Sunday, December 25, 2016

Season of Silents: A Christmas Carol (1910)

I'm revisiting a well traveled story today and watching a short version of A Christmas Carol from A Christmas Past DVD. The Internet Movie Database lists 25 different versions of this tale on film, and this is the second version listed, the first one being from 1908. This was filmed at Thomas Edison studios and since it is short, the action is condensed down to important scenes, with a basic knowledge of the story to carry it along. This short is presented with a score by Al Kryszak, relying heavily on violins that, to these ears, have an unpleasant, discordant sound. Perhaps it was an attempt to match the unpleasant character of Scrooge. Scrooge is played by Marc McDermott, who was a prolific actor from 1909 to 1928, and appeared in He Who Gets Slapped and Flesh and the Devil.

The film begins with Scrooge entering his office, while Bob Cratchit is busily working in the background. Members of the Charity Relief Committee enter to appeal for donations from the miserly Scrooge and are dismissed.

His nephew arrives with his entourage to wish his uncle a Merry Christmas and is also greeted with a frosty reception and an appeal to leave quickly.

Bob Cratchit gets his scarf and informs his employer that it's quitting time, who admonishes him but allows him to depart.

Scrooge returns home and is greeted by the visage of his former deceased partner.

Inside, Marley shows him his chains and warns him of suffering the same fate if he doesn't change his ways. McDermott does an effective job of appearing to interact with the ghost.

The Spirit of Christmas arrives to show him incidents from his youth and early manhood.

He is shown a memory of his sister arriving to pick him up from school for Winter holiday. It is not specifically described in the title cards, so one would have to know the story to understand the scene.

He enjoys the memory of dancing at Old Fezziwig's Christmas party, where he meets his fiancée, Belle.

He is displeased to be shown the memory of her returning her engagement ring to him.

The Spirit then shows him visions of the present and he sees the Cratchit family during Christmas dinner, where they toast all the world, even Scrooge.

The title card tells us that he sees his nephew rejected for want of money, and he attempts to offer money to the vision of his nephew.

He is horrified to be shown Want and Misery.

The title cards announce a miser's death with the visions of the future. He sees himself dying in his bed and the chambermaid immediately stealing the ring from his finger.

He sees his gravestone which reads, "He lived and died without a friend," and he begins to plead with the Spirit.

On his way to his nephew's house, he meets up with the men from the Charity Relief Committee and digs into his pocket to give a generous donation.

He catches his nephew and fiancée leaving the house and begins chastising and shaking his finger at him, then begins to chuckle and hands him a note.

They are surprised and delighted by the news and embrace Uncle Scrooge.

Scrooge crashes the Cratchit's Christmas dinner and the family initially looks terrified by Scrooge's manic transformation, until his nephew and fiancée arrive to reassure them that his change is not to be feared.

A dead goose is gifted to the family.

The happy three are welcomed by the Cratchits and the film comes to an end.


This short effectively conveys the essence of the story, but it would be difficult for anyone who hadn't read the story to interpret all the action. Tiny Tim is notably absent in the end and he is only briefly shown during the vision of Christmas in the present. The scenes with Marley's ghost and the Spirit of Christmas are well done and the innovative techniques used surely would have delighted and amazed viewers in 1909. McDermott does a fine job portraying Scrooge's metamorphosis and the film is quite well done for an early adaptation. The story itself is timeless and bears repeating.

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