This 1938 MGM version of the Dickens classic is not the most rewarding of the various adaptations (that honor goes to Biran Desmond Hurst's 1951 film, starring Alistair Sim), but it has a strong if narrow performance by Reginald Owen as the miser Ebenezer Scrooge. Directed by Edward L. Marin, the movie is stiffer and less imaginative than it ought to be, but there are some compensations in the supporting cast, including Leo G. Carroll, and the film debut of little June Lockhart. --Tom Keogh
This 1938 MGM adaptation of Dicken's ageless classic, "A Christmas Carol," is absolutely hands down the best version out of all the other movie versions that have been attempted, but unfortunately it is the least known of all. This is a must see for those attempting to find the best Scrooge movie out there. Why it hasn't been relesed on DVD yet is a true mystery, but the VHS version is still in good enough condition for one to add to his or her collection, at least until a DVD version is finally released. MGM's casting of Reginald Owen as the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge in their 1938 production was the best decision they ever made. He is a natural, and absolutely the most believable Scrooge I have ever witnessed. Moreover, the screenplay helps him by cohesively flowing from one scene to the next, while at the same time continuing to reveal the most depth and christmas spirit within his character, as well as within all the other supporting characters. Compared to all the other portrayals of Scrooge out there, Reginald Owens is the only actor who gives true love and meaning to his character. This allows the viewer to actually witness Scrooge's frozen heart slowly melt away as the movie unfolds, to reveal a sincere and genuinly kind old man, who, in the end, actually wants to truly help his fellow human being. Personally, I don't understand why the other reviewers applaud Simm's portrayal of Scrooge in a later version of this movie, as I found Simm's personality to be much too abrasive and a bit overacted [especially the scenes where he is laughing after he has supposedly found redemption]. However, in contrast to the poor acting by Simms, Reginald Owen's character is acted with an honest sincerity and love that grows deeper and deeper after each succesive visit from the three spirits of Christmas. This allows his character to slowly transform into his new and redeemed self as each new scene unfolds. You can actually feel his heart opening up to receive the Christmas spirit and love that is meant to be shared during the holiday season, which is something that the other less believable movie versions try to hold back until the very last visit from the spirit of Christmas future [but then it is much too late to be believable, or to be viewed as a sincere transformation]. Finally, this MGM version is the only adaptation that shows substantial interaction between Scrooge, his nephew, Fred, and Bob Crachit's family at the very end. It is only through this in depth amends with Bob Crachit and his entire family, that a sincere sense of completion is created. For example, Scrooge actually gives some indication of what will transpire in the very near future for Crachit, for his sons, and for his nephew, Fred, who he names as his new business partner. I found a similar sense of a fulfulling conclusion to be lacking in the other movie versions. For all these reasons, I thoroughly recommend this 1938 MGM version of "A Christmas Carol."Read more ›
I have been waiting for some time now for the 1938 "Christmas Carol" to be released onto DVD. What I truly hope is that MGM/UA will take care (and pride) to either use the original film print or search for the best print they can find, and digitally master the DVD. I won't care if the disc has colorized and B&W versions, but it would be a shame if a DVD gives the consumer only a colorized version. That's really why I didn't give more stars in my review here, which is about both the movie and presentation. I'm a traditionalist, and I don't believe that colorizing a movie makes it better. The 1938 "Christmas Carol" is a wonderful classic, and it has stood the test of time for that very reason. I have seen many reviews where people compare this version to the 1951 release, "Scrooge" (starring Alastair Sim). For the people who simply enjoy movies during the holiday season, I wouldn't pick, I would suggest you choose both versions! They both are very fine movies. What people liked about "Scrooge" is that the characters produced some more spontaneously funny moments that break the otherwise dark and gloomy tone of the story (read below, if you like my rambling!). For those of you who want the B&W version, stay away from this particular tape (MGM has a B/W VHS title). I have already written MGM/UA requesting a remastered DVD, in the meantime. Don't hold your breath waiting for a DVD for the 1938 version. I have not seen anything about any future release dates for a DVD. I guess the VHS format will have to hold us off until then. Okay, some rambling.... There are two characters in the "Scrooge" movie that I could have sworn mimic two other characters in a different flick. The maid, Mrs. Dilber (Kathleen Harrison) in "Scrooge" seemed so much like the maid, Minnie (Una O'Connor) in "Bride of Frankenstein." Watch the similarities in how these caracters play off each other in the different movies (Mrs. Dilber with Mr. Stretch, the undertaker [Ernest Thesiger] in "Scrooge;" Minnie with Dr. Pretorius [also played by Thesiger!]) I actually just discovered that Thesiger played in both movies! Maybe the producer and/or director tapped some ideas from the light moments of the Frankenstein flick, but it worked.Read more ›
Charles Dicken's classic Christmas story has been filmed countless times over the years since sound was introduced and this particular version was MGM's lavish 1938 contribution to the series of films on the Charles Dicken's short story. Stangely nowadays it is a largely forgotten film despite it's excellent cast and top class production values. One explanation is that there have been so many truly superb versions filmed since that if the choice of screening one at Christmas arises this version is sadly forgotten. The 1951 film with Alistair Sim and the version starring George C. Scott are certainly stunning retellings of this story but this version deserves a better press than it generally gets. Certainly MGM put all the considerable resources that it had at it's disposal into filming this story and produced a beautifully crafted movie that while it takes at times a different approach to the warmly regarded Sim version is just as enjoyable and effective in conveying Dicken's age old message. One of this versions great strengths is the superb cast that typically MGM was expert at assembling for these blockbuster stories. Front and centre in this production is Reginald Owen in the star making role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the horrid old miser who through the course of one Christmas Eve is visited by three spirits who show him the error of his ways and his need to reform before he joins those poor souls damned to an eternity of hellfire and torment like his former coworker Jacob Marley. First choice for this role, the legendary Lionel Barrymore who played the character of Scrooge on a Christmas Radio broadcast every year was unwell when this production got underway and actually recommended Reginald Owen to the powers that be at MGM as an ideal replacement for himself. Owen captures the character of Scrooge perfectly and while he perhaps lacks the huge regret at how things have developed in his life like Alistair Sim thus removing some of the audience sympathy for the character, that is more the fault of the screenplay that omits those relevant flashback scenes. Leo G. Carroll is also sterling in the role of Jacob Marly who comes early on Christmas Eve to warn Scrooge that he will be visited by the three spirits. Veteran Character Actor Gene Lockhart has the pivotal role of Bob Crachit and he brings his wonderful acting talents displayed in so many classic MGM films to the role of the downtrodden clerk who bears the full brunt of Scrooge's meaness but then enjoys the full force of his redemption. Lockhart's real life wife Kathleen and young daughter June play some of the members of the Cratchit family and Terry Kilburn who stole every scene he appeared in in the great classic "Goodbye Mr. Chips" here makes a most effective Tiny Tim, the character who ultimately helps melt the cold unfeeling heart of his father's employer. Lionel Braham, Ann Rutherford (Soon to take on the role of Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister in "Gone with the Wind" after this production), and D'Arcy Corrigan make an effective trio of spirits in their own unique ways and help keep the story rolling along towards Scrooges reformation in the famous last scene where he joins the Cratchit's for Christmas Dinner complete with an oversized Turkey.
What Hollywood was excellent at doing during the 1930's and 40's was their vivid recreations of Victorian English times and places without ever leaving the studio. MGM in particular with their lavish budgets was superb at tackling stories by Dickens as seen in their earlier adaptions of "David Copperfield", and "A Tale of Two Cities". Here in "A Christmas Carol", they excel themselves again and the great atmosphere of this film contributes greatly to it's overall effect. Victorian London perhaps does look far better scrubbed up than in the Sim version or how it would have been back in those times but it is an enormously attractive production nevertheless that captures alot of the flavour of the times perfectly. The section dealing with the Ghost of Christmas Future is especially well done with its eerie graveyard settings and wind blown landscape predicting a frightening future and sad lonely death for Scrooge if nothing in his life is changed before it is too late. While certainly not the best version produced of this story I do love seeing this film in the Christmas season and MGM once again has done a great literary work proud with all the effort it has put into its production. Reginald Owen rightly deserves a place among the Pantheon of screen greats who have tackled the character of Scrooge in drama, musical, animated short and on radio. It is a role for which he is still fondly remembered and I recommend you try and view this at times hard to find version of Charles Dicken's touching and ultimately uplifting Christmas storyRead more ›