Tuesday, December 23, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Michael Caine (1992)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Scrooge is absolutely beside himself after his encounters with Fred and the solicitors. Slamming the door on Honeydew and Beaker, he sees Fred's wreath where Fred hung it before leaving, grabs it off the wall, and tries to rip it up. It's just then that a small voice outside starts singing "Good King Wenceslas" (the substitute of choice for carollers who don't go for Dickens' "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen").

Scrooge yanks open the door and bares his teeth at the young, singing rabbit. "What do you want?!" he snarls, daring the boy to ask him for something. Unfortunately for the boy, he does. "Penny for the song, governor?" Scrooge slams the door on the kid, goes back to trying to tear up the wreath, then opens the door again to chuck the wreath at the boy. It's a unique and clever take on Scrooge's threatening the kid with a ruler, made cooler because it develops Scrooge's character in a powerful way. I haven't seen another version of Scrooge get this flustered and furious. It makes him vulnerable without taking away from his meanness.

That carries over into the next scene, which is closing time. Cratchit has to step into Scrooge's office to announce that the work day is over. Scrooge looks up from his work, sullenly. He's not joking like he was earlier in the day. In fact, he's sulking. "Very well," he says, "I'll see you at 8:00 in the morning."

The exchange between Cratchit and Scrooge here is awesome. Cratchit reminds Scrooge that the next day is Christmas, so Scrooge says that he'll let the staff come in at 8:30 then. Cratchit has to fight for the whole day off. There's no question about whether or not it's convenient and Scrooge makes it very clear that he's being persecuted and put upon. Caine is amazing and gives us a Scrooge who's still hurt from the earlier scene. I feel genuinely sorry for him and a more passive Cratchit would totally cave and come in. But Kermit isn't that Cratchit.

Kermit's role in the Muppets has always been to be the calm in the center of the chaos, so he continues that here. Whether he's managing his unruly staff of rodent accountants or managing Scrooge's bad moods, he keeps it together and sticks up for what's right. What's strange is that Scrooge seems to respect him for this. Earlier, he treated Cratchit as a valued, even trusted employee. Now, he begrudgingly grants the day off ("take the day," like a spoiled child who's being forced to share a toy) even though it's the last thing he wants to do. Though to be fair, Cratchit also defeats Scrooge with logic: explaining that other businesses will be closed and there'll be no one to do business with.

Scrooge leaves Cratchit and the rats to close up with a final, "Be here all the earlier the next morning!" then stalks off. As the staff cleans the office and shuts everything down, Cratchit sings "One More Sleep 'Til Christmas," an ode to the excitement of Christmas Eve that serves the same purpose of Dickens' sliding scene. With Scrooge out of the picture, the festivities can commence.

Of course, the sliding scene still makes it into the movie. Cratchit's song continues after he locks up and moves into the street. Outside, a group of penguins are having a "skating party" and Cratchit joins in as well as Gonzo and Rizzo.

He finishes the song and heads home and it looks like the film is going to let the Christmas street celebration be nothing but fun and joy. But surprisingly, as Cratchit leaves the frame, the camera pans down to the shivering bunny who was singing earlier and is now trying to keep warm wrapped in newspapers. It's a touching bit of darkness and Dickensian social commentary in what we might expect to be nothing more than a feel-good film. Nice job, Muppets.

1 comment:

Caffeinated Joe said...

Nice job, Muppets, indeed. And over-looked by many who probably just toss this off to 'kid stuff'.

When Caine is great, he is amazing.

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