting the next day off. Cratchit's timid reply seems to tick him off though. As we'll see later in this version, this exact conversation is an annual tradition for the two men and Scrooge doesn't like it. He snaps at Fred, but - and this is the genius of Sim's performance - still grabs my sympathy when he says that it's not fair. Even though he's wrong, he clearly believes he's right and it hurts him that he's alone in his view.

Cratchit is a nervous wreck for the whole encounter. He hates displeasing his boss and tries to take attention off himself by claiming that it's his family - not himself - who think it's important that he be home with them on Christmas. He's full of crap, of course. It's noticeable almost immediately that Cratchit doesn't agree with Scrooge about working on Christmas.

Scrooge begrudgingly gives Cratchit the day off and we see Cratchit smile for the first time, partly about the conversation's being over, but mostly about getting his holiday. In his delight, as Scrooge walks out, Cratchit accidentally wishes Scrooge a "Merry Christmas," but he stands his ground and bravely accepts Scrooge's disdain rather than retract his statement. He's too excited to let that bother him now and he's positively bouncing as he gets his own stuff together to leave.

Scrooge clearly makes Cratchit uneasy, but he doesn't seem to be unfair or abusive about it the way we've seen in some of the other adaptations. He's simply a hard, serious, unpleasant man, but Cratchit knows exactly where he stands with his boss. In fact, this Scrooge never even threatens Cratchit's job.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Size Does (Not) Matter: The New Paradigm [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

A good friend, writer Jack Mackenzie, got me thinking about book lengths in Science Fiction and how they have been tied to publishing. He also got me thinking about how this no longer matters. Let me explain.

Science Fiction began as a novel medium. As Richard Mathews points out in Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination (1997), "The emergence of realism as the mainstream focus for the literary imagination created a clear dialectical pole against which the fantasy genre could counterthrust as a specialized mode of fiction. In fact, fantasy especially utilized the novel - the most ambitious and popular vehicle for realism - as its primary literary vehicle as well." Fantasy in this case would include everything from The Castle of Otranto to The Hobbit to the Foundation series. All imaginative fiction.

Novels like Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho (291,000 words) were published in three sections because binding did not exist yet for larger books. These were read through circulating libraries that you subscribed to. This three part format dictated that the novel structure often had three distinct sections (Aristotle's classic Beginning-Middle-End). As printing improved, novels became shorter, like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (75,000 words) until HG Wells wrote Science Fiction at a mere 60,000 with The War of the Worlds. Varney the Vampire (667,000 words) may hold the record for single longest fantastical work but it was not structurally a novel per se, but a serial sold a penny sheet at a time. The venue dictated the form and length.

Then it changed. Slowly as magazines proliferated, short Science Fiction tales known usually as "off-trail fiction" began to show up in magazines like The Strand and in weeklies like Argosy and All-Story. But the novel took its biggest hit when Hugo Gernsback created the first Science Fiction magazine in 1926, Amazing Stories. Gernsback used novels but writers found short stories allowed them to explore more ideas more quickly and became the norm. Science Fiction books were culled together from stories, but these were not novels. The original Foundation trilogy is not a series of novels. The first three books are short story collections. (Shhh, don't tell anyone.) As were classics like City by Clifford D. Simak, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, The Black Star Passes by John W. Campbell, Voyage of the Space Beagle by AE van Vogt, and Adam Link, Robot by Eando Binder. You get the idea. Writers still wrote novels, serializing them, but even these were shorter affairs at 40-60,000 words, making them able to fit into an issue or two.

After the Pulps faded away and paperbacks took over, Ace Books came out with a popular series of "Doubles," two short novels back-to-back. These include some classics such as The World of Null-A and The Universe Maker (1953) by AE van Vogt, Philip K Dick's Solar Lottery was paired with Leigh Brackett's The Big Jump (1955), Robert Silverberg's The 13th Immortal went with James E Gunn's This Fortress World (1957), Big Planet and The Slaves of The Klau (1958) by Jack Vance, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Seven From The Stars and Keith Laumer's Worlds Of The Imperium (1962) and on and on and on. Eventually Ace would publish longer single novels in the 1960s but they would keep the same format and look.

Another publishing experiment in a similar line in the 1970s was Laser Books. The Canadian publisher of Harlequin Romance novels wanted to try a Science Fiction line, to sell SF in grocery stores and convenience outlets. Three novels a month by new and established writers, each an independent work, but all in the 60,000 word range. The cover art for all the books was done by Frank Kelly Freas, giving the line a nice uniformity. Authors included Thomas Monteleone, Raymond F. Jones, KW Jeter, Ray Nelson, Stephen Goldin, George Zebrowski, John Morressy, Jerry Pournelle, Jerry Sohl, David Bischoff, Robert Hoskins, Piers Anthony, and Tim Powers. After 57 novels the experiment was declared a failure and the line was ended. No instant classics amongst these novels, but many of their authors did go on to pen worthy additions to the Science Fiction canon.

On the longer side, the 1960s saw the creation of the paperback bestseller. The Lord of the Rings, driven by the counter culture, sold stunning numbers for Fantasy. In the 1970s, John Jakes' Kent Family chronicles did similar things for historical fiction while Frank Herbert's Dune books were Science Fiction's big winners and Stephen King's horror novels for the darker stuff. The paradigm had changed. People wanted big fat books again, books that allowed a reader to dwell in strange places for a good long while. So how big were these books? If we include The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings is only 300,000 words. The original Dune trilogy is 398,000, but The Song of Fire and Ice series (five books, each at 300,000 words) is 1,500,000 words so far.

Most of today's basic bestsellers are 100,000 minimum. Would The Sword of Shannara (1977) have sold as well at 70,000 words rather than 180,000? Probably not. Book buyers were looking for something that felt like The Lord of the Rings as well as read like it (maybe a little too much like it). That's a marketing tactic. Buyers began to equate size with quality. (Bigger is better, our minds tell us. If only this were true. I'd rather read a 2500 word Lord Dunsany gem over anything David Eddings ever wrote!)

The long and the short of it all is that publishing markets determine how long books are. Asimov is what Asimov is because he wrote when he did. Could he have written longer novels if he had come along in the 1970s instead of the 1930s? He did in his later career. But are the later books as much fun as those old Astounding stories? Writers are the product of the markets that exist at the time they are trying to get published. The mid-listers of the 1970s are another good example. Avram Davidson could write wonderful 65,000 word books (sometimes shorter) and be part of Doubleday's mid-list making a small, but consistent living. Today? Forget it.

But then that was the past. All that was true up to 2007, when Amazon introduced the Kindle and the ebook went from an airy-fairy dream to the majority of the market share. And now with a movement towards indie publishing, authors are no longer tied to big publishers who dictate format, length or content (some would cry, also editing and proofreading). An author selling their own books online can now decide all of that for themselves.

This piece isn't about writing though, but reading. To go back to Jack Mackenzie. We both enjoy a good short SF novel. Something like Robert Silverberg's Nightwings or Michael Moorcock's The Eternal Champion or Tom Godwin's Space Prison. Fascinating reads that are 60,000 words or less. The ideas - the fun - are concentrated; not drawn out over 100,000+ words. That's how they wrote them back then. Because you had to.

It's fun to dip into an old stack of Ace Doubles. Jack Vance was the king of concentrated writing. He'd spark off more ideas in a page than a stack of bestsellers. But they weren't slow for all their richness. They moved with a pace that kept you turning all night until they were done and you wished they were longer. I think, and I'm sure Jack would agree, that every library (paper or digital) needs longer and shorter pieces, sagas as well as novellas and short story collections. I know when I've just finished a lengthy series that there is a period of time in which I feel soaked in that world, in that author's words, and it's hard to move on. That's when I reach for the short stuff. It gives you something to read while your brain processes all those chapters of Wonder. It gives you that needed step away from Hogwarts, or Middle Earth, or Arrakis. It lets in a little air, bittersweet as parting is, and says, yes, you will read again.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Reginald Owen (1938)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Reginald Owen's Scrooge is a fascinating man, and not just because of that weird tuft of hair. He was consistently rude to the charitable solicitors, but in his conversation with Fred he showed some glimpses of humanity. There were parts of that scene where the conversation was pretty much over, but he re-engaged and kept it going. His dislike of Fred seems more like a defense mechanism than an honest reaction.

There's a little of that going on with Cratchit, too. Gene Lockhart is a funny actor and we get some great moments from his Cratchit. After the solicitors leave and Scrooge shuffles back into his office (Scrooge's walk is another interesting thing about him; Owen makes it look like he's in some kind of chronic pain that affects his posture), Cratchit looks at the clock and then listens to it to make sure it's ticking. He sighs heavily and then has some of the port that Fred left on his desk earlier. He's absolutely miserable, partly because of whom he works for, but also because it's Christmas Eve and those last fifteen minutes are gonna draaaag.

There's a dissolve and Cratchit is still watching the clock, but it's 6:30 now; forty-five minutes since the last time we saw him look. Scrooge comes out and catches him, leading to some great dialogue that's not in Dickens. "You keep close watch on the closing hour!" Scrooge observes.

"It's half-an-hour past," says Cratchit. I can't tell if he's supposed to close at 6:30 or if he was supposed to be done at 6:00, but either way he seems to have been waiting for Scrooge to come out and give the okay to go. Owen's Scrooge has a tight rein on his clerk.

"Then close up! Close up!" barks Scrooge. "Don't work overtime, you might make something of yourself!" It's one of my favorite lines in any adaptation. It's such a grouchy old man thing to say, but it also suggests the slightest possibility that Scrooge sees potential in Cratchit and is angry that Cratchit would rather get home and celebrate Christmas.

Based on some things that happen later, Owen's Scrooge feels profoundly lonely to me. It's his own doing, but I feel bad for him, especially when he keeps dropping hints that he'd like for someone to tear through his wall. That also adds a different dimension to his complaining about Cratchit's taking Christmas off. Not only does Scrooge have to pay Cratchit for no work; he's also going to be stuck at home by himself all day.

There's another added bit that's not in Dickens when Cratchit timidly mentions that it's payday. Scrooge is pretty unfair, but funny when he grouses, "Can't wait to spend 'em, eh?" But he pays up and sends Cratchit on his way, staying behind to close up.

This isn't the only version where Cratchit leaves ahead of Scrooge, but the others make it seem like a trust issue. Owen's Scrooge seems to sort of like Cratchit in a weird way, so that's not the case here. It's more of a work ethic thing. Cratchit can't wait to get started on Christmas while Scrooge hangs back to get some more work done (though he appropriates the bottle of port from Cratchit's desk to keep him company).

The movie follows Cratchit into the street, but he doesn't join the boys in sliding. We've already had a sliding scene earlier with Fred and Cratchit's sons (and will get another with Fred later), so Cratchit engages in a snowball fight instead. That becomes a significant part of next year's scene though, so I'll leave it until then to talk about.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Seymour Hicks (1935)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

After Scrooge's nephew leaves, the '35 Scrooge has a quick cut from the interior of the office to the exterior, looking in through a window. That could indicate some passage of time, but it doesn't necessarily. As we look in on Scrooge, some small silhouettes block part of the window and begin singing.

Their tune is "Good King Wenceslas" instead of Dickens' "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," but Scrooge's reaction is the same. He picks up a heavy-looking object that could be a ruler, but is more rod-shaped, and heads to the door with it. The boys run off, but we get a good look at one of them as they're singing and there's no joy in his performance. He looks tired. This is a job for him and it fits the mood introduced in the movie's opening scene. It's the holidays, but not many people are all that fired up about it. Fred seems to be in the minority.

As Scrooge turns back to the office after running off the carollers, the clock chimes and Cratchit starts shutting down his work. Scrooge barks at him, accuses him of being lazy, and declares that the office clock is fast. Cratchit defends himself though, politely. He doesn't appear to be afraid of Scrooge or of losing his job so much as he simply wants to avoid conflict. Sir Seymour Hicks' Scrooge is a weak, miserable, old man who complains a lot, but Cratchit seems to realize that there aren't any real teeth in his threats.

Scrooge brings up the day off, again throwing Cratchit into defensive mode about it's being only once a year. When Scrooge says that it isn't fair, it's just another complaint, so he doesn't create any sympathy. Cratchit's main challenge in his job is to endure Scrooge's griping and deflect as much of it as he can. That's a smart tactic, because apparently Scrooge likes to complain just to complain. Though he rumbles about Cratchit's leaving time, Scrooge immediately starts getting ready, too.

Scrooge and Cratchit walk out together and when Scrooge hands over the key to Cratchit, he does it at the same time that he instructs Cratchit to be there all the earlier the next day. I thought that maybe he's telling Cratchit that he has to open the office the day after Christmas, which would've been a nice touch, but when they get outside, it looks like Cratchit locks up and gives the key back to Scrooge. My print of the film is dark in that shot and it's hard to tell exactly what Cratchit hands his boss, but I think it's the key.

Which doesn't make a lot of sense, but Hicks' Scrooge doesn't always make sense. I wouldn't put it past him to display his power by making Cratchit turn the lock, but then take the key back as a sign of distrust. I feel bad for this Cratchit. He seems like a nice, capable man, but Scrooge sure keeps him on his toes.


Monday, December 15, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Mark McDermott (1910)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Edison's Christmas Carol is only ten minutes long, so it's super bare-boned. By the time Cratchit leaves the office for the night, we're only two minutes into the movie. The charitable solicitors and Fred all breezed in and out quickly without even intertitle cards for dialogue. As I observed the last couple of years, Scrooge's visitors are all so obnoxiously boisterous that it's hard to blame him for being cranky with them. You really have to know the story already to get what's actually going on.

But I'm never satisfied with that as an answer. The fun of this project for me is to read into what's actually in the adaptation, not what the adaptors expect me to fill in. So as far as I'm concerned, Mark McDermott's Scrooge is grouchy, but that's about it.

He fussed at Cratchit at the beginning of the story and he fusses at him again when Cratchit leaves. But that could be because of bad timing. Scrooge is still shaking his cane out the window at his departing nephew (and his nephew's loud, disruptive friends) when Cratchit abruptly gets up and starts putting on his scarf to go home. Scrooge turns his displeasure on the clerk who points to the clock. There are still no intertitle cards for dialogue, so we get no conflict over Cratchit's getting the holiday off. Instead, it's purely an argument about Cratchit's departure time and Cratchit comes off looking like a clock-watcher and maybe a little bit lazy.

Scrooge lets Cratchit go though and returns to his desk to get some more work done. So far, it's hard to see the problem with this Scrooge. As far as I can tell, there's nothing wrong with him that wouldn't be fixed by a quiet evening at home, but I don't think he's gonna get one.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Jim Carrey (2009)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Jim Carrey's Scrooge is perhaps the most odious of them all. From his repulsive appearance to his naked disgust of all other humans, he's aggressively, intentionally offensive. Gary Oldman's Cratchit is also offensive, but in a different way. He's an idiot.

There are other simpleton Cratchits (and we'll be coming up on some of them shortly), but Oldman's has a vacant expression and an unaware grin that make him seem more House Elf than human. Which may be why Scrooge tolerates him. This Cratchit has no will of his own, so he's no challenge to Scrooge's misanthropic view of humanity. If all people were like this Cratchit, I'd hate them too.

I'm being very hard on this Cratchit, but there's potential for a very great lesson to be learned here. I don't think I'm alone in sometimes being tempted to judge the people around me. I don't do it all the time, but I question motives and intelligence more often than I should. One of the lessons that Scrooge - and I - can learn in this version is that there's more to Cratchit than first appears. Maybe he's actually as stupid as he looks, but that doesn't mean he's without value.

We get a hint of that after he and Scrooge leave for the day. Their conversation goes pretty much as Dickens wrote it, with Carrey and Oldman's performances supporting the interpretations of the characters as I've described them. They also leave the office together, though it's Scrooge who locks the door, presumably not trusting Cratchit with the responsibility. That's part commentary on his feelings about Cratchit, but it's also consistent with his feelings about everyone. In fact, this Scrooge not only locks the office door, but also shakes the locks to make sure they're sound.

Cratchit stands still for a moment and watches as Scrooge shuffles into the fog. Then the music becomes festive and Cratchit begins to giggle and shake in excitement. It's Christmas Eve and he's like a little kid. He runs around the corner, sees some boys sliding on a long patch of ice, and joins them.

That's when I realize what Oldman is doing with this performance. He's playing Cratchit as a small child. That's super creepy to look at and it still says very unflattering things about Cratchit's mental ability, but it's an interesting choice that I'm curious to see play out over the course of the film.

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