A Christmas Carol (1938 Reginald Owen)
The classic Dicken's tale of redemption where an elderly miser learns the error of his ways on Christmas Eve after visitations by four spirits.
Continuing a multi part series of reviews focusing on A Christmas Carol.
The first American sound version of the classic tale. Originally Lionel Barrymore was slated to play the miserly main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, but due to an accident that incapacitated Lionel, Reginald Owen was tapped to play the lead and he has become the image to many as what Scrooge should look like. This is a very traditional retelling of the Charles Dicken’s classic.
The plot is what you would expect. A miserly old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, tortures his clerk, Bob Cratchit (Gene Lockhart) and believes Christmas to be a waste and a “humbug”. Believing his taxes that supports prisons and workhouses is giving enough that anyone who refuse to use these institutions should die and “decrease the surplus population. Bob’s family is large and financially struggling, but they still are happy, even with their sick son, Tim. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Barry MacKay) is poor and engaged to marry the love of his life, which his uncle does not approve and yet he can find the joy in the everyday miracles of life, like sliding down the street on ice. Scrooge on the other hand, is miserable and alone and yet believes he is in a better position than the people that surround him. On the 7th anniversary of his death, Jacob Marley appears to Ebenezer and gives him a final chance at redemption. He will be visited by three spirits who will show him his past, present and future demise. By the end, Scrooge of course is swayed, and his change is so dramatic, Fred doesn’t even recognize him and the Cratchit’s believe him to have gone insane and even hide in the pantry.
This was the first version of the story I saw as a child and was a staple during the Christmas season in my house. Reginald Owen is not my favorite Scrooge but plays him competently. Barry MacKay is the perfect Fred and captures the essence of the story perfectly. His performance shows the true goodness in man! Fred is fun loving and generous with a large heart and a playful soul. He is mirrored by Tiny Tim, who has the same wonderment at life, but lacks the ability to genuinely enjoy it, and yet finds happiness where he can. We do not see a sick boy feeling sorry for himself because he cannot slide on the ice, but we see a boy who is enjoying watching his brothers have fun! This is in direct contrast to Scrooge, who enjoys nothing, but has everything.
The production value is very good for a 1938 film and I believe holds up very well to today’s versions. The translucent quality of the spirts is well done. The story flows well from scene to scene. The performances are very good. There are some differences in this production compared to others. We do not see Belle, the love that leaves Scrooge when he was younger. I am sure this was to keep the movie flow and time down. Although an important part to the story and how it relates to Fred, it might have seemed out of place in this production. Also to note, To raise the stakes and make Scrooge seem even more dastardly, he fires Bob on Christmas Eve after a mishap with a snowball on his way home from the office. This is the only movie I have seen this done in. This leads to a divergence from the book. Once Scrooge has reformed, he buys a prize goose twice the size of Tiny Tim to give to the Cratchits for Christmas Dinner. Usually, he employs the shop owner to deliver it and joyously exclaims, “They won’t know who sent it”. But this movie shows Ebenezer delivering it to them n person, and creates a memorable comical moment as the Cratchit’s believe that Scrooge has gone mad. Mrs. Cratchit (Kathleen Lockhart) hears her children squeal with laughter, but believes Scrooge is in the next room hurting them and responds, “Save our Children, Bob”, she then hides in the pantry. I laugh at this every time.
Watching the different versions of this story after the year the world has just gone through and continues to suffer, I have a new perspective and have seen things I have never seen before. Tiny Tim is not dying because nothing can be done. He is dying because his family lives in poverty and England does not yet have socialized medicine. Scrooge’s lines about “Decreasing the surplice population” are echoed in today’s pandemic where we are told by some, that we should just accept that the old and frail population should give their lives so that bars and restaurants can remain open. There was a time when I believed that Scrooge was the exception to humanity, but I think in today’s world he is the norm. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!”. Scrooge uses this to defend what he is becoming, and I am sure many people in our capitalist society believe this to be true.
Seeing the world as it is, I love these movies even more. I think it is vitally important the world learn from this story. Feel its core message in our very soul! And find the joy in not material wealth, but in childlike wonderment of the miracle life brings.
A Christmas Carol: God Bless Us, Everyone!
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Acting - 10/1010/10
Music - 9/109/10
Production - 9/109/10
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