Monday, December 16, 2013

A Christmas Carol (1938)

Premiered 16 December 1938

In this slick MGM adaptation, directed by Edwin L. Marin and produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Scrooge is played by Reginald Owen.

Reginald Owen as Scrooge, early in the film.
Lionel Barrymore (who played Scrooge on the radio for several years) was originally cast to play the old miser, but a hip injury prevented this.

Title card for the 1938 adaptation.
Barrymore does introduce the trailer for the film, watch it here:

As for other principal characters:

Bob Cratchit is played by Gene Lockhart, who has a bit of a Christmas movie pedigree.  He also plays the judge in the 1947 classic, Miracle on 34th Street.

Scrooge confronts Bob Crachit.
Scrooge's nephew Fred is played by Barry MacKay, who was best known for similar light comedic roles in British films from the 1930s.

Scrooge with Fred (Barry MacKay).
Tiny Tim here is portrayed by (Terry Kilburn), who went on to appear in Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1939.

Here's a fun bit of trivia about the Cratchit family as portrayed in this verison:  as previously mentioned, Bob is played by Gene Lockhart.  Mrs. Cratchit is played by Kathleen Lockhart, Gene's wife, and their daughter June Lockhart (best remembered for her tv roles on  Lassie and Lost in Space) plays daughter Belinda Cratchit.
Marley's Ghost (Leo G. Carroll) appears in Scrooge's room.
Other notables include Leo G. Carroll (one of the best character actors of the 20th century) as Marley's Ghost and Ann Rutherford (who played Scarlett's sister Carreen in Gone With The Wind) as the Ghost of Christmas Past.
The Ghost Of Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford) takes Scrooge back to his old school.
As you may recall from last year's Dickensfest, we break from our usual summary/review format (since most of you know the plot of A Christmas Carol) and discuss the major differences found in various adaptations.

What's different about this adaptation?  Quite a bit.

After the opening titles, we get this image:

Most film and tv versions open in Scrooge's counting house.  This version begins with Fred joyfully walking through the snowy streets of Victorian London.  He stops and chats with some young boys playing in the snow, one of whom turns out to be a son of Bob Cratchit. 

Fred then enters Scrooge's business.  He brings Cratchit a bottle of wine to keep him warm, since Scrooge won't allow more coal to be put on the fire.

Later, Cratchit leaves for home and gets ambushed by kids having a snowball fight.  He shows them how to make a "real" snowball.  Cratchit proceeds to inadvertently throw the snowball at Scrooge and scores a direct hit.  Scrooge fires Cratchit on the spot and is mean enough to say that Bob owes him a shilling for ruining his hat.

In spite of this turn of events, Bob goes shopping for Christmas dinner anyway.  He is determined that his family shall have a nice meal even if he has lost his job.  We don't normally see Cratchit  purchasing Christmas dinner at all, much less Cratchit actually losing his situation in most adaptations. 

When Marley's ghost appears, Scrooge sticks his head out of the window and calls town criers into his house to get rid of Marley's ghost.  The ghost disappears, one of the criers says that the "intruder seems to have ex-truded" and they ask Scrooge for some "Christmas spirit" (aka alcohol). 

Scrooge's Sister Fran comes to pick him up from school; Calls him Ebbie.  Scrooge's sister in the book is named "Fan" and (as far as I can tell), there's no other adaptation where she calls Scrooge Ebbie. 

We see "adolescent" Scrooge working for Fezziwig.  The Christmas party, is omitted from this adaptation, so is Scrooge's fiancee.  

The Ghost Of Christmas Present (Lionel Braham) with Scrooge.

Next, the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to a church.  They observe Fred and his fiancee Bess singing "O Come All Ye Faithful".  Scrooge says they should be married. 

Bob and Tiny Tim are in church too.  They bump into Fred and Bess outside, Tim says she's very pretty.  Fred and Bess decide to slide on the ice.  A Minister scolds them for sliding, then goes for a slide himself.  They slide, then kiss in public.

Tiny Tim & Bob sing at church.
The Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge make their usual visit to the Cratchit home.  Bob tells his daughter Martha that Scrooge fired him.  When it comes time for the Christmas toast, it's Mrs. Cratchit who toasts Scrooge.  This is a major departure from the book and most films, where Mrs. Cratchit detests the man and get's angry when Bob toasts his boss. 

Bob & Tiny Tim arrive home from church.
Scrooge's visit to Fred's house is similar to other adaptations.  But when it's time to go, Scrooge  says he wants to stay and that he "loves Christmas".  This version does NOT show us "Ignorance and Want".  

Scrooge next appears on a hill, with Ghost of Christmases Yet To Come.  This segment is consistent with most re-tellings.

When Scrooge wakes up, we get some more differences:

Scrooge personally delivers the prize turkey to Cratchit's house.  He's brought toys for the kids; Fred  and Bess are with him too.  Scrooge mentions that Fred is now his partner. 

Scrooge raises Bob's salary, offers Peter a job when he's old enough.

Scrooge toasts Christmas, Tim says The Line.

J.A. Morris says:

I have mixed feelings about this adaptation.  This was the first live-action version of A Christmas Carol that I ever watched, so I will always have a sentimental attachment to it.  For whatever reason, the local UHF stations in my area aired this much more than the 1951 adaptation that features Alistair Sim.  So Reginald Owen is "my" Scrooge.

Scrooge encounters the Ghost Of Christmases Yet To Come.
I'd say Owen is a good Scrooge, rather than a great one.  He does a decent job with the adapted script he has to work with.  And I feel that his transformation happens a little too fast.  By the end of his visit to "Christmas Present", he announces that he "loves Christmas"?  Already?  Then why bother with the last spirit?

But one problem with this film is that Scrooge seems no more important than his nephew Fred, whose role is expanded here.  The film opens with Fred, we see Fred and his fiancee at church, they play in the snow outside the church.  There were times when I thought the movie should have been called "Fred, Nephew Of Scrooge".  It seems like MGM wanted to emphasize this "young love" subplot.  I can understand, this film came out in 1938 (when the Great Depression was still going on) and they didn't want this to be too...depressing.  But it doesn't play so well today.    

Another problem is the Cratchits.  Gene Lockhart was a good character actor, and he's fine here.  But the Cratchit's home is too nice.  They have knickknacks on the shelves and pictures on their walls as well as quite a few rooms for a poor Victorian family.  

The Ghosts are all pretty good, especially Carroll as Marley.

I'll always enjoy the 1938 adaptation of A Christmas Carol  since it's the version I grew up with.  But compared to other versions, I'd say it's not so great today.

J.A. Morris' rating:

 2 and a half candy canes.

RigbyMel says:

This version of A Christmas Carol is relatively new to me.   The MGM budget makes for good production values, but there are a few too many liberties taken with the story for my taste.

As J.A. Morris says, Scrooge's conversion happens too quickly and the film's focus on nephew Fred is a bit strange.   After all,  A Christmas Carol is about Scrooge and his journey from parsimonious sinner to generous man suffused with the Christmas spirit.  Fred is there as a foil to Scrooge.   Fred's scenes sliding on the ice and smooching (in public?! -- not very good Victorian etiquette!) with Bess are cute enough but are very peripheral to the tale at hand.

This is an interesting, but not great adaptation.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 candy canes

No comments: