With its run time of less than an hour, the Christmas Carol episode of Shower of Stars had to be super efficient with its storytelling. As we noticed last year, it begins not with Scrooge and Cratchit, but with the charity solicitors. We’ll look at their scene next year (and how it’s a suitable introduction to Marley), but this year we’ll pick up with their leaving Scrooge’s office.
Before Fred arrives, Cratchit comes into the office from a side door just as the solicitors are leaving through the front. The clerk is holding a coal shovel and Scrooge scolds him for having been gone five minutes. “Let it go out,” Scrooge orders, referring to Cratchit’s neglected fire. Cratchit seems especially timid in this version. He stammers and shuffles about uneasily, walking on egg shells.
As he disappears back into his alcove, the door opens and in walks a jubilant Fred with a boisterous, “Merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!” Ray Middleton plays the role in a cartoonish, overly expressive way like a department store Santa. He’s deepening his voice and flourishing his arms in big, sweeping movements. He preaches at Scrooge about Christmas as if he’s instructing school children. In short, he’s trying way too hard.
The dialogue sticks close to Dickens with a few edits. He gets to give most of his speech, but there’s an interesting change when he gets to the part about Christmas’ being a time when folks “think of people below them as if they were really fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” Instead of “people below them,” he refers to “their neighbors.” Then he changes “another race of creatures bound on other journeys” to “customers to be sold something at a profit.” In other words, his concern is more about commercialism than humanitarianism. That’s a weaker Fred, in my opinion.
His speech still elicits applause from Cratchit, but not as humorously as Dickens described. In this version, since Cratchit’s fire is dying, Cratchit’s staying warm by sweeping the office, but he puts down the broom long enough to clap. His face is pretty priceless though when he realizes Scrooge is glaring at him. When Scrooge threatens to fire him, Cratchit goes back to work with a disgruntled glance in Scrooge’s direction. He doesn’t seem actually afraid for his job; just troubled by the general tension Scrooge creates in the office.
The adaptation also includes Scrooge’s comment about seeing Fred in… “Well,” he interrupts himself, mumbling, “You know the place I mean. I’ll see you there first.” Fredric March (best known as 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, though he’s almost unrecognizable in his Scrooge makeup) plays Scrooge with a weird sense of humor that we’ll look more closely at next year, but it comes up again in this line. He seems embarrassed that he almost said “Hell,” which is pretty funny after all his other meanness. Fred looks pretty amused by it too.
On his way out, Cratchit whispers “a very merry Christmas” to him and thanks him for his speech about the day. I like Bob Sweeney’s soft-spoken Cratchit. He’s got a nice, gentle spirit when he’s alone with Fred and it’s a shame that Scrooge suppresses it. I’m looking forward to watching him more closely.