Without a doubt, my favorite Christmas story is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” I love the book. I love the radio plays and I love the movies. Well, I love most of the movie adaptations.
Recently, I had the chance to see the “classic” 1938 version starring Reginald Owen. I really had forgotten just how bad it really is.
Owen’s portrayal of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is greatly overdone, almost to the point of being comical. Most of the rest if the cast is prone to over acting. This is especially true of Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim. His annoying performance actually makes it difficult to feel compassion for the character.
Gene Lockhart, as Bob Cratchit, is very good. He doesn’t turn the character into a parody of itself; he plays it straight. Even so, I’m not sure that he was the right actor for the job. After all, how are you supposed to believe that a chubby Bob Cratchit is living an impoverished life? I’m a big Gene Lockhart fan. I especially like him as the judge in the 1947 version of “Miracle on 34th Street.” I just don’t think this is the right role for him.
Even if you can get by the over acting and the suspect casting, the changes in the story really are hard to swallow. One glaring omission is the romance between a young Scrooge and the lovely Belle (or Isabelle). This was a crucial moment in the story and it is totally missing from this version! It’s not the only important plot line that is missing, but it’s enough to get my point across.
Another thing that bugs me about this version is Scrooge’s willingness to convert. He’s ready to be “Father Christmas” half-way through the second ghost’s visit. There is really no need for the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come to even show up.
As much as I really want to like all versions of “A Christmas Carol,” I just can’t bring myself to like this one. I think I’ll stick to Albert Finney in the musical “Scrooge” and the George C. Scott version of “A Christmas Carol.” They knew how to play the miser just right.
What do you think? Am I right about this or have I misjudged this movie? Leave me your replies below.