Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bah Humbug..."A Christmal Carol" [1910]


Wikipedia...

A Christmas Carol, is a 1910 silent film directed by J. Searle Dawley for Edison. It runs 10 minutes and is one of the earliest film adaptations of Charles Dickens' famous 1843 novella. It featured Marc McDermott as Ebenezer Scrooge and Charles S. Ogle as Bob Cratchit.

The day before the Christmas holiday, Ebenezer Scrooge, a hard-fisted miser, refuses to contribute to the Charity Relief Committee, and then rudely rejects his nephew Fred when he visits Scrooge in his office. When Scrooge returns home, he sees the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley, who warns him of the punishment he will suffer in the next life if he does not change his ways. That night, Scrooge is visited by three more spirits, who show him his past, the present, and the future that awaits him.


IMDb reviewer, José Luis Rivera Mendoza, wrote...

While the first decade of the 20th Century was ending, cinema was rising as a new form of entertainment, and after more than 20 years of constant experimenting, it was beginning to show the elements of a new art form. Gone were the days of the early pioneers, and it was now the time of the very first filmmakers, those who would shape the new art form and develop the language of cinema. Director J. Searle Dawley, who considered himself as "the first motion picture director", was one of those first artists who would complete cinema's transformation from charming sideshow attraction to a full-fledged narrative art. Hired by film pioneer Edwin S. Porter to make new and original films, J. Searle Dawley would use his experience in theater to follow the steps of Vitagraph and adapt many popular novels to film. Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol" was one of them.

The story of "A Christmas Carol" is very well known, and while short, this early version remains faithful to the most important parts of the plot. Marc McDermott plays the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, a harsh man so concerned about money that on the day before Christmas refuses to donate to the Charity Relief Committee, neglects his worker Bob Cratchit (Charles Ogle) the permission to leave early and even rejects his nephew in a very rude manner when the young man comes to invite him to his Christmas celebration. However, that Christmas' night the old Scrooge sees the ghost of his former business partner Marley, who tells him that no good can come from that behavior, and warns him about the horrible punishment for those who follow those ways. Later that night, Scrooge will be visited by three spirits that will show him more than what Scrooge was ready to see.

"A Christmas Carol" wasn't directed only by J. Searle Dawley, as he was assisted by Vitagraph regular Charles Kent and newcomer Ashley Miller. Considering Kent's experience in adapting plays to screen for the Vitagraph Company, it is very possible that this short film was also written by him, or at least assisted Dawley with it. Considering it is only a short film, this version of Dicken's novel is remarkably faithful to the source, and manages to condense the most important parts of the tale without losing the novel's meaning. Obviously, it doesn't go into full detail about every scene and the script moves at a very fast pace, but that's natural because it had to cover a lot in a very short time. To the writers' credit, they managed to make the adaptation entertaining and easy to understand despite these shortcomings.

The cooperative work between Dawley, Miller and Kent is truly excellent in this film and make it stand out among the many early films by the Edison Manufacturing Company. Kent's experience in Vitagraph's versions of literature classics adds a lot of class to the movie and gets excellent performances from the actors. This style works perfectly well with Dawley's directing style, who makes the film look a bit less stagy than the usual Vitagraph movie by making interesting visual compositions and giving good use to the limited camera-work of the time. While, as written above, the story moves at a fast pace, the film flows nicely thanks to the narrative style of the directors. The highlights of the film are of course the visits by the four ghosts, done with an excellent use of several special effects (mostly double exposures) that look outstanding for its time and add a powerful eerie atmosphere to the movie.

In any version of "A Christmas Carol", the role of Scrooge is often one that can make or break the adaptation due to its enormous importance, and in this version Marc McDermott doesn't disappoint. A rising star in Edison's Studio, McDermott shows off his enormous talent for acting by playing the considerably older (McDermott was only 29 when filming this movie) in a very natural and convincing way. With the aid of makeup, McDermott delivers one of the best portrayals of Ebenezer Scrooge in film, by transforming himself into the wicked old miser with an extraordinary ease that makes the movie a must-see. The rest of the cast is very good too, although it is obvious that this movie depends completely on McDermott's performance. Interestingly, and uncredited Charles Ogle makes a small appearance in the role of Scrooge's clerk Bob Cratchit.

Judging the film by today's standards, the 1910 version of "A Christmas Carol" (or any other film from those years) could be seen as a stagy, uneven and incomplete attempt to adapt a classic story; however, set in the context of its time, it is actually one of the best silent movies of those early years of cinema. While not exactly the most innovative film of its time, it's easy to tell how the styles of J. Searle Dawley and Charles Kent would be of great influence to a young D.W. Griffith who was just starting his career in those years (in 1908 under Dawley's direction) and would develop cinema's language even further. With an amazing performance by Marc McDermott and the excellent direction by Dawley, Kent and Miller; this early version of Dickens' classic is a very good example of early film-making and a good choice to watch in Christmas. 


A Christmas Carol

1910

directed by

J. Searle Dawley


video

Ebenezer Scrooge [Wikipedia]

A Christmas Carol [Wikipedia]
 

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