GBS saw Seymour Hicks in a play on February 12th, 1898, and named him in the Saturday Review as “also in the cast,” (with four other persons) “which is unusually strong and well chosen.” GBS had occasion to find fault with most actors, and when a competent one appeared his custom was to let the event speak for itself. A mere handful of actors and actresses excited his pen to describe them, and we must take him at his word that young Mr. Hicks was a capable actor indeed.
Old Mr. Hicks is a very fine Scrooge. When he wakes upon his bed after his transports, he is shaking with fear, and takes hold of the bedcurtains like the loved ones he has spurned and cast aside. When the door is opened to him at his nephew Fred’s on Christmas morning, he steps in, a monstrous old sinner who has had the grace of repentance come upon him in a single night and does not know how to behave except with humility. He crosses to the Christmas tree, and in a two-shot the pain in his eyes over all his sins is blinked away and cast off for the sake of the day.
His jest upon poor Bob Cratchit is the last grinding of the old man out of him, and so you have the mystery expounded unto Nicodemus made flesh.
It’s a very good film, laying the groundwork for Edwin L. Marin’s superb A Christmas Carol for MGM, starring Reginald Owen, a very acute and intelligent Scrooge. Alastair Sim perhaps brings in more of the business side of him, and George C. Scott lets him be rebuked most vehemently by the Ghosts, while Albert Finney going around London singing “I hate people” is most despairing, and Bill Murray cuts to the quick of the brainless and heartless miser with not a care in the world but his own self-idolatry. Hicks is the all but lost soul not sizing up his chances, but sized up by them. You look in vain, perhaps, for one that will “convict of sin” (as GBS likes to say) our pathetic despots of the managerial magisterium, who keep Christmas the way they keep their books, i.e., as a humbug before God and man, but every Scrooge has his unforgettable turn, not the least of which is this from a time when the global economy was something more (or less) than a Policy Institute’s sneer.
The catacombs were combed for darkness fit to fill the bill of Edwards’s expressionism, as Scrooge’s luminous head swims in a sea of shadow, or two shadows’ hands grapple with the writing on the wall of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Of course the equal danger nowadays is that the man of sense and application, after wasting his life squeezing a dollar out of every fool and fairy in Cockaigne, will have a sham conversion and shower his millions on public enterprises run by men and women who suffer from his earlier ambition but not his initial skill. When the blind lead the blind, according to the proverb, the ditch has the best of it. But then, A Christmas Carol probably has no more to do with business than you have or anyone, or than the Divine Comedy has to do with Florentine political squabblings.
Hicks puts his great years to good use, throwing their weight into the balance to make a guest at nephew Fred’s blink and stare, and not as an exhibition to delight the hard hearts of studio piss-doctors.