So, we move on to the second apparition – the Ghost of Christmas Past.
In this “stave” we see that Scrooge’s problems are not only intellectual (a particularly brutal form of Malthusian Utilitarianism), but personal. Some of what occurs is taken directly from Dickens, but the film version goes out of its way to provide a plausible psychological explanation for Scrooge’s behaviour by, as we would say today, “fleshing out the back story“. (The Spirits are tough on hard-heartedness, tough on the causes on hard-heartedness).
Not only was he temporarily abandoned by a violent and capricious father, but he was lured away from the values instilled in him by the philanthropic small businessman Fezziwig by the unscrupulous Jorkin (a character who does not appear in the book). Jorkin believes in “progress”, and in replacing men with machines. I’m sure that, if you were to look hard enough, you could find some of the preoccupations of 1951 here, as well as those of 1843.
The film rather ducks out of trying to represent the Ghost. Unsurprisingly so, really …
“It was a strange figure — like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white, and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.”
(Also visible in this clip, George Cole as the young Scrooge, and Jack Warner (Evenin’ All) as Jorkin. The romantic scenes are a little in the spirit of Gainsborough Pictures).