My Favorite ScroogeDecember 25, 2011
My favorite Scrooge is Alfred Pennyworth himself, Michael Caine. The reason is uniquely Deevian: you spend enough time in theatre, certain shows become as familiar as Sunday mass to a strict catholic. Every year, just like the ballet does The Nutcracker and the art museum does a Festival of Trees, every theatre company in town does some form of A Christmas Carol.
Those lines that are pure Dickensian beauty lose their meaning through so much repetition:
“Keep Christmas in your own way and let me keep it in mine.”
“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes around with a ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips would be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”
“I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I cannot afford to make idle people merry.”
On Michael Caine’s lips, each one of those oh so familiar lines were fresh, completely new. The scene and therefore the man and his story became entirely new. I can’t imagine how he did it, how he found such insight, such an angle or inspiration to bring these words to life as never before–without changing a comma.
Because that’s the other thing about the annual theatre Christmas Carols. Just like comics, there are those who have the daft idea that nobody wants to see it the way it’s always been done, who have to wreck it with the idea that they’re putting their individual stamp on it: they give us the Homeless Christmas Carol, the hip hop Christmas Carol, and the horror fest Scrooge:Scared Straight that makes Tim Burton seem like a perfectly normal, well-adjusted guy without any creepy fixations on Christmas, snow, clowns, stitches or raising the dead. It never works, the audience flocks to the theatres who understand that the public wants the familiar on these things, that we want the traditional, the ritual. Every year The Nutcracker is done exactly the same way. Every year it’s a pine tree covered with lights and ornaments and not a pile of coat hangers strung with silly string. Every year it’s a turkey, ham or goose and not fish n’ chips. Things have been done this way forever because it’s right.
Michael Caine’s Scrooge made Ebenezer Scrooge new and fresh the right way – which is the hard way. I still have no idea how he did it, but there is one more thing that makes the feat insanely brilliant: He was playing to plush.
He was delivering those lines to a goddamn muppet.
I cannot wrap my brain around it, but there it is.
No wonder Nolan cast him to play an Alfred who was unique to his storyverse but absolutely true to the essence of the character.