“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
“Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!”
He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face ruddy and handsome’ his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure.”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily, “What right have you to be dismal? What right have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”
Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said “Bah!” again, and followed it up with “Humbug!”
“Don’t be cross,. uncle,” said his nephew.
“What else can I be?” returned the uncle, “When I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money’ a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ‘em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge, indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.
“Nephew!” replied the uncle, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”
“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good has it ever done you!”
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew; “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good, and I say God bless it!”
The clerk in the tank voluntarily applauded; becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and extinguished the last frail spark forever.
“Let me hear another word from YOU,” said Scrooge, “And you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation. You’re quite a powerful speaker, sir,” he added, turning to his nephew, “I wonder you don’t go into parliament.”
“Don’t be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us tomorrow!”
Scrooge said that he would see him–yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first.
“But why?” cried Scrooge’s nephew. “Why?”
“Why did you get married?” said Scrooge.
“Because I fell in love.”
“Because you fell in love,” growled Scrooge, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. “Good afternoon!”
“Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me before that happened. Why give it as a reason for not coming now?”
“Good afternoon,” said Scrooge.
“I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?”
“Good afternoon,” said Scrooge.
“I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humour to the last. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!”
“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.
“And a Happy New Year!”
“Good afternoon!!” said Scrooge.
His nephew left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding. He stopped at the outer door to bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, who, cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned them cordially.
“There’s another fellow,” muttered Scrooge; who overheard him, “my clerk, with fifteen shillings a week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas. I’ll retire to Bedlam.”
This is all good fun just as Dickens wrote it, with rolling speeches and plenty of spots open for comic business. Most versions rearrange, abridge, or expand the dialogue. Scrooge’s big speech is often cut to the punchline about being boiled and buried with a stake of holly and so forth, while that of nephew Fred (who, like Bob Cratchit, has no name yet) is often replaced with a new one expressing whatever the filmmaker thought this version was here to prove. Bob Cratchit’s part in the scene is in direct proportion to his importance to his place in the cast generally.
Apart from these speeches, which even Dickens cut very little in his live performances, what the screenwriters like best are Scrooge’s increasingly explosive “Good afternoons” to dismiss his nephew, and Fred’s defiance of his uncle by pausing to chat with Bob on his way offscreen. Touches not in Dickens which seem to be becoming traditional include Fred’s offered handshakes, rebuffed y his uncle, and a Christmas gift for Scrooge, similarly rebuffed. This is most often a wreath, though Matthau’s Fred brings two gifts, a necktie and a poinsettia, which speaks to his generosity if not his originality.
Whatever the added business, the speeches make this scene. Fred represents the Forces of Good and delivers a ringing endorsement of, as noted, whatever the true Meaning of Christmas is this time. For his part, Scrooge gets to fulminate against any facet of the holiday which strikes the filmmaker as being vital. (Sometimes, indeed, he seems to swing toward the side of the angels, decrying the mindless shopping.) The speeches also set up the fan/Fred storyline encountered later and, most important, gives our hero his first “Bah!” and his first “Humbug!”
Fred is generally a hearty, good-looking chap, sometimes as young as twenty, sometimes apparently in his mid-thirties. (In Finney, he looks hardly younger than his uncle.) He retains his youthful idealism and enthusiasm. Of course, in every version he is well-dressed and well-fed, hardly in danger of the abject poverty Scrooge feels he is risking.
Three versions make major revisions of the scene, most notably Owen. That version, in fact, opens with Fred, whom we meet strolling along the street and impulsively joining boys who slide on the ice. In doing so, he makes the acquaintance of Tim and Peter Cratchit, and performs another slide with Tim on his shoulders. He explains later that he knows their father, and is headed in that direction. They give him a note from their mother, so they won’t need to enter the den of the fearsome Mr. Scrooge, who doesn’t like small boys. Fred says he knows this; when he reveals he is Mr. Scrooge’s nephew, they run away.
Fred visibly braces himself before entering the office, but finds Bob Cratchit alone. He also finds it cold, and urges Bob to put a little more coal on the fire, only to be reminded that Mr. Scrooge disapproves of such waste. Fred produces a bottle of port, unbroken in an earlier fall on the ice, to keep off the chill. His speech in its honor—“the fifth essence of the Christmas spirit”—so excites Bob that not only does he step into Scrooge’s office to borrow a glass (Scrooge uses it for cold medicine) but even puts more coal on the fire. They are about to drink when Scrooge enters, and glares. This not only keeps Bob from drinking, but, as soon as he is unobserved, starts to pull the extra coal OFF the fire.
The scene now continues much as written. Fred offers his uncle a handshake, which is refused. When he delivers his version of the speech about Christmas, Bob, listening outside the room, applauds and then tries to cover the sound by poking the fire, which he does here and in Dickens, but nowhere else.
Owen’s Fred is a very 1930s movie hero; if this were a western, he’d leave the office to ride out to save the rancher’s daughter from rustlers and pumas. He is not yet married to “Bess”; his invitation is for Scrooge to come and dine with his fiancée’s family. Unfortunately, this is the first Scrooge has heard of the engagement. When Fred tries to reassure him, telling him they will of course not marry until there is enough money, the old boy is immediately suspicious. “Has she tried HER relatives?” he demands. In spite of his snappish uncle, Fred keeps his Christmas humor to the last, laughing through much of the “Good afternoons”.
Matthau is alerted to the approach of Fred by Bob Cratchit, who is perhaps trying to distract him from the purloined lump of coal. Scrooge wonders aloud what “that fool” wants, prompting Bob to reply, “I like him, sir. His smile warms my heart.”
The debate between uncle and nephew about Christmas is rendered in song: “When You Say Merry Christmas, I Say Bah!” Scrooge’s main complaint about Christmas seems to be the unjustifiable expense. When Fred offers gifts, he hurls them away, making rude remarks about St. Nicholas, the spendthrift. Invited to dinner, Scrooge, at his most W.C. Fieldsian, exclaims, “Christmas dinner! What a repugnant, revolting institution!” The song then moves to a description of Christmas food.
Throughout this, Bob Cratchit (and our narrator, B.A.H. Humbug) grow more shocked at Scrooge’s remarks, Bob at one point having to restrain the infuriated Humbug. But Fred keeps his Christmas humor to the last. “I pity you, Uncle. Maybe I’ll never be as rich as you, but I’ll go to my grave still believing in a merry Christmas.”
“A wonderful Christmas.”
“A magnificent Christmas!”
On that, Fred exits, singing “An Old-Fashioned Christmas”.
Stewart’s Fred is a well-dressed young man of mischief. He peers through the window and gestures to Cratchit for silence, so he can surprise his uncle. His uncle is less surprised than exasperated.
They move through to the dialogue about poor and rich (instead of “poor enough” and “rich enough”.) “Damn your merry Christmas!” snaps Scrooge at last. He goes on with the speech about idiots being boiled with their own pudding; this is not very forceful, a grumble to himself at best, and Fred, though he grimaces, seems inclined to think his uncle is making a joke.
“I still say merry Christmas.”
“That’s all you do say.”
Fred goes on to his speech in favor of Christmas, which Bob applauds, having come to the door to listen. Scrooge turns, like a sadistic schoolmaster facing a student who has dropped a pencil.
“You said something, Mr. Cratchit?”
“Another sound out of you and you’ll make this a truly merry Christmas by losing your job.”
Fred pleads for Cratchit, but Scrooge pays this no heed, and shifts to a discussion of Fred’s marriage. Invited to dine, Scrooge says he’ll see Fred damned first, and calls love a humbug.
“So you won’t come to see me because I married.”
“Well, you never came to see me when I wasn’t married.”
Fred does not quite keep his Christmas humor to the last; his “Happy New Year” has at least as much anger in it as benevolence. After Fred has departed, Scrooge turns on his clerk again.
“You find my nephew amusing, Cratchit?”
“He’s a very pleasant fellow.”
“You’re another Christmas lunatic like him.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“It seems you doubt me, Mr. Cratchit.” Instead of using the “I’ll retire to Bedlam” speech as an aside, Scrooge uses it to further humiliate his employee.
Outside, Fred moves along until asked for directions by a pair of well-dressed men. They are new to the district, they explain, and are soliciting funds for charity. They would like to find the offices of Scrooge & Marley. Fred tells them how to find these, without a word of warning, merely making a face at the thought of what lies ahead for them.
The other versions of the story, without making quite such extensive rewrites, add their own bits of business. Hicks show his origins by speaking of burying Christmas lunatics not with a stake of holly through their heart but ‘olly through their ‘eart. (Fred also speaks of people opening their shut ‘earts.) On the line “paying bills without money”, he knocks one of Fred’s parcels from his nephews arms, and is about to say exactly where he’d see his nephew rather than dine with him when Fred demands “But why? Why?” . Two good afternoons (which are good evenings in this version) are replaced. When Fred states that he asks nothing and wants nothing, Scrooge snaps, “Well, ye won’t get it, so ye won’t be disappointed, will ye?” The final good evening becomes “You’re a noisy devil, that’s what you are, sir!” On his way out, it becomes clear that Fred and Bob know each other; Bob offerings the wishes of the season to “Mrs. Fred” as well.
In Sim I, Fred is enough in awe of his uncle to knock before entering. Scrooge won’t even look up at the offered handshake. The dialogue is quickly handled; it is obvious that this Fred married against his uncle’s express wishes. Fred’s Christas humor is enduring stuff; he actually whacks his uncle on the shoulder in hearty cheer on departing; Scrooge calls “Humbug!” after him. The old uncle looks uncomfortable (guilty?) at the leavetaking. During the chat with Bob at the door, we find Fred knows Cratchit well enough to wish a merry Christmas to the “small assorted Cratchits” and even ask after “:”the little lame boy”. Bob says Tim is getting stronger every day, and you can see in his face that chatting with Fred has brought him warmth and hope.
In March, as in Sim I, the scene comes after that with the Charity Solicitors. Here is the most robust of Freds, who talks as heartily as he sings, and provokes the most violent reactions on the part of his uncle. It is difficult to say here whether Scrooge detests Christmas or his nephew more. He does throw Fred a grin after expressing a wish see each of certain idiots buried with a stake of holly “through his fatuous heart”. Invited to dinner, Scrooge declares, “I’ll see you in…well, you know the place I mean. I’ll see you there first.” When Fred leaves, it is Bob who stops him, telling him his speech about Christmas really made his day. An exasperated Scrooge growls the “I’ll retire to Bedlam” line, adding “They’re all mad” for good measure.
Rathbone’s Fred is a well set-up man in his early thirties. He greets Bob first, by name, and Cratchit returns the greeting. Scrooge immediately shuts his money-box. There follows a very condensed version of the dialogue, which includes no mention of boiling with pudding or retiring to Bedlam. The :Good afternoons” are there (though Fred called “Good evening, Bob!” on his way in.) In pace of the final “Good afternoon”, Scrooge merely snuffs out his candle.
Haddrick’s Fred is a chinless buffoon with one protruding tooth. For no wildly apparent reason, he delivers his Christmas speech in song, while Bob daydreams in the Tank. Scrooge sings back that Christmas is not an excuse for confounded good cheer. Invited to dinner, he replies, “Never. And especially not at Christmas.” (By the way, the version is not a musical, and this is the only song sung by characters in the whole picture.)
Sim II and Fred deliver most of this dialogue nose=to-nose across Scrooge’s counting table. Fred is heavyset, with pronounced laughlines about his eyes. Cratchit is visibly troubled by the idea of boiling someone with his own pudding. Invited to dinner, Scrooge replies simply, “Never.” Fred looks genuinely grieved when saying he is sorry to find his uncle so resolute. Scrooge here uses his final “Good afternoon!” to object to Fred wishing Bob a merry Christmas.
Finney’s Fred is named Harry, and is a roundfaced jolly chap who announces that it is a joy to see his uncle’s smiling face. Scrooge has just chased off the carolers and warned Cratchit about having a sense of humor, and is NOT in the mood for merriment from his nephew. “God save you!” cries Harry. “God save me from Christmas. It’s a humbug.” But Harry has come in full expectation of sour replies, and enjoys them. In answer to “You’re rich enough”, Scrooge snaps that there is no such thing as rich enough, only poor enough. He orders Harry to leave him alone during business hours. Harry states that 3 P.M. on Christmas Eve is not business hours, but drudgery for the sake of it, and an insult to all men of good will. It is to this that Bob calls a determined “Here here!” Scrooge rebukes him and then snarls to his nephew, “I wonder you don’t go into politics. You’re fool enough.” Invited to dine, Scrooge declares that the “hypocrisy of a happy marriage to some idiot lovesick female” is the only thing “more nauseating” than a merry Christmas. Fred enjoys his uncle’s wrath exceedingly during the “Good afternoons”, telling Scrooge as he departs that his uncle is always welcome,
just like Christmas itself.”
Scrooge McDuck’s nephew is, as all the world knows, Donald Duck. His Christmas wishes to his uncle are exuberant,. But when Scrooge declares Christmas is “just another work day”, adding an abbreviated version of the boiled with his own pudding speech, it is Bob Cratchit who replies with Fred’s speech in defense of Christmas. Fred merely endorses this with “I say merry Christmas”, which Bob applauds. Scrooge is affronted; Bob, suddenly abashed, claims he was just keeping his hands warm. Fred hands over a wreath and invites his uncle to Christmas dinner. Scrooge leads his nephew on for a while. But then announces he’ll just get indigestion, jams the wreath down over his nephew’s head, and kicks the poor duck out into the snow. Fred, defiant, returns to hang the wreath on a doorknob and wish his uncle one more merry Christmas. “That Fred,” says Bob, “Always so full of kindness.” “Ayre,” says Scrooge, “He always was a little peculiar.”
Scott’s Fred is a brooding Byronic hero who betrays not a spark of Christmas humor through the whole visit. Scrooge shows his own sense of humor, as well as much forbearance, in sitting through Fred’s lecture, as well as his clerk’s defiant applause. In response to the dinner invitation, Scrooge growls, “I’d see myself in Hell first.” He growls “Idiot!” as his nephew departs.
Caine combine’s Fred’s visit with that of the Charity Solicitors (which see, next installment) allowing Fred a great deal of fun at his uncle’s expense. (Fred donates to the fund himself.)
Curry’s Fred is a handsome, square-faced man (who looks a whole lot like Bob Cratchit, actually.) As Bob is outside fetching coal during most of this scene, a mouse takes his place, fainting away in dead shock at “Stuffed like a turkey, buried with a stake of holly through his heart” but chittering cheerily at Fred’s speech in defense of the holiday. He is later chased away by Scrooge and by Debit. Some dialogue is altered. To Fred’s “:But you don’t keep it”, Scrooge replies, “No. I keep busy.” But this is one of the few versions which keep in the bit about “its sacred name and origin”; Scrooge and Debit cover their ears at this. Fred finally concludes, “If you want to be miserable, fine!”, one of the least Dickensian lines in any production.