(director: Edwin L. Marin; screenwriters: from the book A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens/Hugo Butler; cinematographer: Sidney Wagner; editor: George Boemler; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Reginald Owen (Ebenezer Scrooge), Gene Lockhart (Bob Cratchit), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Cratchit), Leo G. Carroll (Jacob Marley), Terry Kilburn (Tiny Tim), Barry Mackay (Fred), Lynne Carver (Bess), Lionel Braham (Ghost of Christmas Present), Anne Rutherford (Ghost of Christmas Past), D’Arcy Corrigan (Ghost of Christmas Future), Ronald Sinclair (Young Scrooge), June Lockhart (Cratchit’s Daughter); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; MGM; 1938)

“Edwin L. Marin robustly directs the Charles Dickens classic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Lionel Barrymore was originally set to play Scrooge, but couldn’t take the part he played on radio because he was crippled by arthritis. Upon Barrymore’s suggestion the coveted Scrooge role went to 51-year-old character actor Reginald Owen, who had the best role of his career and makes the most of it. This version is one of the best, almost as good as the 1951 Alastair Sim’s version–considered by many the definitive one. Edwin L. Marin robustly directs the Charles Dickens classic, adding a few nice cinematic touches such as The Ghost of Christmas Past played by a beautiful young woman (Ann Rutherford) instead of a middle-aged man and having a most jolly and energized Fred (Barry Mackay)–Scrooges’ penniless nephew about to marry his sweet Bess, who takes pleasure in sliding on the street ice as do the children.

The pic tells of the greedy Scrooge learning some serious life lessons about lightening up and showing some soul after he says “humbug” to his nephew’s Merry Christmas gestures and fires his loyal clerk Bob Cratchit (Gene Lockhart) on Christmas Eve because he mistakenly knocked his topper off with a snowball. Cratchit decides not to spoil the holiday spirit and doesn’t tell his large family about the misfortune. On Christmas Day they feast on goose, and Crachit’s crippled son Tiny Tim is all smiles as he digs into mom’s pudding. Meanwhile the lonely wealthy miser is visited on Christmas Eve by the spirit of his former partner Jacob Marley (Leo G. Carroll), who is in chains because he learned too late about being kind to others. Marley died seven years ago, and now returns only to warn Scrooge to change his mean-spirited ways or else he too will be in chains in the afterlife. He also tells Scrooge that spirits will come at one, two, and three o’clock to refresh his memory about the spirit of Christmas. The frightened Scrooge learns about the joy of giving from the three ghosts, as he revisits his more promising childhood days, his present dark days and takes a gander at how bleak his future will be if he doesn’t shape up.

This standard Dickensian fare is done in a spirited fashion and makes for good holiday viewing. June Lockhart, daughter of Gene, makes her film debut as one of Cratchit’s merry children.

Terry Kilburn and Reginald Owen in A Christmas Carol (1938)

REVIEWED ON 12/24/2004 GRADE: B +  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/