Author Topic: A Christmas Carol (1938)  (Read 1680 times)

Offline Antares

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A Christmas Carol (1938)
« on: December 04, 2009, 05:18:42 PM »
A Christmas Carol

Year: 1938
Film Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Genre: Drama, Classic
Length: 69 Min.

Edwin L. Marin

Charles Dickens (1812)...Original Material By
Hugo Butler...Screenwriter

Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1909)

Sidney Wagner (1901)
John F. Seitz (1892)

Franz Waxman (1906)...Composer
Franz Grüber...Song Writer
John Reading...Song Writer
David Snell (1897)...Composer

Reginald Owen (1887) as Ebenezer Scrooge
Gene Lockhart (1891) as Bob Cratchit
Kathleen Lockhart (1894) as Mrs. Cratchit
Terry Kilburn (1926) as Tiny Tim Cratchit
Barry MacKay as Fred
Lynne Carver as Bess
Leo G. Carroll (1886) as Jacob Marley's ghost
Lionel Braham as Spirit of Christmas Present

       For oh so many years, the holiday season has meant for me, my yearly viewing of my favorite Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. This story has been told so many times throughout the years, that I think it possible to play every version and variation back to back, and not repeat an instance for the entire twelve days of Christmas.  The truth be told, I generally will only watch three versions of this classic tale, which I rate in this order: Scrooge (1951) Alastair Sim, A Christmas Carol (1984) George C. Scott and if I'm looking for a somewhat 'entertaining' version, the musical Scrooge (1970) Albert Finney. The criteria I look for in an adaptation of Dickens tale of redemption are the following; (1) Ebenezer Scrooge must be mean, miserly and completely loathsome in his pre-conversion personality, (2) the narrative must stay as close to the original story as possible and (3) the settings in the film must portray London as it was during Dickens time. A cold, dreary and unforgiving city, where fortune smiles upon the few, at the cost of the many.

       Throughout the years, I have watched almost every version of this story put to celluloid. But for some unknown reason, I never came to view the MGM version from 1938, starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge. Well, after finally righting this wrong, I find that I wasn't missing much. This is by far, the worst adaptation of my favorite Christmas classic. Not only does it fail to meet the requisites I mentioned in the previous paragraph, but the performances as a whole, are wholly unbelievable and largely over the top. Terry Kilburn, who was outstanding as four generations of the Colley family, in Goodbye Mr. Chips, plays Tiny Tim as if he's suffering from an intake of too much sugar, topped with a dollop of ADD. He's too manic and cheery to play the suffering, yet hopeful cherub. Gene Lockhart, who is one of my favorite character actors, is woefully miscast as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's destitute clerk. One look at Lockhart does not create visions of a man struggling to feed his large family, on the contrary, it looks more like he has gorged himself at an all you can eat buffet.

       And finally, the story goes that MGM had initially intended for this film to made with Lionel Barrymore in the lead role. Barrymore had been reciting the story on radio every yuletide season for years, and his recitation was so popular, that MGM decided that it would be a perfect vehicle for his acting talent. The cast was hired, the crew was in place and the sets were completed. But an unfortunate accident on the set of another picture would derail the project, Barrymore had fallen and broken his leg, and would be unable to play the lead. In my eyes, it would be a stroke of fortune for one of my favorite actors of the period, as he would miss out on participating in this train wreck of MGM interpretation. Chosen to take his place, at Barrymore's suggestion, was Reginald Owen, a long time bit player and character actor. This would be Owen's lone starring role and he must have decided to make the most of it. First, his appearance is almost comical as opposed to despicable. While I was watching I had a sense of a cross between the wizard from The Wizard of Oz and any adult character from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His hunched over, hobbling gait looks forced and without any sense of believability. And finally, his delivery of many of the famous quips from Scrooge are entirely over the top.

       If you have never watched any versions of Dicken's timeless classic, steer clear of this debacle, it's a complete waste of time. But if you're the type that adds sugar to your Cap'n Crunch, because it's 'just not sweet enough', then this version may be to your liking.

Ratings Criterion
5 Stars - The pinnacle of film perfection and excellence.
4 ½ Stars - Not quite an immortal film, yet a masterpiece in its own right.
4 Stars - Historically important film, considered a classic.
3 ½ Stars - An entertaining film that’s fun or engaging to watch.
3 Stars – A good film that’s worth a Netflix venture.
2 ½ Stars - Borderline viewable.
2 Stars – A bad film that may have a moment of interest.
1 ½ Stars – Insipid, trite and sophomoric, and that's its good points.
1 Star – A film so vacuous, it will suck 2 hours from the remainder of your life.
½ Star - A gangrenous and festering pustule in the chronicles of celluloid.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2012, 04:54:44 PM by Antares »