The timeworn Dickens' story about the old merchant Scrooge and how his own disappointments in life shape his view that both life and men are not worthy of his notice or concern. He displays no charity to mankind generally, and in particular, to his employee Bob Cratchett and his unfortunate son, Tiny Tim. But the dessicated gent is about to get his comeuppance when he imagines he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
Reginald Owen ... Ebenezer Scrooge
Gene Lockhart ... Bob Cratchit
Kathleen Lockhart ... Mrs. Cratchit
Terry Kilburn ... Tiny Tim
Barry MacKay ... Fred (as Barry Mackay)
Lynne Carver ... Bess
Leo G. Carroll ... Marley's Ghost
Lionel Braham ... Spirit of Christmas Present
Ann Rutherford ... Spirit of Christmas Past
D'Arcy Corrigan ... Spirit of Christmas Future
Ronald Sinclair ... Young Scrooge
I am a huge fan of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'. I have read the unabridged novelette several times - Always during the Christmas Season - Over the past few years, and it is my most favorite piece of literature ever written. It therefore follows, that I am also a huge fan of the major cinematic productions based on the story, which I have seen over the years (Though that doesn't necessarily mean that I like them all).
There have been 6 'real' photoplays of 'A Christmas Carol'. 'Real' meaning: Live action, taking place around the time of the original story, and with most - If not all - Of the original characters. Under the title of 'Scrooge', there was the 1951 version - With Alistair Sim as Scrooge, the 1970 musical, with Albert Finney, and the rather obscure 1935 version, with Sir Seymour Hicks. Under the title 'A Christmas Carol', there were the made-for-TV productions: 1984 - With George C. Scott, 1999 - With Patrick Stewart, and this one, released by MGM in 1938, which I rank at #4.
Reginald Owen makes a pretty good Scrooge , though his English accent is practically non-existent (Odd, for a native Englishman), which detracts from his characterization. He overplays the 'old man' routine (He was only 51, at the time) of walking with his back hunched over, and his makeup could have been improved upon (That tuft of hair in the middle of his bald head, looks totally phony).
Barry MacKay is excellent, and very likable as Scrooge's Nephew, Fred. Leo G. Carroll plays a rather drab, soft-spoken Ghost Of Jacob Marley, and makes what should be a terrifying character downright boring. Lionel Braham is quite pleasant as The Ghost Of Christmas Present, and Ann Rutherford - Only 18, at the time - Does very well with her turn as The Ghost Of Christmas Past, but her screen time is way too short, thanks to the omission of some of the 'Christmas Past' sequences, from the book.
A rather rotund Gene Lockhart does well as Bob Cratchit, but doesn't fit the role, physically. Two of Mr. Lockhart's real-life family members play two members of his on-screen family. His Wife, Kathleen, plays Mrs.Cratchit, and his Daughter, June (Later, of TV's 'Lassie', and 'Lost In Space', plays the younger Cratchit Daughter, Belinda. Mrs. Lockhart does quite well, but it bothered me a bit, that her character willingly and cheerfully drinks to Mr. Scrooge's health, in the Christmas Day toast.
Elvira Stevens, in a very brief 'Christmas Past' sequence, is delightful as Fran ('Fan' in the book), Scrooge's young Sister, and was very close to the character described by Dickens. Terry Kilburn was hard to accept, as Tiny Tim. He was too old (13 at the time), and definitely too big for the part, and appears way too healthy to be afflicted with the unnamed debilitating disease of Dickens' story.
I was disappointed that some sequences from the book were left out, in favor of some made-up scenes. The Christmas Eve dance at Fezziwig's warehouse, Scrooge's ill-fated love affair with Belle, and the 'Old Joe' scenes are the most notable absences. The producers apparently wanted to keep this film short, but it seems to me that they could have included at least one of these book sequences in place of - For instance - The snowball-throwing scene, which isn't in the original story.
Overall, this is a pretty good movie. Though not nearly as faithful to Dickens' story as it could have been, some good sets and costumes convey well, the Old London atmosphere, and the special effects aren't bad, if you don't judge them by later standards. If one can overlook some writing, acting, and casting shortcomings, it's a fairly pleasant diversion for a cold holiday season evening.
We are tremendous enthusiasts of A Christmas Carol in our household and watch virtually all the versions each Christmas, including the modern 1984 George C. Scott and the 1999 Patrick Stewart. Our overall favorite, however, is the 1951 black & white classic with Alastair Sim, who absolutely IS Ebeneezer Scrooge, his conversion ringing the truest. (See my comments on these other films, if interested) This older 1938 version makes a delightful story with a fine, though Hollywood generated, atmosphere. Of course one could never expect in those days to see all the location filming or special effects available today.
Reginald Owen, with his stooped figure and awkward gait, makes a likely looking Scrooge. My main problem with this movie is that he simply repents far too early. Before the Spirit of Christmas Past has taken leave, this Scrooge regrets his past miserliness and is ready to give generously & make merry. What is the point of the other two Spirits?
In addition to Scrooge's totally premature conversion, however, this movie takes far too many liberties with the novel. To name but a few... First, during Marley's ghostly visit, Scrooge summons to his chambers a trio of police officers from the street below his window. Not only is this unfaithful to the book, but totally destroys the ghostly, eerie, haunted atmosphere of the spectre's visit and poor Scrooge's resulting terror.
This adaptation makes no mention whatsoever of the young apprentice Scrooge's sweetheart, Belle, or his tragically failed romance. It does depict his sister, Fan, as younger, in keeping with the novel ...unlike most versions, which erroneously portray her as older, and claim that Scrooge's mother died in childbirth when he was born. However, Fan is, frankly, an annoying little chatterbox here!
The nephew, Fred, is supposed to be married, but in this tale he is engaged to Bess, their marriage apparently contingent on an improvement in his financial prospects. Lots of fabricated scenes, with the pair sliding in front of a church. However, I can forgive all this as Fred is wonderfully jolly & hearty, true to the book. In fact, he's one of the best Freds.
Bob Cratchit is jolly & likable but a wee bit too plump for the role of the poor clerk! Also, there's a fabricated story here in which Scrooge sacks Bob altogether. Tiny Tim is cute but far too old for the role; he's practically as tall as his father. Mrs. Cratchit is convincing, except that she is actually the one who proposes a toast to Scrooge after their Christmas dinner...quite the opposite of the novel's Mrs. Cratchit, who must be coaxed and cajoled by Bob before deigning to lift her glass to the health of her long-suffering husband's oppressive, stingy employer. That being said, otherwise it's one of the better versions of the Cratchit family's dinner, the goose & pudding scenes all beautifully done.
The worst offense is a complete elimination of the 'morning after Christmas' office scene, in which Scrooge normally shows his newfound benevolence to the flabbergasted Bob. This is usually my favorite scene in the entire movie. In this version, Scrooge actually delivers his Christmas turkey to the Cratchits personally himself on Christmas Day, with nephew, Fred, and his fiancée, Bess, both in tow.
However, the Spirits are well depicted, Christmas Past a beautiful & ethereal young lady, Christmas Present a hearty & benevolent giant (who sprinkles from his torch the essence of Christmas cheer five times distilled), and Christmas Yet To Come the typical darkly shrouded & foreboding figure. It's all well intended and difficult to really ruin this wonderful story. For all its omissions, embellishments, and deviations, it still makes for entertaining and heartwarming holiday viewing.
Their has been so many versions of this classic Dickens tale filmed that it is hard to keep track of them all. Other than the George C. Scott version , I couldn't really remember which of the old ones I liked. I certainly have seen them all but I didn't really remember the difference between them. For the holiday season this last year(2005), I decided to buy the 3 major versions(1938,1951,1982)to compare. This 1938 version is probably my second favourite version after the 1984 George C. Scott version. I would probably like this one as well as the 1984 if it was longer. It is only about 70 min. long so it is somewhat underdeveloped.
No doubt Lional Barrymore would have made a great scrooge but Reginald Owen does a great job as well. All the characters play their parts well. The Cratchit's were a real married couple and I believe one of the children is their daughter as well. Many people criticize Terry Kilburn(Tiny Tim) for his acting. I thought he was o.k. I do think he was too old and too healthy looking for the part but that's not really his fault. Barry Mackay played a very outspoken Fred. The ghosts in this version are among the best. Lionel Braham is a very jovial ghost with a Santa Claus look. The ghosts of Christmas present in all the other film versions have all resembled him. Ann Rutherford is with out a doubt the prettiest and most glamorous of all the ghosts of Christmas past.
With just about a 70 minute running time, the film is rushed in a few places. They could have developed the Christmas past segment further. In spite of its short length, this film does have some scenes not found in any other version. One good scene exclusive to this version is where Bob Cratchit is throwing snowballs with some boys. When a man comes around the corner, out of fun Mr. Cratchit throws a snowball at him. This unsuspecting man turns out to be Scrooge! The set design is one of the best attributes about this film. Although not filmed on location like the 1951 version, which is an English film, or the 1984 version, MGM did a great job of capturing the essence of a small English village. Very well done especially for its time. Lastly, I thought this film had powerful acting that was not matched in the 1951 version. One example is in the Christmas present segment when the ghost uses Scrooge's words against him by saying something to the likes of "and rid the world of the surplus population!" in regards to the fact that Tiny Tim may die. The ghost says that exact same thing in the 1951 version but not to near the same effect. I felt the same way about Reginald Owen as scrooge vs. Alister Sims. The only other Scrooge that is as good as Reginald Owen is George C. Scott.
There was many earlier silent versions of this film most of which are lost. I believe a version from 1910 is available. Their was another sound version filmed in 1935. The fact that the movie was filmed again only three years later must say something about that film!
Lionel Barrymore was originally set to play Scrooge, but had to back out due to illness. Barrymore instead suggested his friend Reginald Owen take over the role. Barrymore did not perform the radio version of "A Christmas Carol" in 1938 so that it would not interfere with the success of the picture, and he appeared in a special trailer for it called A Fireside Chat with Lionel Barrymore (193, which was produced by Frank Whitbeck and directed by Edwin L. Marin.
John Seitz temporarily replaced cameraman Sidney Wagner during production when Wagner was ill with a bad case of flu, and Marvin Stuart replaced assistant director Dolph Zimmer when Zimmer had a cold.
MGM released a record-breaking 375 prints of the film so that as many people as possible could see it during the Christmas season.
This was the only film in which Gene Lockhart appeared with his wife Kathleen Lockhart and their daughter June Lockhart,
Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge McDuck was probably based physically on this version of Ebenezer Scrooge, with the fringe of hair and the small tuft of hair on the top of his head.
Although he seemed much older, Reginald Owen was only 4 years older than Gene Lockhart.