Scrooge 17: Christmas Carol 1938 Reginald Owen

owen posterOther than Alistair Sim this version with Reginald Owen of Christmas Carol is probably the most well known traditional retelling.  It’s a fine version but not one of my favorites mostly for a few odd choices it makes.

You guys know I am pretty open minded when it comes to interpretations of this story.  It’s a novella so every filmmaker is going to make it their own but in this case I feel the changes slow down the picture and even though it is only an hour and 9 minutes it feels long.

Trailer: (Introduction by Lionel Barrymore who was famous for his Scrooge on Broadway and originally offered the part )

Cast:

Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge
Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit
Kathleen Lockhart as Mrs. Cratchit
Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim Cratchit
Barry MacKay as Fred (Scrooge’s Nephew)
Lynne Carver as Bess (Fred’s fiance)
Bunny Beatty as Martha Cratchit (uncredited)
June Lockhart as Belinda Cratchit (uncredited)
John O’Day as Peter Cratchit (uncredited)
Leo G. Carroll as Marley’s Ghost
Ann Rutherford as Spirit of Christmas Past
Lionel Braham as Spirit of Christmas Present
D’Arcy Corrigan as Spirit of Christmas Future

owen scroogeScrooge- Reginald Owen is fine as Scrooge.  He is kind of like the Scott version, a bit softer than the best versions in my opinion but perfectly fine performance.

Differences: (There are a lot in this one)

It takes a long time to get to the spirits.  Again it’s only 69 minutes and it takes almost 30 to get to Past.

Big difference is Scrooge fires Cratchit because of a snowball fight and his wanting the day off.  Cratchit then spends the rest of the movie overcompensating to his family and lying about it.  I wonder if this was a Depression era influence? Losing your job may have seemed like a tougher thing than having a terrible one?

We also learn that Fred and his girl Bess are not married because of financial worries.  They hope Scrooge will help them to be married.  This doesn’t really make sense as he is the only child and surely some money from Scrooge’s father would have gone to Fan? Given Bess is a simple girl with no dowry I don’t see why marriage would have been a problem.  It seems a strange problem to create for the story.

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Another difference is when Marley comes he waves at 3 men to come and get the intruder.  Again this just stalls the story and hurts the momentum.

marley owenPast takes Scrooge to see his childhood self, a part which can be skipped on occasion.  And we actually see Scrooge crying for a long bit, which I found moving (it’s only like 5 seconds but it feels long and heart wrenching).

owen past

Then we get to Fezziwig’s and Scrooge is still a young lad so there is no Belle romance, no betrayal.  Again a strange choice. In this film Scrooge’s betrayal is to Fred and Bess not to a love of his life. Not quite as compelling.

present owen

Present comes and instead of going to Cratchit’s or Fred’s right away we go to church.  I normally like when the religious elements of the story are highlighted but this scene doesn’t really add anything but for Scrooge to see that Bess and Fred really are in love and to get some pretty music (a great boys choir sings).

Then we have Fred and boys skating outside the church and more with Fred and Bess.

And Present takes him to the Cratchit’s where we get a long sequence of them getting the goose, cooking, eating, talking.  Cratchit tells Martha he has been sacked. It just feels slow.

The last major difference is after Present instead of immediately meeting Future Scrooge is back in his bed smiling and there is a montage of his daydreams about Christmas and how wonderful it is.

owen future

This feels too soon and makes the final victory at the cemetery less convincing because he already seemed converted a few minutes earlier.  If he has already decided to change and embrace Christmas than why make him go to the cemetery?

Strengths- I don’t want to be too hard on it because it’s not unwatchable by any means.  The acting is good, it is shot well and the restoration is clear and crisp in the version I saw.

The music is fine, all the sets look good and it has a pleasant feel about it. I enjoyed watching it but it just isn’t my favorite.

The Tiny Tim is excellent and has a beautiful singing voice and there is really only one song ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ sung at the church and I enjoyed the number.

Reginald Owens pours his heart into the role and he is fine as Scrooge.

owens cratchits

Weaknesses- I said most of them.  They just added the wrong things which make it feel slow even though it is not a long movie.  Losing Belle in favor of Bess and Fred doesn’t work and makes the conversion feel less personal to Scrooge.

Like I said you can tell it is a lovingly produced film.  They took some chances and I respect that but for me most of them didn’t quite work.  Still, if you end up watching it you won’t be miserable.  You’ll enjoy it just fine.

8 thoughts on “Scrooge 17: Christmas Carol 1938 Reginald Owen

    1. Ha yeah I didn’t know he was Admiral Boom until I started looking for images. So funny. He’s very good in it. Reminds me of Scott

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  1. I just watched this, and I agree with you about most everything. I think the set design and cinematography were, of course, great. It just felt lacking like it wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been. I think it was much too short and like you said too much time wasted. I wish more drama had been gotten out of it. I had a bit too much fun watching it.

    I really agree with you here, also. “This feels too soon and makes the final victory at the cemetery less convincing because he already seemed converted a few minutes earlier. If he has already decided to change and embrace Christmas than why make him go to the cemetery?” This is the basic problem with a lot of versions I think. I get tired of the story because it’s so simple if it’s done right and so amazing if the change in Scrooge’s personality is convincing. Here it isn’t really. Reginald Owen’s Scrooge comes off as an easy sell. A Carol Christmas is probably the worst version I have seen because it’s just a female version of Scrooge done in the present day and I remember she was so convinced after the Ghost of Christmas Present there was absolutely no need to go to the future.

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    1. I agree too about the conversion being key. It’s in essence a fable so if we arent convinced of the conversion than we walk away feeling like someone learned about a nice holiday and not the more profound life changing experience Dickens intends in the novel.

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