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Edwin L. Marin
Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Terry Kilburn, Barry MacKay, Lynne Carver, Leo G. Carroll, Lionel Braham, Ann Rutherford, D'Arcy Corrigan
Writing Credits:
Charles Dickens (short story), Hugo Butler

A screen and video classic, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has become as much of a December tradition as lighted trees, holly berries and mistletoe. Overworked and underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit (Gene Lockhart) and his loving family hope for a holiday of feasting and good cheer. Cratchit's rich employer Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) scoffs at Victorian London's Yuletide spirit, threatening both his immortal soul and the Cratchits' Christmas. Terry Kilburn portrays Cratchit's endearing, frail, crippled son Tiny Tim. On Christmas Eve, the ominous ghosts of past, present and future convince Scrooge that he faces a choice. He can live out his days despised and unhappy or change his ways and savor the joys of the season. A Christmas Carol is a rewarding holiday treat for all who want to keep the real meaning of Christmas in their hearts.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural

Runtime: 69 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 11/8/2005

• “Jackie Cooper’s Christmas Party” Short
• “Judy Garland Sings ‘Silent Night’”
• Trailer
• “Peace on Earth” Cartoon


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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A Christmas Carol (1938)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 25, 2005)

Has any literary work been adapted for various media as much as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? I seriously doubt it. In addition to about 40 movie versions, it’s received countless variations on TV shows as well as numerous stage productions.

One of the better known projects is the 1938 film adaptation. Unfortunately, “better known” doesn’t mean “better”, as the 1938 Carol is a dud.

Given the fame of A Christmas Carol, a synopsis seems somewhat pointless, but I’ll provide one anyway. Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) runs his own business and is clearly a skinflint and a jerk. Isolated from others by his own accord, on Christmas Eve the misanthrope receives a visit from the ghost of Jacob Marley (Leo. G. Carroll), his old partner. Condemned to remain in limbo, Marley warns Scrooge that he’ll suffer the same fate if he doesn’t clean up his act.

Scrooge initially discounts this incident, but then he receives additional visits from other ghosts. One takes him to Scrooge accompanies Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford), where he watches his childhood experiences and recalls how much he used to love the season.

From there he goes with Christmas Present (Lionel Braham), where he sees the poor but loving family of his employee Bob Cratchit (Gene Lockhart). Scrooge learns that Cratchit’s son Tiny Tim (Terry Kilburn) will die without significant medical attention. He also sees the festivities of his merry nephew Fred (Barry Mackay). Lastly, the Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his own fate as well as that of Tiny Tim. When the ghosts finish with Scrooge, he changes his ways and becomes a barrel of laughs.

Back when I was a kid, I assumed the 1938 Carol must be the best version simply because it was the oldest. My Old Man dismissed this theory. He felt the 1938 edition was junk and the 1951 take with Alastair Sim was the strongest rendition of the tale.

Chalk up a victory for the Old Man! Actually, I’ve not seen the 1951 version in a long time, so I can’t place it among the other tellings of Carol. However, he nailed the 1938 edition on the head. This is a simply dreadful Christmas Carol.

One big problem comes from the many liberties it takes with the story. I don’t insist on absolute faithfulness to the source material. Indeed, I applaud movies that make changes that work for the screen.

That’s not the case for the alterations performed on Carol. For reasons unknown, this one plays up the roles of Bob and Fred. At times it feels like this is more their tale than Scrooge’s, as Ebenezer gets lost in the shuffle at times. This makes no sense. Why focus on those secondary characters and ignore the main role?

We find other odd decisions. For instance, Bob decides that he won’t let Scrooge get him down and he splurges on a feast for his family. This undermines Scrooge’s decision to provide a banquet for them. They already had a pretty good dinner; his gesture becomes meaningless.

When we do see Scrooge, he doesn’t receive a good portrayal. Owen seems too young and spry for the role, and the addition of a really bad wig doesn’t make him more convincing. He plays the part in a dreadfully hammy manner as well.

The manner in which the movie makes his character change doesn’t work. This Scrooge alters his attitude without much prompting. This undermines his transformation since it provides no emotional depth. That area also suffers since we see little of Scrooge as a pained youngster. Why’d he turn out the way he did? This film declines to let us know much about that, as it’s too busy with Fred and Bob to bother with its main character.

Virtually nothing about the 1938 A Christmas Carol succeeds. Even at 69 minutes, it feels too long. From bad performances to a lack of focus, it’s a clunker.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus D+

A Christmas Carol appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a few age-related concerns, Carol looked awfully good for such an old flick.

Sharpness generally looked positive. Some scenes came across as quite well defined, while others displayed light softness. Nonetheless, much of the movie seemed nicely distinct and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and edge enhancement was minimal.

Though not without flaws, the film looked surprisingly clean for such an old movie. The occasional speckles or spots appeared, but otherwise the film remained nicely fresh and free from defects. Black levels seemed appropriately dark and dense, while contrast usually worked well. Shadow detail appeared appropriate and never became too heavy. This was a very satisfying transfer.

I also found the monaural soundtrack of A Christmas Carol to prove positive. It didn’t greatly exceed expectations for a mix of its age, but the audio was surprisingly clean. Speech lacked edginess. The lines weren’t exactly natural, but they seemed distinctive and without problems. Effects were a little flat, but they showed no distortion and displayed acceptable definition. Music was pretty lively given its age. The score sounded reasonably bright and presented decent low-end as well. Only a little background noise was noticeable. All together, I found little about which to complain, as the soundtrack aged well.

A minor collection of extras fills out this set. A 1931 short subject called The Christmas Party lasts eight minutes and 58 seconds. It starts with a quick set-up in which child actor Jackie Cooper invites his football team buddies to a holiday shindig but it grows so big he needs to hold it in a Hollywood soundstage. Most of it shows the tykes as they feast while some stars such as Clark Gable and Norma Shearer wait on them.

That novelty factor makes the short mildly interesting, and I must admit a perverse amusement at a very politically incorrect bit with a chubby girl. When encouraged to drink her “Christmas milk”, the pudgy gal moans “I don’t want to get any fatter!” That’s about all the entertainment I got from this story-free flick, though. It’s usually pretty dull.

For truth in advertising, we head to the 100-second Judy Garland Sings “Silent Night”. I’ve seen this clip elsewhere but can’t recall any information about its origins. In any case, it shows Garland as she stands in front of a choir and croons the Yuletide classic straight to the camera. I can’t say it does anything for me.

In addition to the trailer for A Christmas Carol, we get a 1939 cartoon called Peace on Earth. An eight-minute and 47-second short with a decidedly pacifist air, it tells of how humans exterminated themselves in warfare and left the planet to the animals. It does so with a cutesy tone, of course; don’t expect anything too graphic or startling. Given its arrival after the start of hostilities in Europe, it makes for an interesting historical piece. I’m not sure if it was intended to support the heavy isolationist attitude in the US at the time, but it certainly stands as a surprisingly strong condemnation of war.

With scores of other versions of A Christmas Carol on the market, I can see only one reason to pursue the 1938 edition: masochism. One of the weakest explorations of the tale, it does almost nothing right and seems to go out of its way to ruin the tale. The DVD gives us surprisingly positive picture and sound, but it skimps on extras. Fans will be happy with the manner in which the film is brought to DVD, but I can’t recommend this stinker to anyone who doesn’t already love it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5662 Stars Number of Votes: 83
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