A Christmas Carol (1938 film)

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A Christmas Carol
CCPoster art-1938.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Charles Dickens (novel)
Screenplay by Hugo Butler
Based on A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas
Starring Reginald Owen
Gene Lockhart
Kathleen Lockhart
Terry Kilburn
Barry MacKay
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Sidney Wagner
John F. Seitz
Edited by George Boemler
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates December 16, 1938 (1938-12-16)
Running time 69 minutes
Country United States
Language English

A Christmas Carol is a 1938 American film adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1843 novelette A Christmas Carol, where Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen), an elderly miser, learns the error of his ways on Christmas Eve, when he reflects on his past, present and future collectively, whereupon the mean old miser undergoes a radical change of heart and is "awakened" on Christmas morning a changed man.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

On Christmas Eve, an old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) is visited by the spirit of his former partner, Jacob Marley (Leo G. Carroll). The deceased partner was in his lifetime as mean and miserly as Scrooge is now and he warns him to change his ways or face the consequences in the afterlife. Scrooge dismisses the apparition but the first of the three ghosts, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford), visits as promised. Scrooge sees those events in his past life, both happy and sad, that forged his character. The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Lionel Braham), shows him how many currently celebrate Christmas. The Ghost of Christmas yet to Come (D'Arcy Corrigan) shows him how he will be remembered once he is gone. To his delight, the spirits complete their visits in one night giving him the opportunity to mend his ways.[2]



Scrooge celebrates with the Cratchit family.

Made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and originally intended to star Lionel Barrymore (who played the role of Scrooge annually on radio but was forced to drop out of the film because of his arthritis, though he narrated its trailer), the movie starred Reginald Owen as Scrooge and Gene and Kathleen Lockhart as the Cratchits. Terry Kilburn, better known for his portrayal of Colley in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, costarred as Tiny Tim and a young June Lockhart appeared as one of the Cratchit daughters. Leo G. Carroll played Marley's Ghost. The characters of Fred (Scrooge's nephew), and Elizabeth, his fianceé (his wife in the novelette), were greatly expanded in order to work in a romantic angle to the story that Dickens did not intend. The couple was played by Barry MacKay and Lynne Carver. Ann Rutherford, better known as Polly Benedict in the Andy Hardy films and as Carreen O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, was a young and attractive Ghost of Christmas Past, rather than the somewhat unusual creation that Dickens described. The music for the film was composed by Franz Waxman, in contrast to most MGM films of the period, whose scores were composed by Herbert Stothart.

Some of the grimmer aspects of the story went completely unmentioned or unseen, in order to make this a "family film" in the style of other MGM literary adaptations. Although Marley's Ghost did appear, the phantoms wailing outside Scrooge's window were not shown. Scrooge's fiancee, who eventually leaves him because of his miserly ways, was completely dropped from the film, as were the two starving children "Want" and "Ignorance", who hid within the folds of the Ghost of Christmas Present's robe. Also gone were the thieves who ransack Scrooge's belongings after he "dies" in the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come segment. While Gene Lockhart's performance as Bob Cratchit is admired, he is often criticized for looking too "well-fed" for the role.

One of the changes made in this film that differs from the novel is the arrival of the ghosts. While the first still arrives at 1:00, the second appears at 2:00 and the third appears at 3:00. In the original novel, the second appears the next night at 1:00 and the third appears the next night when the last stroke of 12:00 has ceased to vibrate. This change was also used in other versions such as Scrooge (1970), Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), and A Christmas Carol (1984), and many others.

Theatrical release[edit]

Originally intended as a 1939 release, A Christmas Carol was immediately rushed into production in October 1938 and was finished in a matter of weeks. It opened in December 1938 at New York City's Radio City Music Hall where it did moderately well. One of many adaptations of the work, it was frequently revived in theatres by MGM.

Television broadcast[edit]

The film was shown on local television stations in the United States throughout the 1960s and '70s, and was a staple of Chicago's WGN television's Family Classics. It also became a Christmas Eve tradition when it was telecast annually on WCBS-TV Channel 2 as part of their Late Late Show installment beginning in the early 1960s. By the early 1970s, WCBS-TV had acquired the 1951 film version and at that time ran both versions back to back. The MGM version would move to WNEW-TV, while the 1951 version had already moved back to WOR-TV (which first telecast it in the U.S.) in 1975. Since this time, the MGM version has been broadcast on the Turner Classic Movies cable network, airing several times during December.

For years the 1938 movie remained the most famous film version of the story in the United States, but its popularity was eventually eclipsed by Scrooge, the 1951 film, after that version began to receive wide television exposure starting in 1970. This may be due in part by those who have found Reginald Owen's portrayal of Scrooge to be lacking, especially in comparison to later ones which are deemed more faithful to the original story.[3]

Home media releases[edit]

In 1988, MGM/UA Home Video and Turner Entertainment released A Christmas Carol on VHS celebrating its 50th anniversary, for the first time in a colorized version. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 1988 promoting the film's release on home video, actress June Lockhart admitted that, despite the film being made by MGM, it was "a 'B' picture". The colorized version was released once again on VHS by Warner Home Video in 2000. On November 8, 2005, the black and white version was released on DVD in a "Classic Holiday Collection" box set including Boys Town and Christmas in Connecticut, two other MGM titles with a holiday/family theme; it was also released as an individual title. Since its first DVD release, it has seen multiple releases in various Christmas movie collection box sets. No blu ray version has been released, but one is scheduled for release in November of 2014.


While uncredited, June Lockhart made her screen debut playing Belinda Cratchit.[4][5]

See also[edit]



  • Guida, Fred "A Christmas Carol" And Its Adaptations (Publisher: McFarland & Company; New Edition, August 2, 2006)

External links[edit]