A Christmas Carol (1938)

by Paul on December 7, 2012

Post image for A Christmas Carol (1938)

 ★★★

 

At this point in the history of the movies, there are so many different versions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol it’s hard to know which one (or which few) are the best to watch each year. When sorting through the different films, IA Christmas Carol (1938) decided to re-watch the earliest version that I have, the 1938 A Christmas Carol directed by Edwin L. Marin. By now most everybody knows the story, and it is hardly necessary to give much of a synopsis. The story of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) getting the rare opportunity to be escorted by “spirits” as he takes a look at the suffering he has caused in his life, is brilliant, refreshing and the perfect holiday story to help everyone embrace the holiday spirit.

This 1938 film is a decent telling of Dickens’s story, especially for younger audiences. It has a running time of 69 minutes, and leaves out all of the dark, haunting images and the despair of Scrooge himself. Basically it is a sugarcoated version of the story that focuses on the “new” life of Scrooge as a changed man. In fact his transformation happens so quickly it is a little unbelievable. A few changes have been made from Dickens’s original story, such as the greater importance that was A Christmas Carol (1938)placed on the character of Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Barry MacKay). Instead of being married in the film, he is only engaged, while trying to save up enough money to be able to support a family. His relationship with his fiancé, Bess (Lynne Carver), is more prominent, in order to have a romantic story in the film. Conversely, the scenes involving Scrooge’s love interest in his youth, and his decision to favor greed over love, have been left out completely. Also in this film, Scrooge fires Bob Cratchit (Gene Lockhart) on Christmas Eve, after Cratchit hits Scrooge with a snowball. (I don’t know why this change was made; it doesn’t seem to make much sense.)

Reginald Owen is a decent Scrooge, but he performance doesn’t stand out as anything except adequate. Some of his problems arise from the quick pace of the film, but his early scenes just aren’t mean enough, and his later scenes lack the warmth andA Christmas Carol (1938) kindness that a great Scrooge requires.

In the same respect, the Cratchit family doesn’t exactly hold true to the qualities of a starving family. Lockhart, although delightful and pleasant, is a little big to convince me he is starving, and Tiny Tim (Terry Kilburn) doesn’t look very sickly. However, I will say that the relationship between Bob Cratchit and his family seems very realistic. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Gene Lockhart’s real wife, Kathleen Lockhart, plays Bob Cratchit’s wife, and their daughter June Lockhart is one of their children in the film. (I always love it when they do those kinds of things.)

The standout performances come from the spirits. Leo G Carroll A Christmas Carol (1938)plays Marley’s ghost, and not only are the special effects pretty good, but also his individual performance is perfect with the novel. D’Arcy Corrigan is the menacing ghost of Christmas future, and in just a few minutes of screen time (no “face” time) and without speaking, he is absolutely haunting. As the complete opposite, a young and glorious Ann Rutherford is the ghost of Christmas past, and she shines (both literally and figuratively) on the screen. Leave it to the ghosts to steal the film.

After having recently watched Disney’s 2009 computer animated A Christmas Carol, I became aware that although a true telling of the Dicken’s classic, it was much too frightening and dark for young children. It was made to be a thrilling adventure film, instead of aa Christmas Carol (1938) heart-tugging drama. The 1938 film is a perfect introduction to those who aren’t familiar with this story, or are just looking for a light-hearted telling. It is similar to the 1940 Pride And Prejudice, in how the film tells the classic story in a shortened, easygoing manner that is understandable for everyone.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura December 7, 2012 at 3:37 PM

I’m extremely fond of this 1938 version — I think I like it exactly because it is sugarcoated (grin). Some versions of the story are quite scary, and this one, with its MGM gloss, goes over very easily when one is looking for a little lighter Christmas fare. I’m also fond of it just because it’s the first version I ever saw and it was on TV a lot when I was growing up. You make a good point that this shortened telling feels rather like the MGM PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

When I’m in the mood for a more realistic version, I really like the George C. Scott TV movie.

Best wishes,
Laura

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Paul December 7, 2012 at 4:34 PM

My kids and I are watching the film tonight, but after it ends my wife and I are watching either George C. Scott (who is probably the best Scrooge) or the Albert Finney version. Can’t wait either way.

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Tracy December 22, 2012 at 8:06 AM

It’s JUNE Lockhart, not Judy.

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Paul December 22, 2012 at 8:10 AM

Thanks for catching that for me!

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