SCREEN SCROOGES: The Charity Solicitors

          This lunatic, in letting Scrooge’s nephew out, had let two other people in.  They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge’s office.  They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

     “Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe,” said on of the gentlemen, referring to his list.  “Jave I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?”

     “Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,” Scrooge replied.  “He died seven years ago, this very night.”

     “We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner,” said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

     It certainly was, for they had been two kindred spirits.  At the ominous word “liberality”, Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

     “At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.  Many thousands are in want of common necessaries, hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

     “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

     “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

     “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge.  “Are they still in operation?”

     “They are.  Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

     “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

     “Both very busy, sir.”

      “Oh!  I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge.  “I’m very glad to hear it.”

      “Under the impression  that they scarcely furnish Christmas cheer of mind or body to the multitude,”
returned the gentleman, “A few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to but the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.  We choose this time because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.  What shall I put you down for?”

     “Nothing,” Scrooge replied.

     “You wish to be anonymous?”

     “I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge.  “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.  I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry.  I help to support the establishments I have mentioned; they cost enough, and those who are badly off must go there.”

     “They can’t go there, and many would rather die.”

     “If they would rather die,” said scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.  Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.”

     “But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

     “It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned.  “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s.  Mine occupies me constantly.  Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

     Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.  Scrooge resumed huis labors with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

     Whew!  Everybody enjoys this scene twice.  We get to feel superior to Scrooge’s meanness and yet, at the same time, we also get tired of fund drives and requests even from the worthiest charities.  So we hiss Scrooge at the same time we wish we had his strength of character in the face of altruism.  This scene is almost always rendered in full, with changes for passing time.  (You don’t really want to spend precious onscreen moments explaining what the treadmill and union workhouses were.)  Only Matthau omits it altogether; although it is lacking in the most common videocassette Hicks, the scene is in the full version.

     Finney and Scott give us the most elaborate variations, both outdoors.

     Finney meets two men only after he has locked up for the night, giving him an entire frozen street for his attempts to dodge their company.  A persistent and optimistic pair, however, they cut him off time and again, intent on their mission and confident that they will win a donation from him.  Trapping him briefly, one calls “Have we the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge or Mr. Marley?”  Scrooge snaps back, “It’s no pleasure to me, sir, to be addressed by either of you.”  The usual dialogue continues as he moves up stairs and down, through narrow alleys and around corners.  When he finally convinces them that the institutions he had been “forced to pay for…through taxation” are all the provision he intends to make for the poor, they stand stunned before his cry of “Humbug!”  This leads to two musical numbers, his own jolly diatribe “I Hate People” as he pushes through a holiday crowd collecting money from slow paying customers en route, and “Father Christmas”, a song used by the carolers to torment him.  (They also steal his hat and play Keepaway with it.)

     Scott leaves the office first that evening, snarling at Cratchit not to close a minute early before going through the “You’ll want the whole day” exchange (see later chapter.)  Outside, he towers over Tiny Tim, growling “Humbug” at him, pushes through a group of carolers, and gleefully drives a hard bargain for corn at the Exchange.  Leaving that discussion, he finds his way blocked by two men.  “Mr. Scrooge, I presume?”  “Indeed you do, sir.”  “You don’t know us.”  “Nor do I wish to,” he returns; this is not an option with such determined solicitors.  Their names are Poole and Hacking, which interests Scrooge not at all.  He continues to try to walk past them.  When he does finally gather what they want, his face falls like an avalanche.  “Are you seeking money from me, then?” he demands.  Most of the speeches as written follow.  Scrooge’s two most outrageous remarks—“the poor must go there” and “Then they had better die”—are delivered with smiles.  “Surely you don’t mean that, sir,” they protest.  “With all my heart,” he replies.  “Now, if you will go about your business, gentlemen, and allow me to go about mine.”

     Hicks, in the uncut version, has this at the very beginning of the picture.  Cratchit has just started to slip over to steal coal when he spots two figures approaching through the fog.  He opens the door; they cough and wish him a merry Christmas.  He asks them inside, perhaps so he can close the door and shut out the fog.  “Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe?”  Bob asks if there is something he can do for them and is told “Well, if it is quite convenient, I would like to speak to a member of the firm.”  Scrooge turns to let his face be seen for the first time.  “You, ah, wish to see me I presume, sir.”  “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge or Mr. Marley?”  “Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years.”  “Oh.”  “Dead as a doornail.  Died seven years ago this very night.”  The solicitors now explain they called at Mr. Scrooge’s address, assuming he’d have closed by now, but no one answered.  Scrooge states that this is hardly surprising, since no one else lives there.  The solicitors get down to business; Scrooge’s face turns petulant.  He begins to walk around the office, passing them several times as they talk.  “Are there no prisons?” elicits a glance between the men, and a subdued “Yes.”  Somehow, however, they feel they are convincing him.  One finally bursts out, “What shall I put you down for?”  “Nothing,” dismays them only briefly; one exclaims, “Oh!  Oh, I see!  You wish to remain anonymous!”  There is an explosive reply; we watch the faces of the solicitors as each realizes what sort of man they are dealing with.  In parting, one makes a final attempt, apologizing for anything her might have said that upset Mr. Scrooge.  Scrooge snaps “Good evening!”

     Owen is one of the few versions to accord full dignity to the two men, laughing at them not at all.  Scrooge is annoyed by the very entrance of Messers. Twill and Grubbage, who ask Bob Cratchit whether HE is Mr. Scrooge or Mr. Marley.  Scrooge barks that Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years; he died seven years ago this very night.  “On Christas Eve.  Tsk tsk,” says one man.  “As good a time as any!” snaps Scrooge.  As the solicitors explain about many being in want of common comforts, Bob Cratchit nods agreement; fortunately, Scrooge does not observe this.  Scrooge finally chases the men out, even as they are apologizing for the interruption.  “Humbug!” he snarls, before turning his glare on Cratchit.

     Sim I arrives at his office to find two very ingratiating men smiling at him.  They begin to speak but he walks past as if he has not seen them at all.  Eventually, the written conversation takes place.  When, in response to Scrooge’s inquiries about prisons and so forth, one man begins to explain that a few of them are trying to raise a fund to buy the poor some meat and drink, Scrooge breaks in with “Why?”  When he tells them “Nothing”, his accompanying laugh would quench the spirits of all but the most ardent crusaders.  They, for their part, are not shy about showing disapproval.  When Scrooge tells them, “Besides, it’s not my business”, the chief solicitor replies, firmly, “Isn’t it, sir?”  Dismissed, they say nothing to him.

     March’s solicitors start early by receiving ten pounds from Jonas, the man who is buying “A Christmas Carol” at a bookstore.  (This is a rare edition with the opening credits for this picture in it.)  Checking a scroll, they move on to the firm of Scrooge & Marley.  When they ask whom they are addressing, Scrooge growls, “That’s Marley,” pointing to a rather impressionistic portrait.  The “Nothing” sequence comes immediately after, but the men persist.  Scrooge ignores them and their expressions of concern and disbelief, stalking around them from desk to desk in his office.  When he declares his sentiments, he follows “decrease the surplus population” with a grin, as if expecting them to laugh with him.  They exchange a look.  Finally  he shows them the door.

     Rathbone skips this sequence.

     Magoo looks bored throughout the visit; he’s heard it all before.  He is loud on the “I wish to be left alone” and ends the interview by shaking his fist and ordering “Begone!  Out!”

     Haddrick wears a tight scowl throughout, and goes on writing.  The only variation in the scene as written is one of punctuation.  When asked if the noble institutions Scrooge supports are in operation, one solicitor replies.  “They are still.  I wish I could say they are not.”

     Sim II is confronted by a pair of portly, balding men.  He is brusque, far too busy for this sort of thing.  Further, he had dealt with this sort of request many’s the time.  First he states that the poor had better go to the establishments he has mentioned but does not let the reply, explaining that they will no doubt tell him many would rather die, and goes on to suggest they do so.  “Good evening, gentlemen,” is followed by a glowing grin of triumph and self-satisfaction.

     McDuck is the only Scrooge who welcomes the two men, under the impression that they are customers.  (Perhaps the other Scrooges are accustomed to clients too desperate for polite conversation.)  The solicitors here are Rat and Mole, from “The Adventures of Mr. Toad”.  Scrooge gets rid of them through a quibble: if he gives them money, they will give it to the poor who won’t be poor any more, so the two men will be out of work raising money for them.  Surely they wouldn’t ask Scrooge to put them out of work ON CHRISTMAS EVE.  Once he has them outside again, he becomes fierce, hurling Fred’s wreath at them.  Slamming the door, he sighs, “What’s the world coming to, Cratchit?  You work all your life to make money and people want you to give it away!”

     In Caine, Charles Dickens explains the mission of the two men (Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker.)  They do not speak of Marley; Scrooge, exasperated by nephew Fred, snaps “Who are you?”  They are from the Order of Victoria Charities, raising funds for the poor and destitute.  Fred joins in the following conversation, footnoting his uncle’s replies; when Scrooge asks if he hasn’t other things to do, he makes a donation himself and then leaves.  Scrooge finally shows them the door as well and tells them to use it.

     Curry also points to a portrait of Marley when explaining Mr. Marley died seven years ago this very night.  Just as the solicitors are saying they are sure Mr. Marley’s generosity is shared by his surviving partner, Bob returns from fetching the coal Scrooge threw at the carolers earlier, and is abashed when Scrooge snarls at him for being one lump of coal short.  This rightly worries the solicitors.  But they hurry optimistically to “What shall I put you down for?”  Scrooge replies that his taxes pay for the prisons and the workhouses, and that the poor must go there.  When they persist, he sets his dog on them.  Debit does tear a chunk out of the taller man’s coat.

     Stewart is offered a hand by the solicitors; he does not take it.  He is not in a welcoming mood.  On explaining that Mr. Marley died seven years ago this very night, he turns reflective, saying it to himself as if the thought had just occurred to him.  When Mr. Williams and Mr. Foster express regret at Marley’s death, Scrooge wonders whether they are relatives of his old partner.  As the conversation goes on, these men grow increasingly uneasy; Cratchit retires to the security of the Tank.  During the explanation of their errand, they pause to ask if Mr. Scrooge does not agree.  Scrooge asks if they are new to the district.  His subsequent declaration “I wish to be left alone” is simple exasperation.  After declaring that the poor had better do their best to decrease the surplus population, he orders Cratchit to show the men out.

            FUSS FUSS FUSS #4: What did Scrooge & Marley DO?

    The partnership was clearly no multinational corporation, as all the work seems to be done by Ebenezer Scrooge and his clerk.  A;; we know from Dickens is they the firm has a warehouse with a counting house (finance department) attached.  Craychit, we are told, is copying letters, a necessity in the days before copy machines and computer files.

     Later, Marley does refer to the office as a “money-changing hole”; this had led many people to conclude that Scrooge is a moneylender (an occupation considered a sin in and of itself by many Christian commentators.)  Finney is the most explicit about this; his sign declares the firm to be “Private Merchant Bankers and Moneylenders”.  Later, we get to watch Scrooge gouge higher interest payments on outstanding loans to a Punch and Judy operator, a druggist, an elderly pair of old clothes dealers, and, most notably, Tom Jenkins, the hot soup man.  As for other versions which are specific, Scott speculates in the grain market, while Caine appears to have invested his profits in real estate, becoming a slumlord.  Fred declares to Sim I that he has come neither for a loan nor a mortgage.

     And how honest were Scrooge and Marley?  This is discussed by most versions on reaching Jacob Marley’s appearance to his old partner, which allows Marley to wail about the misdeeds which led to his eternal punishment.  McDuck frankly makes Marley a swindler, while Curry’s Marley can point to individual segments of his long chain and remember the individual crimes involved; he speaks of the time he cheated old Mrs. Avery.  March’s Marley complains about thousands of injustices he committed without stating whether these were legal,; he elaborates only to the extent of bemoaning deeds of unkindness and the echo of empty houses.  In general, the screenwriters attribute Marley’s fate and Scrooge’s probable damnation to their dishonest practices in dealing with the poor.  (Especially against widows and orphans; the responsibility of a villain to evict widows and orphans is a theatrical tradition of long standing.)

     Oddly, apart from calling Scrooge an old sinner, Dickens doesn’t say anything to imply that ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley were anything but honest men.  He seems to have felt that greed, disappropriation of the poor, and general injustice were perfectly possible within the law.  And some people accuse him of being a clueless idealist.

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