Saturday, December 17, 2016

“More of Gravy than of Grave” | Fredric March (1954)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Shower of Stars' adaptation makes some unique choices with this year's scene. Right away, instead of following Scrooge home from the office, this version dissolves from Scrooge on the street to the interior of his rooms. Far from being dismal, they're well lit and almost cheerful as a maid goes about her business of getting the place ready for Scrooge to come home. She checks his fire, turns down his bed, and when she hears the sound of carolers outside, she opens the window to let their song in. She's stirring Scrooge's gruel when the old man arrives, having apparently entered his front door without incident.

She and Scrooge exchange some formal greetings and then she's off as quickly as possible. Except that for some weird reason she's compelled to stop at the door to try to wish him a Merry Christmas. He takes it about like you'd expect. He's also none too pleased about the carol coming through the open window, so he closes that, too.

His dinner is gruel, but the maid has also brewed him a pot of tea, so it's a downright homey scene when he sits at a little dinner table to eat. Another dissolve and the fire is now lower and the clock is chiming midnight. Scrooge is done with dinner and is working in his ledger when the clock is joined by other bells from around the house. This confuses Scrooge and he looks all around him, trying to figure out what's going on.

As the bells fade, Scrooge's door becomes transparent and Marley can be seen approaching it from the other side. It's an interesting effect as Marley reaches the door and just keeps walking, entering the room. Scrooge is startled when he notices, but quickly recovers and mutters to himself that he won't believe it. He does soon address Marley, but his tone is like he's entertaining himself. He claims that Marley is "no doubt a bad dream" and Scrooge does act like someone who realizes that he's dreaming and decides to have a little fun with it. Fredric March's Scrooge has already shown a weird sense of humor, so that comes out here, too, as he smiles and chuckles at his own bad jokes.

Marley (played by Basil Rathbone) is distraught at Scrooge's unbelief. In both manner and words he reveals the difficulty of his task and his fear that it's a wasted effort. He has one last trick to pull though and he does it. He's been transparent so far, but now he sits at Scrooge's table and puts a very solid hand on Scrooge's arm.

Scrooge's demeanor changes towards Marley from here, but I still don't think he's fully accepted the reality of Marley yet. He's frightened, but he's more mildly freaked out than terrified. He does get especially squeamish when Marley produces an old ledger that he and Scrooge used to share, but that might be a clue that Scrooge is still trying to convince himself that he's dreaming. I know that when I've had lucid dreams, one hint that I'm dreaming is that books don't have comprehensible words in them. My dreaming brain doesn't fill in that kind of detail. So if Scrooge saw specific, memorable notations in Marley's ledger, it could be strong evidence that Scrooge is awake.

Marley brings up the three spirits, saying that they may help Scrooge to shun Marley's path, but that's all the detail he gives. Nothing about when they'll arrive. He begins to fade again at this point, being called back after delivering his message. But before he disappears, he throws away his ledger like it's disgusting to him. Which it is, I'm sure, but it's strange that it's not chained to him with everything else. Since it's an addition by the filmmakers, they can do whatever they want with it, but it's an inconsistency that I don't like. Especially once I see the reason in another minute that they wanted it thrown away.

Marley disappears, moaning pitifully to God and expressing how there's no help for him. Rathbone sells the desperation of his situation and this seems to have the biggest effect on Scrooge. Once Marley is gone, Scrooge is still at the table with his face buried in his hands.

There's no throng of other phantoms in this version. Instead, the chorus sings eerily and Scrooge reacts as if he can hear it. He stands up and walks around the room, looking all over like he's trying to spot the source of the haunting music. Never finding it, he winds up huddled in a corner.

The music fades and Scrooge looks up, wondering again if he's been having a nightmare. He gets up and begins to move around and has almost convinced himself that none of it was real when he stumbles on the ledger Marley left behind. He picks it up, sees what it is, shrieks, and tosses it away again. Then he scrambles for his bed to hide away behind the curtains and covers.

1 comment:

Caffeinated Joe said...

Seems to me the creators of this version take a lot of license with the story. Not sure it needed to be altered so to improve upon it, was better as is. The knocker moment, at least, is missed.

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