A Christmas Carol (1938)
AND NOW: MGM PRESENTS A FIRESIDE CHAT WITH LIONEL BARRYMORE!
No, silly, that’s not him roasting in the fires of the eternally damned--there he is as the camera pans, and at first you might think his pants go up way too high. But as he puts down his pipe and smiles a (bitter, you wonder to yourself?) smile, you see that his suit just is the same color top to bottom and it looks a bit like a onesie.
“Hello, ladies and gentlemen! Well, I’ve been assigned one of the most pleasant tasks I’ve ever known.”
(If I scrunch up my face like this, it’ll look like I’m smiling, which is what those MGM executives pointing a gun at me off-camera want me to look like!)
“I’m going to introduce to you a character I’ve loved for many years. HEHEHEHEHEH.”
(Well now I could’ve sworn that laugh did have some miserly bitterness to it--)
“Strangely enough, when you meet him you’re going to loathe the very sight of him.” I know I do.
The camera shows us a fellow, mouth agape, who looks like an egg with eyes and hair, or like the balloon conductor from The Muppet Show. But we get to see him in action! Is it Oz? He looks a bit like Oz, you might think, as Mr. Barrymore expounds on hating this windbag. “He’ll probably remind many of you of your landlord."
“But you, as I did, and as millions before us, are going to grow to love him.”
Well gosh, I think, gulping--Mr. Barrymore, that one especially sounded angry--and isn’t that Stockholm Syndrome?
“Hesitantly, at first! I’ll admit…”
Sir, WHY DO YOU SOUND SO BITTER?
“His name is Scrooge--the famous Dickens character ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’, of ‘A Christmas Carol’.” is what we’re told, while the camera zooms in on Eggenezer laugh-screaming his head off--blessedly, we fade back in on Mr. Barrymore:
“Old Scrooge is played on screen by Reginald Owen.” Lionel lets out another laugh, the executives staring down over the camera lens having reminded him silently that this is fun dammit, this is FUN!!! “HEHEH and Reginald is Old Scrooge--just exactly as Dickens conceived him, and as you and your children know him and love him.”
(My lawyers from 1913 will hear about this, I hear Seymour Hicks muttering.)
Sensing that Lionel’s going to start going off-script if they push the matter, they let him clamp down on his pipe again, eyes piercing the camera with an intensity that I cannot rightly describe as holiday cheer, and we’re ushered away to a more typical trailer of this fine film offering, showing such vignettes of our FAVORITE characters! Why, here’s Reginald Owen saying “Humbug!” and that does work; here’s-- Fezziwig?
Gene Lockhart as-- THAT’S Bob Cratchit?! Where; did he devour Bob and take over?!
Before you gather your senses from one haymaker, the other fist comes around: Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim! Look at him; look at that slick hair, that spotless face, those radiant cheeks because he’s smiling and happy and every tooth is perfectly in place and shining white!
Because if there’s one thing I think about for Tiny Tim, a poor, starving child living in Victorian London, it’s that his smile definitely had a row of straight pearly whites.
Well now I feel like a right ass for complaining about Tim in 1935.
Leo G. Carroll as-- oop he vanished.
Some more of the cast, you think, reeling from the whole-hearted orchestra. Some of the titles telling you about how wonderful it is! Come on down and see the show, fellows!!!
Thus ends the trailer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1938 “A Christmas Carol,” viewable here. The film itself, being from a major studio, is behind a paywall because nobody’s ripped it to YouTube--I’ll still diligently cover it. But finding that trailer, I went from “hey I’ve heard this version is sort of sickly-sweet” to feeling mortal Scrooge-like terror for my soul at visiting these visions of what may be.
So--why was Lionel Barrymore so upset? He did seem upset, at least a little bit. And, as it turns out in the history of this film, he had a decent reason, though not as malicious probably as I made it seem for laughs.
Lionel Barrymore, as we’ll see in an entry probably directly after this one, had been Scrooge on the radio for a few years before this adaptation. Direct from Wikipedia: “Lionel Barrymore starred as Scrooge in a dramatization on the CBS Radio Network on 25 December 1934, beginning a tradition he would repeat on various network programs every Christmas through 1953. Only twice did he not play the role: in 1936, when his brother John Barrymore filled in because of the death of Lionel's wife, and again in 1938, when Orson Welles took over the role because Barrymore had fallen ill.” All in all, he played the role effectively 19 years, and we’ll look at those (and Orson Welles’ take on it) later.
Yet, despite this popularity and being the first choice for MGM’s adaptation, he was unable to play the role on screen “due to arthritis” according to the Wikipedia page on the film itself, but more likely because he “broke his hip in an accident,” as stated on Reginald Owen’s Wikipedia page and corroborated by Welles taking over that year too. Or it could be, as IMDb suggests, that it wasn’t to interfere with the success of this movie.
Probably a combination of factors--either way, his consolation was “narrating the trailer” which is why it is the way it is, and boy what an odd way it is.
Now, I’ve heard various things about this film but my parents actually never sat down to watch it during one of our yearly viewing parties! We know that it’s considered very… sweet. Treacly. Saccharine, if you will. That 1930’s Hollywood ironed out any and all amounts of dourness to a relatively-bleak-for-four-fifth’s story and made it cloyingly painful. But, methinks, surely this is exaggeration--this was, after all, the go-to version for decades until Alastair Sim’s version became the juggernaut it is.
So, nervous and now down $3.99, renting it for 48 hours, I wonder what I’ve gotten in to, but sit pleasantly while the rain falls outside my living room window and the dog curls at my lap, snoring peacefully.
It’s funny seeing the older MGM lion! I don’t know why; we’re all so used to the one going nuts diagonally that the older one just seems so docile.
We are met first with a Cacophony of Bells IT’S A HORROR FILM!!! Ah-- oh, no, no sorry, we’re transitioning into Hark the Harking Harkers Hark, seeing our wonderful cast list slide by over the very blindingly white image of a lion. In rewatching it for putting all my thoughts into a cohesive review, I see they did the odd thing of having a cast list after the title credit--and then a more extended cast list after another few credits??? (Screenplay by Hugo Butler--I’ve got some questions for you, buddy!)
We do go immediately to a shockingly impressive view of London at night, snow falling, lights on, steam rising from each chimney. And, down to the streets where a hoard of extras dash back and forth on their ways to the jaunty tune of Franz Waxman’s score. Waxman’s list of films is almost as long as screen adaptations of “A Christmas Carol”--including doing the score for “Bride of Frankenstein”!
There! The children, dashing down the ice! And who’s walking down the street but Scrooge, looking quite a bit younger than most! And quite a bit happier, it seems.
Hang on, guv’nah-- issat Fred? We’re-- (flipping through Dickens’ book) well, I say I say, we’re meeting Fred first, innit?
(Just doing my best to replicate some of the wonderfully not-British accents we’ll hear from some of the extras.)
Well, that’s fine; Fred is the main character, after all.
He stops to ponder stealing Bob’s character moment of sliding down the hill, and while he stops, a woman appears at his arm who caused an unintended shudder to rush through me. The Hunched Woman from “Yokai Monsters: 100 Ghost Stories” tells Fred (our main character) to “have a try at it!” before grinning and nodding along with him. IMDb helpfully tells me (in the top-left corner of watching this on Amazon Prime) that this is “Tiny Jones: Woman Encouraging Fred”. Good on you, Tiny--you seem nice, I just didn’t expect to see someone suddenly at his elbow like that.
Tiny Jones vanishes into the crowd, enigmatic and mysterious--while Fred beats the record for longest slide, as some random child pipes up at the end of the ice. Who are you? Fred must be thinking; Why are you still talking to me?? Why, this child probably has a heart of gold, being so innocent, and must spout on about “God Bless Us, Every One” or somesuch!
“Guv’nah!” Count: x1
“Look at Albert!” --a child sliding down on his butt on the ice-- “HE FEAELL OHOHOHOHO”.
Hm, Fred thinks, is this actually a child with the heart of gold, asking the people in church to see him in order to remember who made lame beggars walk and blind men see? Maybe it’s not…
Fred, knowing this mustn’t be Tiny Tim, asks if the boy wants to go sliding and beat his record. The boy says no (“Guv’nah!” Count: x2) and Fred tries to insist. “I’m not very good at running,” the boy says, and Fred dries up as Franz Waxman’s score digs it in--yeah, he is Tiny Tim! Shame on you, Fred! Three Spirits will haunt you now. It’s your duty, being the main character and all.
From my notes: “Well we’re two minutes in and absolutely nothing has to do with the book”.
“And so,” Hugo Butler writes, crossing out Dickens, “Fred took Tiny Tim up on his back and they went sliding down the hill.” Bob Cratchit, stuck at work, must be looking desperately out the office window, feeling a disturbance in the force. Usually it’s Scrooge who marries into the family and becomes the second father!
The camera does quite a good job following them downhill, and a good job with motion and framing throughout the film, though nothing nearly as expressionistic as ‘35. But that’s not what it’s going for; the shots are all quite interesting to look at, and that counts for a lot in the visual medium!
Fred tells Tim that they’re quite a team! Dickens would disagree, but-- “You’ll never fall down like Albert!” And so, another larger boy crashes into Fred’s arse and knocks him into the snow-pile, making him uncharacteristically mad.
(Though, I muse, with Fred as the main character now, he’s allowed to have more emotions than just Christmas Cheer!)
Turns out, as Tim says, this is his brother Peter (“Guv’nah” Count: x3 due to Peter’s apology--if I had a count for “Sir” as well I’d be in the teens or twenties, but that’s what most versions are like--the “Guv’nah” is more bemusing since it’s trying very hard to be Bri’ish). “In that case I’ve only one reason to be angry,” says Fred the leading man, “You broke my record.” Grins abound YAAAAY he’s not a miser, this leading man of ours!
Peter sadly seems to be going through puberty, and boy howdy I don’t miss the days when I too warbled like a timid duck when I spoke. The lighting department does Peter no favors either, making the shadows from his cap look like he needs an extra shave between his eyebrows. Nonetheless, when they’re introduced as Cratchits, Fred says he’s going to see their father, and they give him a grocery list they were supposed to deliver from their mom. But they’re afraid of Mean Mr. Mustard-- I mean, Scrooge, whoever that guy is (probably some background character)-- and when Fred says he’s that second-string performer’s nephew, why, they run off terrified! And Fred laughs good-naturedly at their traumatized fear, what joy, what fun.
But the Music! By Jove, Franz Waxman does keep us upbeat enough that I keep thinking the Aardvark will give me a cookie, too. And the extras do make it a bustling, wonderful Christmas.
In a good bit of visual storytelling, the extras have vacated the sets when we get to the dimmer-lit, dismal business of Scrooge & Marley. Even the music starts to fade a little--and Fred shakes his head at the sign, which you book-readers might think is because Scrooge never took Marley’s name off of it! A nifty easter egg, that. Wise that our lead has read the source material.
Fred enters, showing us that Gene Lockhart--while being too “well-fed” for the role, yes, every review of this film says so and yes it really is the truth--is excellently meek as Bob Cratchit. He and Fred seem to know each other well, and Fred rushes about the place as if he owns it, telling him first he should put more coal on, then remembering that in the book Scrooge forbids it and that’s probably how it is here too. But he nonetheless brings Bob some wine, mmmm, a nifty little spirit, which’ll brighten his spirit ho ho! Bob gets a glass from Mr. Scrooge’s office--one used for cough medicine--and the hinges are starting to come off Bob’s grin as he says “We will--!”
Lord help us, he’s going--!
“We will have some more coal!”
“Good man, Bob!” Fred laughs, and Bob rushes off to get more coal for the fire from Scrooge’s office. (“WHY IS FRED THE LEAD?” my notes scream--but because he is, Bob’s getting a taste of that “main-character-energy” and is emboldened!) Let’s drink! Ahh let’s drink! “Another Merry Christmas, Mr. Fred,” Bob says, looking up at his majestic, chiseled savior--
Oop, Franz Waxman’s violins tell of impending doom as the door opens--
An old guy comes in. It’s-- oh, is this Scrooge? This is Scrooge! Got it-- That’s Reginald Owen, from what I was told in the trailer; he is Old Scrooge HEHEHEHEHEH.
I’m going to be honest here. I don’t much care for his makeup. Performance, we’ll get to--his make-up looks like when I’ve left soup on the stove too long without stirring it and it gets that wrinkly skin on top around the bubbles. It’s worth mentioning, courtesy of IMDb trivia, that Reginald Owen was only 4 years older than Gene Lockhart! It’s also worth mentioning, again from the same source, that Scrooge McDuck was probably based on this version specifically, since he has his odd tuft of hair mid-head.
He has a very round head under the hat, and I can’t help but think it’s very much like a boiled egg. If he heard me say that, I think he’d have reason to be a grasping, scraping, covetous old sinner--right now though, he’s just a grumpy fellow people seem to shun. Or maybe Oz; he looks like Oz a bit. That was next year in 1939 though.
Why wasn’t Scrooge, the man whose life is business at his office Christmas Eve night? Well silly it’s so that we can get the impression of him now, and--
OH MY GOD WE HAVE BOOK DIALOGUE!
Reginald Owen’s visage seems to have stirred the production to remember that this is “A Christmas Carol” about Ebenezer Scrooge, and so Fred starts in with the “Merry Christmasses” and Scrooge snaps back “Humbug!”
(IMDb trivia popped up to say: “The word ‘humbug’ is misunderstood by many people, which is a pity since the word provides a key insight into Scrooge's hatred of Christmas. The word ‘humbug’ describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people only pretend to charity and kindness in a scoundrel effort to delude him, each other, and themselves.”)
(Oh, how neat--!)
(“In Scrooge's eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to fool him and take advantage of him. This is a man who has turned to profit because he honestly believes everyone else will someday betray him or abandon him the moment he trusts them.” In this essay, I will--)
Bob quickly tries to get the coal back out of the fire, which is a good touch.
Here’s where I can talk a little about the performance: Reginald Owen is not an old man, and it shows sadly. His movements seem a bit limber, and to make up for it, he hunches (or squats?) and waddles about like he’s in dire need of a bathroom five minutes too late. It’s not throughout that I think this--in fact, I only really noticed it here in Stave I--but because it’s our first meeting with the man, it doesn’t fill us with all that much horror at the fact that he’s wishing death upon those who say “Merry Christmas;” he’s just a doddering old guv’nah.
Vocally, however, I think Reginald Owen does a fine job as Scrooge: he’s a very actively angry Scrooge, much the opposite of the passively seething Hicks.
Fred sits on the desk to tell us why Christmas has helped him--oh, the generosity and goodwill of the season, and how humans can realize that they’re all members of the same family--and Bob gets emotional hearing the main character give such a rousing speech--
Scrooge barks at him, livid that he’s being upstaged in his own film, and tries to hold on to the book’s dialogue as much as possible--though Fred does introduce that his fiancée Bess is going to be a larger role in this film.
“So you’re engaged? May I ask--why?”
Fred’s expression belies the thought “because I’m hot???”, but they get into the “because I fell in love” debate, which introduces--again--the odd subplot that Fred is in need of more money to marry his fiancée. In a pleasant change to this subplot, Scrooge’s dismissal of his nephew comes immediately after learning this, thinking that Fred is asking him to dinner as a way to get into Scrooge’s deep pockets. A wonderful little change that does keep with the character!
The charity gents enter while Fred leaves, and go to Bob immediately to ask if he’s Mr. Marley? No? Mr. Scrooge then--
Reginald Owen steps from behind his office door, grousing and wishing damnation on all these people trying to shove him out of his movie.
“My name is Twill!” “And mine is Rummage!” …what? Why? Who cares? But apparently the charity collectors are “Twill and Rummage” now.
Scrooge explains that Marley died seven years ago this very night when prompted. “On Christmas Eve? Tsk tsk tsk,” Twill or Rummage mewls. “As good a time as any!”, Scrooge barks, and I must admit I did laugh at that.
(From my notes: Reggie’s really trying to steal the main character back again, good on him. Very different from Hicks; he’s very antagonistically forward; a wall. He walks a bit like a duck though, and hunched.)
Unlike Hicks going back to work, Owen stares them down as they try to get his money, and replies growlingly about prisons and workhouses. Once more, I think that Twill and Rummage really don’t know how to take a flipping hint--especially when Scrooge barks “NATHING!” and they still keep at it.
Waxman’s dramatic violins are undercut a little by Owen trying to usher them out of the door himself, flapping his arm after them impatiently. Him saying “Humbug!” at their back makes more sense now that I know what it means!
Bob takes a drink, boy do I need one too. Time has passed wow; it was 5:45 and now it’s 6:30.
“You keep close watch on the closing hour!”, Scrooge barks at Bob… despite coming out of his office after Bob’s looked away from the clock. But Scrooge must’ve been watching the film with us. “Don’t work overtime, you might make something of yourself!”, got another loud laugh from me.
Jesus Christ, in rewatching, I notice that Owen’s irate pronunciations actually causes spittle to fly on Gene Lockhart’s coat twice in the same sentence! Gene’s very timid as Bob which is good. In another why is this a THING change, Bob’s wages are due today. “Can’t wait to spend ‘em, eh?”, Scrooge grouses.
My, he reminds me of my Landlord, I think to myself.
Scrooge goes to dump the wine in the trash, smells it, and--pockets the liquor for himself? But moving on! Bob’s pelted with snowballs, which I seem to recall from the source material--but how did those kids know he was coming? Oh--I see; one’s a spy, running to the corner to see who’s coming, as Bob cheerfully joins them for some Christmas fun. Bob shows them how to make a good snowball, for whatever sod comes next!
But oh no! Ooh the “bloomin’ topper!” coming down the street is Scrooge and Bob knocked off his hat oh nooooooo!!
I’ll get you, Scrooge seethes, and your little dog-- uh, sorry, that’s next year--
Bob goes over, aghast--
Oh no a carriage rolled over his hat oh nooooooooo!!!
In another deviation, Bob actually gets fired. And despite Hugo Butler doing all he can to change the story, this secondary character Scrooge does a great job of being a covetous old (god I’m tired of writing covetous) sinner, coveting the price of his covetous hat covetously. The hat, see, was 16 shillings--Bob’s wages be 15, and so he eats that cost in place of Bob’s “one-week notice” and takes a shilling from those he paid out to Bob for the cost of the hat.
This change overall feels forced, but dang if it’s a great character beat at the very least for this grumpy old guy.
“I say, guv’nah, (count x 4), we are sorry. The ol’ stinkeh,” one of the larger children says in a tone and face more wooden than a certain boy’s crutch.
But here I realize my error earlier; obviously Fred isn’t the main character. I guess I overreacted; it’s just that he was whom we saw first, and whom we got introduced to the main character through. That’s fine; our main character now is very interesting, and we’ll follow them home and their struggles this Christmas Eve night.
Yes, our main character is Bob Cratchit.
(From my notes: Why the absolute hell do we NOT. FOLLOW. SCROOGE?)
Bob seemingly goes insane on his walk home, either listening to Waxman’s score start to emulate the Funeral March, or moreso because the fellow ahead of him is holding a goose over his shoulder, and its head is swaying back and forth… back and forth… back… and…
After being hypnotized by a goose, Bob giggles and laughs and I’m very scared. “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”, he cries, and randos reply to him on the street, and so Bob starts spending literally everything in his final paycheck on food. Now we know how Mr. Lockhart’s Cratchit got so well-fed. “Grrr, those poor people, grrrr, spending everything at once, grrrrr”, the American rich must be thinking.
OH DAMN HE GOT THE SPECIAL PIPPINS! What?..
God, if I was drinking every time someone said “Sir” instead of “Guv’nah”, I’d be laughing as hard over nothing as literally everyone in this film.
Bob’s “hovel” is a full house, and it looks absolutely nothing like an 1800’s house. It--really is just a house. The only notes I managed to take during the scene of Bob informing his family they have a goose are:
“Oooohohohoohohohoohohohoohohohoo Cratchits ooooohohohohooohohohohohoo.
“Did the children eat helium???”
Interesting to note: Gene Lockhart’s wife Kathleen plays opposite him as Mrs. Cratchit, which I believe (though I may be mistaken) is the only time a real married couple played the pair together on-screen. June Lockhart, their daughter, has her first role as one of the Cratchit brood--not Martha I think but the younger sister.
Something we’ll see in Christmas Present: this is-- the most-- animated-- frustratingly animated-- stop it-- PLEASE STOP COOING OHHH OHHHHHHH EXCITED SCREAMING-- Cratchit family.
We blessedly go to a quieter scene to follow that off-putting miserable supporting character (what was his name? Marley? No that was the dead one; the other one) reading “BANKERS BOOK, VOL. I”. For those of us who’ve read the book, we know that this is where Scrooge took his dinner before going home! And though it’s barely noticeable with how fast this all flies by, there is an empty plate with a knife on it, as the waiter hands Scrooge his change. In a pleasant character moment, Scrooge bites on the coin to see if it’s real or chocolate, annoying the waiter immensely. It makes me sadly realize I haven’t had the joy of chocolate coins in quite some years.
He leaves his book at the table, for some reason?
OH MY GOD PLEASE STOP THIS INFERNAL CHOIR OUTSIDE THE RESTAURANT--the downside with sound versions is that there’s the chance that the singers, singing very pleasant songs which it’d be rude to complain about because “what, are you against Christmas cheer?”, are viciously out of key. Please God, this is not bringing me cOmFOrT aNd JoY.
I actually appreciate that Scrooge knocks the collection hat out of the accordionist’s hand on his way by. And he’s bumped into by even more people on the street, who certainly don’t spring out of his way in this version.
Scrooge, angry that he’s not the main character, finally goes home without… seeing… Jacob in the doorway? Oh no, he’s already finally inside???? Oh-- he literally stops to look back, realizing the moment would pass so he forces it to fruition to prove he IS actually the lead. The lighting people follow him with a spotlight way way too bright for the candle flame, and Franz Waxman’s music becomes dopey woOOOOOOooOOooOOoOo ghostly--and cuts off like a record-scratch while Scrooge looks over the shoulder like who the hell is making my film a joke?! It resumes immediately when Scrooge walks again. This drew another, albeit unintended laugh.
Scrooge’s chambers look very 1930’s to me, too; it might just be the wallpaper or something. They have a great production value--more than the stark version you imagine in the book--and not very draped in shadows, because that might be scary!
In the unparalleled, single most upsetting moment from this or any other adaptation (until 2019… oh 2019), Reggie drinks a spoonful of--cough syrup???????--and then SUCKS THE LIQUID OFF HIS FINGERS LIKE HE’S SLURPING A POPSICLE. STOP SIR WHY DID YOU DO THREE FINGERS AAAAAAAAAAA GOD NO!
Emboldened by scaring the bejeezus out of the viewers, Scrooge wanders around some more looking for phantoms less horrifying than his cough syrup obsession.
The bells start their clamoring--and pull a Michigan J. Frog when Scrooge peers out to look at them. With the nightcap he looks far younger somehow? His boiled-egg dome is covered, and it looks neat, I guess; maybe that’s why he was so belligerent about the hat.
The bells continue their clamoring!!! Drawing Scrooge out! Then--
Cut off-- immediately-- without the hint of any echo. As someone who is a silly film student, this doesn’t sit right because I know it’s a sound edited in--but as someone who has heard bells before in my life, this isn’t how bells work and I know that. It’s very odd and jarring, sadly.
But the silence is immediately followed with a BANG… that echoes deep inside the house, and is a wonderfully chilling moment. Quicker than expected, Leo G. Carroll comes in, our Marley, looking wonderfully weird, and the close-up of Reginald Owen trembling reminds me of whenever Kermit would get scared and shake on the Muppet Show.
My first impression of Marley is that he has a great, grounded voice, and a very dead-stare. He reminded me a bit of Boris Karloff--and now there’s an actor I desperately wish could’ve tackled Scrooge. The problem becomes apparent from their first lines though--because of the pacing of 1930’s cinema, their dialogue is rushed and they have very little chance to just… act. It also becomes apparent by how quick Scrooge answers, and how slow Marley speaks… making Marley start to seem like he’s… plodding… word to word… too passively.
It’s also bemusing because, in overcoming his initial fear, this Scrooge sort of just seems annoyed by his old partner--crotchety to overcome his fear, which I do sometimes myself honestly--but it results in Leo G. Carroll’s lamentations (which scared Scrooge silly in the book) just being met with “Silence!” from the grumpy miser.
From outside, on the well-lit street, the night’s watch say “10:00 and all’s waeeelll…” and Scrooge--
Goes to the window--
AND INVITES THE NIGHT’S WATCH UP TO HIS ROOM TO CHECK FOR INTRUDERS.
The three men below show no emotion at all or sense of urgency while Scrooge tosses them down the key. Scrooge turns back to Marley, smirking that “we’ll soon see how real you are!”, and Marley evidently has the wrong script, because he replies wearily with proper book dialogue about making this visit “for your welfare, Ebenezer Scrooge…”
Not caring, Scrooge goes out into his WELL-LIT FOR NO LIGHTS ON AT 10:00PM house and the three night’s watchmen come jostling up. “He was a spirit!” “AHHHVE Course a spirit AAAHAHAAHAAHAAHAA-- a great naight for spirits, sir--of one sort or another! Meaning, guv’nah (x5), we wouldn’t moind a bit of spirit, ourselves.”
“YOU MAY LEAVE! Indigestion, that’s what it was,” Reginald Owen mutters, realizing with some horror that the ghost of Dickens showed up in the studio to throttle the director if they didn’t get back on track.
“Sorry we couldn’t be of any assistance, guv’nah (x6), perhaps the next spirits you have, we can,” and the night’s watchmen hands him back the key, not bothering to, oh I don’t know-- search the damn house or be logical at all???
Nope; Scrooge just has one room apparently; out they go, cackling like birds.
Once they’re gone, Marley just wanders in from off-screen, starling Scrooge, and, I mean--
This is Scroogey-Doo, man.
In an odd way, this Marley is much more ethereal than others--much less human, and I don’t know if I like the change. Some Marleys (Frank Finlay, whom I know best for instance, from 1984), have an insanity to them that makes them otherworldly--but still have so much mortal despair that it ties in the idea that “this is someone who used to be, but is now damned.” Leo G. Carroll’s Marley just-- is a Ghost, otherworldly, and it’s not a bad performance, just it doesn’t bring along with it the same connective emotional tissue. But he does remember to rattle his chains!
And Scrooge, not to be left out, does indeed remember to look for chains on his own person, which so many of the Scrooges forget to do (if Marley’s line about Scrooge having a chain is even remembered)!
Watching this the first time, I thought Scrooge was sort of bland in this convo, to be honest--in rewatching it for reviewing, I see that his voice is very monotone, but his face is quivering as he shakes, and it’s a lot better than I thought at first. Marley does remain too passive to me, though. From my notes about Marley’s lamentations: “This is the kind of mortal agony of me being like ‘oh god dammit the dog’s licking my hand and I’ll have to wash it off.’” But it does get slightly better when he talks about Mankind is my business!
He’s so world-weary. “Hear me… my time is nearly gone.”
Owen’s voice being more antagonistic, accompanied by his reply, “if you must go, Jacob, don’t let me keep you,” doesn’t do much to quell my first impressions that Scrooge doesn’t care about this at all, quivering as he must be. Though, he does mop his forehead when Jacob mentions about being next to him many and many a day.
Weirdly, after all this, when Jacob starts to go, he barks “don’t leave me yet!”, like many a fanfic has him say.
They do the easier “One Spirit an Hour” vs “One a Night”--and no Spirits outside window because that might be scary, you know. Marley was spooky enough (his makeup is actually quite excellent, accentuating Carroll’s features and cheekbones) and vanishes upon stepping up on the windowsill! Scrooge, nonetheless shaken, rushes to shut the window and go to bed.
As the clock tick-ticks to 1:00, Scrooge’s candle goes out. (Funny; I thought that happened after the Spirit?) Scrooge is awake, however, having smuggled a pocket-watch to bed. But just as he says “Humbug!” the curtains part and--
Okay… Another smudge on the camera-- no, no hang on--
Christmas Past is--
Ann Rutherford, a very lovely young lady! In the one expressionistic moment, she’s not standing in Scrooge’s room but seemingly on a bare stage in the spotlight, glittering and haloed and pure… and with a… an upside down star on her head?
Guess the Past lives deliciously; all right!!!
“The Light!” Scrooge shudders in the foreground, making us believe this is still his bedroom somehow in brilliant staging, “It hurts my eyes! It blinds me!” (Just wait until 1970 when you properly go down to Hell, Mr. Scrooge, I think-- ahh, but spoilers.)
“I’m not surprised,” Christmas Past says in a shockingly contemptuous voice: “It’s the warming light of thankfulness: the light of gratitude to others.”
“I’ve never seen it before!” Scrooge quivers.
“Of course not. It’s men of greed like you who have long forgotten gratitude.”
Oh good, I was worried the film wouldn’t be subtle; thank God it is.
But they finally rise and walk together, while Franz’s ethereal organ turns us further and further into a church from “Carnival of Souls”. Of all the odd tidbits of the book to actually include, this version does give us the “but I’m mortal, Spirit; I will fall,” and Christmas Past laying her hand over his heart to help him fly. Granted, this is after they’ve already gone to the window, and Scrooge looks around like “what the hell is happening?” and me too, man.
Shockingly, up they go!!! And over the models in some amazingly nice shots; against the clouds, fans billowing about them, finally a version where they’re flying!!! I loved seeing this, and who cares if you can see the wires; it’s just wonderful. Scrooge starts to grin himself, agreeing! (We’re off to see the Christmas; the wonderful Christmas of Past--not ‘til next year, sod it!)
We get to see Scrooge’s school for the first time since the silent era! And it’s been a long while--wonderful. Much like the 1999 version, Christmas Past almost vanishes as a white blur against the snow, while Scrooge stands out in his darker bathrobe, extremely happy now. And, still, CP is very antagonistic, somehow? Like, I get that she’s here to poke at his cheer like “well aren’t you hypocritical,” but when Scrooge remembers the path to his school, she says, “Strange to have forgotten it for so many years.” Like--why would I remember the way to school; he doesn’t live there, does he?
We see a young Scrooge! And it’s not Reginald Owen trying to be young! Scrooge is staying at school for the holidays, and Ronald Sinclair is a wonderfully studious little Scrooge; I like him a lot. The comrade he chats with, upon hearing his father wants him to stay, says my favorite line in this whole film, which has with it an accompanying note:
“‘I say--your guv’nah (x7) must be a crusty old bird’ LMAO is this supposed to be British??”
But soon enough, the audience has to “Aww;” Scrooge is alone to study for Christmas. Aww, he’s crying; you can tell by the fact that he collapsed on his hands--but despite having all of ten seconds to have an emotional breakdown, Mr. Sinclair does a good job, and the staging with him turned away, small in a huge classroom, is excellent.
Heaven forbid we have any sorrow in this film though, because-- Scrooge has a sister?! FINALLY! Fran! FRAN-- hey, where’d that r come from? But who cares; we finally get to see this scene, where she can bring him home and-- and--
This child has had too many pixie sticks, oh my god. Well, Past informs us anyway that Fran is dead and c’est la vie. Moving on, we get--
YAY!! My GOD IT’S BEEN SO LONG! J. Fezziwig and Co; wow, we’re actually getting book things! For our side character Scrooge! Oh, GLORIOUS!
Fezziwig is maybe the size of Bob; maybe that’s why Scrooge likes his clerk (begrudgingly). Dick Wilkins is from the same school; Scrooge called him out along with other kids leaving. I don’t honestly remember if he was a classmate in the book--if not, neat little change. And it’s the first time we see how YOUNG Scrooge is in his job--instead of a 20 something bachelor; still the older child actor.
Fezziwig closes up, since it’s five past seven, and let’s take the whole day off tomorrow--make it the whole WEEK to celebrate! HO HO HO-- and he wants them to take dinner with him! And--
Party? His party?.. Any… more… Fezziwig?.. No? No he’s just dead? Nope he’s dead, eh that’s-- fine, that’s fine! (We’re halfway through our film stock, dang it, hurry up the story!)Why is the Spirit trying to tell him to pay his clerk better and other lessons in front of a brick wall? Is this an alleyway? Are Batman’s parents going to be shot this Christmas Eve? Scrooge, having had enough of her passive-aggressiveness, says he’s a good businessman! (Duh duh duh DUH! go the violins) and this may honestly be the only moment where his character actually rebounds back to his old self, on this particular redemptive path. Most of the time, he’s shown neat stuff, and he’s excited; a big reason for the past also showing the heartbreak is to show like “yeah it was great, and also here’s what was lost,” which he hardens against again, but can’t quite manage with the same ferocity.
“I’ve yet to show you the black years of your life! Your gradual enslavement to greed--your ruthlessness--” Ma’am I doubt you’ll get to in this film.
Scrooge awkwardly lifts her veil over her face-- and in a very well-done transition, chokes out his pillow, still snug in bed, before going to sleep to snore like my dog.
Christmas Present fits this film wonderfully, decked with holly and food and brilliance. Lionel Braham plays him as a much more upbeat (surprisingly) Spirit than others, laughing and wide-eyed and boisterous and just very… Brian Blessed, in the most distilled innocent form.
He’s got an absolutely luscious beard and eyebrows that are a bit large, doing him no favors because now I keep thinking of the Burger King from Burger King.
While he has no scabbard about his waist, he does have his horn of plenty, which glows brightly within, and which, as they go out to the street, he uses to break up fights! He breaks up-- a lot of fights!.. A lot of… wow, people are just really game to fight. Like, painfully, snarlingly ready to fight. It makes you almost believe that Christmas is a humbug of cheer, seeing that, but the point is instead how Christmas Present can break up those fights by drugging them with goodwill. You can tell it works because it goes WOWOWOWOW over them.
In an interesting change, but one that fits very well with the Dickensian time period (at least I think it’s a change?), many people are bustling to and from the bakers; “the poor find it cheaper to bring their dinners to the baker to be cooked.” But the lines about the flavor of the Christmas Spirit sprinkled that helps make the season so brilliant come from the book, including that it applies “to a poor dinner most; because it needs it most.”
Because of the pacing, and because Scrooge isn’t given many chances to be on-screen or have a progression in his character arc, he is immediately happy of YEAH WE DID GOOD :D when people stop bickering, and I can tell this ain’t Edward Woodward yet, because Lionel Braham just smiles and nods, rather like Scrooge is a toddler before him (which, itself, is a neat way to play it).
On we go to a church that isn’t in the book, but bless my soul here’s our main characters back once more! Fred! Along with his lovely Bess let us adore him LET US ADORE HIM LET US ADOOOOOORE HIM LET US
Here’s Scrooge and the Spirit pulling a doppelganger from Kolchak in the Church window. Gives me chills every time I think about it. Never cut a funeral procession. Never.
Scrooge is thicker than any other version when Spirit quoting his own philosophy of “ugh they’re in love” back at him--genuinely seeming to not figure out he’s being mocked on purpose, but trying to tell the Spirit otherwise.
We fade to Gene Lockhart’s Bob singing to the audience directly down the camera lens, upset realizing that his family’s source of income is now completely gone. His sorrows are interrupted--or spurred on--by Tiny Tim next to him singing about Jesus, and only now do I pause and wonder why only Tim comes with to church in the source material? Do the Cratchit kids alternate? Are the rest living deliciously? I’ll never know, but I hope someone writes that book.
Tim here looks somewhat like a young Dwight Frye, ready to take some papers to Carfax Abbey. It’s just the hair, I think.
It’s also here that I think to myself that Terry Kilburn truly does make a very sweet little child that you do care deeply for, and somehow still looks frail, hunched over his crutch. It’s hard to describe why--maybe the crutch is too small for him, or maybe it’s seeing that he doesn’t move very quickly (just is extremely animated)--but he’s growing on me a lot, even looking too clean.
Gene please STOP LOOKING DOWN THE CAMERA IT’S CREEPING ME OUT!
And now, back to our main characters.
Gene carries Tim on his shoulder well, and the two of them meet Fred and Bess and everyone agrees that Bess is very pretty. I think I’ve seen more teeth in this film than a dentist does in a week. As the Cratchits leave, Fred and Bess have their first spat (?) because Fred wants to go ice sliding in front of the church and seems so genuinely hurt she doesn’t want him to. I have in my notes, unexplained, the words “OUEH-- DAHRLING,” but it makes sense when I hear Fred pronounce it exactly like that. An older fellow runs out to shoo the boys away since they’re sliding in front of the church (is this really an issue? Did people back then just not have real problems, or want to admit more real problems existed???) and Fred comments, "He has no soul!”
Sir, that is the priest.
Though, the priest is shown to be a hypocrite immediately after by sliding himself then chuckling and going inside. A priest that’s a hypocrite??? This is a fiction!
So Fred and Bess slide and fall down together and kiss and that’s damnable to the 10th circle of Hell based on the Old Christian Ways, you know. Glad we got some time with our romantic leads though!
Back to our emotional leads, we do see Bob galloping along with Tim on his shoulder, which is wonderfully pleasant. They pass Scrooge and the Burger King behind the gate of a house, where Scrooge just-- immediately cares deeply for Tim? You haven’t even seen him eat yet, or proclaim God’s Blessing to Every One. But, Tim’s doomed to die in one year,
“With the kind of care that MONEY can buy, who could tell?” rivals “Carol For Another Christmas” in terms of subtlety (we’ll get to that-- experiment-- in the 60s). It’s interesting how not angry about it Christmas Present is in this version; he’s just sort of an upset parent, almost agonized, but not blaming Scrooge any beyond saying, “If this goes unaltered, Tim’s pushing up daisies, guv’nah.” The closest we get to that manic malice is the ever-famous “If he be like to die, he’d better do it, and decrease the population!”, followed by a not-friendly smile, staring at Scrooge’s guilt-riddled face.
From my notes: “And NOW we go to see the dinner??? Makes Scrooge so much weaker; no character arc, he’s just oh nooooooo.” If he doesn’t learn to connect to Tiny Tim but just cares about him instantly, then why do we need the Spirits helping him? Couldn’t the Cratchits have just staged an intervention, at this point? I mean, obviously not since they aren’t rich, but you get my meaning; Scrooge’s internal grappling is not as forefront as it could, and should, be. He’s just reformed and dragged along to reinforce it, now.
On with the show! Martha comes home, smiling her pearly whites-- “Ooh Martha, you’re cold”; could it be that she has no sleeves???
I genuinely tried to write notes about this whole part. I just have to write down what I got because I genuinely can’t summarize it any better than that, starting with, “AHAHAHAHA, WE’RE SO HAPPY".
“Mrs. Cratchit is--more animated than normal. Like, I expect it from the children but--like, she’s just as insane".
“Here Martha; taste this. Sweet enough?” “Still a bit sour.” Oh sure, there’s still sourness here; we have exorcized every bit of sorrow from a story that needs some grimness to make it ACTUALLY WORK. Bob lies to Martha about hey, I’ve been sacked.
Echoes of laughter like the mother’s death from Night of the Living Dead transition us to the gormandization of the goose. Across every adaptation, this one has The SCARIEST FACE FOR BOB CRATCHIT. He looks like one of the Merryville Brothers from SNL. Tiny Tim says “I’d like to stroke it”, while Scrooge and the Burger King look on and we’re just moving on, nope, no no no.
“W O W, Mrs. Cratchit is so animated. AHAHAHAHAHHA Someone could’ve stolen the pudding? Let’s make a joke on Tim about it.
“Jesus Christ, it’s like they’re all on the weed from “Reefer Madness” with this level of frantic joy.
“Oh MATHA”, Harpya Cratchit coos to make Mom eat pudding.
Peter says look at my stomach, after the grand meal, to Tiny Tim, and Bob takes umbridge.
The toast is insane: "May next Christmas bring us luck" (yeah, one less mouth to feed) and MRS CRATCHIT saying, "And may Mr Scrooge give your father a raise”. God forbid she be angry and give him “some of her mind to feast upon” because that’d be rude and we don’t do that in the 1930s; nobody was rude, nobody will ever be rude, this is a nice wholesome version. The Burger King of Christmas stares at Reginald “I’m regretting some life choices” Scrooge.
Tim, for God’s sake stop shaking from excitement for Bob to tell a story. INEXPLICABLY Scrooge is likewise animated because “Bob’s story is about Aladdin! And his magic lamp!” I want to hear the part where he says, “TEN THOUSAND YEEEEEEEARS WILL GIVE YOU SUCH A CRICK IN THE NECK!”, and like we’ve not had the book detail that young Scrooge liked the Arabian Nights, so this comes out of literally nowhere.
Finally the Burger King brings them on to Fred’s party. Somehow, Fred looks sort of leprechaun-esque. Oh I see; we’re giving Bess the annoyance at the toast to Scrooge. Tom is renamed from Topper and Fred helps him go after ladies with his “blindfold” while the most rotund mutton-chopped man wanders in front of everyone for more sherry. Fred brings Bess behind the curtains to the window alcove and they start snogging as Scrooge begs to stay and watch “UNTIL THEY FINISH” and the timing of it really does give it a terribly “aww hehe yes, go on my nephew… mmm kiss her… go on” creepiness.
Reginald Owen’s taken the same laughing gas the rest of the cast has as Christmas Present shows nothing about those scary extra ghosts under his robe. The harshest he gets is a blustering “Don’t be a fool, man! You don’t like Christmas!”, and Scrooge, toddler-like, replying, “But I do! I do like Christmas!” We get a montage of everything we’ve already seen so happily, making me wonder why we even need another redemptive part--
--and suddenly Scrooge is on the set of those final mountains from the finale chase of “Frankenstein,” with Yet to Come coming around to recreate “The Seventh Seal”. It almost looks like a hollow cloak like those ghost statues in Venice. Scrooge asks for it to speak, then immediately says something else.
Along they go to the XCHANC where similarly snotty businessmen say, “I’ll go to his funeral if lunch is provided.” Who are you, my dad at 19? Under bright lighting, Yet to Come does look a bit like a lot of dark towels rolled up. We do manage to get the darkest scene of the film, where Scrooge allllmost uncovers the dead man in his bed--until he remembers he contractually can’t, and asks to be lead away instead.
Oh wow, the Spirit has a hand, now uncovered to show the Cratchits, finally docile-- It just registered to me that it’s implied Scrooge and Tim die in the same year. Is this what acting is when it’s not showing every tooth in your mouth from grinning? It’s wonderfully subdued.
Scrooge says, oh poor Tim, “Everyone feels sorrow for him--sorrow they’d never feel for me”, and I swear to God it looked like the Cratchits were wax in the background until a faint movement.
It’s a very… thin Yet to Come. And weirdly now that we’re in the graveyard, we get to see under the cowl and see it’s just a dude’s face beneath it, when before it was just darkness. Shade of Asheton Tonge, tell me the name of the man lying dead! Is this the slowest strip ever? When Scrooge shakes it in beseeching, will the robe fall away completely? Why do we see more Spirit???
Reginald Owen is trying so hard, but just the tempo of his performance isn’t there to resonate and breathe. Just the quick style of 1930’s Hollywood. But, we fade back to him in bed!
We do at least get one of the better WALK-ER boys. Who says WHOOSH! as he runs off, wonderfully!
The redemption holds almost no weight to me because he’s been so brilliantly happy throughout the whole Spiritual time. Not the same layered “a little at a time”. Even the VIOLINS are too frantically joyful. Maybe he was just grumpy when the film didn’t let him be the lead; he’s a joy now! And, while Reginald Owen certainly isn’t an old Scrooge, he’s a joy to watch now that he can be upbeat with the rest of the cast!
He runs into Twill and Rummage again, donating so much money! He goes on to Fred’s party, and Fred genuinely doesn’t recognize him somehow.
“Fred you dog! Who is this fellow? Not your uncle, I’ll be bound,” a voice-over tells us from the rotund man’s back. “He wouldn’t have a smile like that!”
Would anyone in Victorian England?
“He said that--” “Christmas is a humbug; that people who celebrated it were fools!” Scrooge interrupts. “It was stupid of him!” Reginald Owen is being silly in the role which is nice. Scrooge tells Bess a secret which she tells Fred and then Fred goes to kiss his uncle’s cheek but pauses by his lips and it’s weird. AHAHAHAHAH AHAHAHAHAHAH AHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA. Please god stop laughing.
Scrooge goes to the Cratchits? With presents? I do love that Bob opens the door and physically recoils, letting out a bewildered, “What?” when Scrooge barges in saying, “Merry Christmas, Bob!” Bob tells his wife it’s Scrooge! And he’s insane!!!! OH GOD BOB SAVE THE CHILDREN OH MY GOD THE BLOOD-- oh no, he’s just bought a carousel; oh wonderful, something more that will make noise in this house.
Fred’s now a partner in the firm… Mrs. Cratchit is hiding, but comes out. And Scrooge tells Bob to pass out the punch--because, tee hee, the rich do mingle with the poor, don’t you know? And Peter will have a job! And Scrooge gets to toast, jowls shaking, and Tim says his catchphrase finally.
I think of things in patterns, usually when there are no patterns there (I’m neurodivergent and it’s honestly a bit frustrating). There are a few connective threads I weave between the popular adaptations of this story--case and point, there are two instances where I view two versions that are often talked about close to one-another as being complementary opposites. I’ll explain my reasoning for why I think of the 1984 and 1999 adaptations this way--but for these two 1930’s films, I can explain it now.
Consider if you will, that this is the White to the 1935 Black. These two films might be considered rivals, vying for screen time with this MGM one winning out, but they work as a bit of a blend when seen close together. Where the 1935 version is draped in shadows throughout, this version gives us brightly-lit sets. Where 1935 is slow-spoken and quiet with its score, this has quicker-paced dialogue and fewer moments of actual silence. Where the Past is barely a section in 1935--only showing Scrooge’s heartbreak--here it takes up much more time, showing us everything but the heartbreak. Where Marley is an angry voice in one, he is a dully-calm phantom in the other; where Christmas Past is a calm smudge in one, it is a bright (almost frustrated) lady in the other; where one Christmas Present is a king who has eaten his beard, the other is selling me a Double Whopper and laughing chummily all the while. Where one gives us an expressionistic, distressing, haunting Christmas Yet to Come, the other has the only time the film is quiet and collected. Where one sticks religiously to the book, the other changes it for the screen.
Everything about these films feels different, and opposite in ways that are pleasant to view when combined. It makes me wonder, though, how to take this film on its own merit, rather than as a comparison. I suppose I should start by saying that this is not my favorite version I’ve seen, and I think that boils down to two things.
The tone feels off to me, and Scrooge’s character does not really work this time around. These go hand-in-hand.
As I joked about while watching the film, Scrooge does not feel like the main character, and that’s a huge issue. Something that the 1935 did well was introduce us to Hicks’ Scrooge gradually through how Bob looked at him, how he interacted with the people visiting his office--but once that icebreaker was done, the film was undeniably about Scrooge. Seeing an extended opening with Fred, and Tiny Tim, and Bob, and focusing on each of them throughout (especially in Stave I but also just in the entire film; this version cuts back to Scrooge looking in on the Present visions fewer times than others I recall, making it easy to forget he’s there sometimes) takes away from the connection we have to Scrooge. Obviously we don’t want to spend Christmas with this grasping, scraping, covetous old sinner--but we have to follow him and he has to have more importance in his own story for ANYTHING THAT FOLLOWS to be impactful. He comes off as a side-character because we’re focused more on the reactions and repercussions of the people around him. If I was watching this without any knowledge of the book or any other film, I genuinely would think the film was about Fred and Bob at the start, and my heart would sink realizing we’re following “that mean grumpy old guy” when we do.
Even on Amazon Prime it says it’s starring Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, and Terry Kilburn. WHY DON’T YOU WANT REGINALD OWEN TO BE THE LEAD, MOVIE?!
Because Scrooge doesn’t get to be the lead in his own movie, the moments seeing him along his redemptive road become exponentially more important to get right--and either due to the directing, Owen’s acting, or the tone, they sort of become one-dimensional. When we see Scrooge’s past, all we get to see are the good days of his youth; Christmas Past shows us diddly-squat about him becoming a miser as she desperately seems to want to show. But those scenes are cut; the scenes at Old Joe’s are cut; the bitterness of Christmas Present showing Ignorance and Want is cut--most of the bitterness of Christmas Present at Scrooge is cut. Most of the dour, downer moments are cut, leaving us with redemptive milestones for a character that is trying to be Dickens’ mean-spirited bastard in an almost one-note cut-out way. Scrooge has to have his nose stuck in it by the Past to get that first realization of how he’s been a tool--it comes as a gut-punch seeing what a nice lad he used to be first. Without it, he’s just a nice lad and now the old guy’s happy and that’s all the change we see. In the Present--he’s just happy and filled with cheer. He’s sad Tiny Tim will die because who wouldn’t be--but he’s not had enough scenes reinforcing that he’s still a miserable git to make us feel the impact of Christmas Present socking it to him about “decreasing the population.” (He doesn’t say surplus here, weirdly). In Yet to Come, he’s just there watching. It all just feels like he’s reacting to things instead of changing as a person, because we don’t get to see his quieter moments where he slides back into that darker half of himself--because the film won’t let him.
Without that, I wound up feeling a bit like a passenger going character to character. We get to see Bob’s Christmas, and Fred’s Christmas, and we get the sense that a mean old grumpy-boy became happy and upbeat to match the frenetic world around him. In telling my partner about it, they commented that this is the KidzBop version of “A Christmas Carol”, aka watered down and sanitized into lobotomization. It’s not… that bad, but there’s portions that approach that.
As an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” I don’t know how well it captures the redemptive story, but to give the film some much-deserved credit, it accomplishes the bombastic level of cheer it sets out for. Yes, some of the scenes (Cratchits especially) are diabetes-inducing with their levels of over-sweetness, but as is shown in the Present, we see the horn of good cheer sprinkled over everyone. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves--genuinely, which knowing 1930’s Hollywood behind the scenes is a rarity--and everyone does a fine job acting in this particular version. Yes, I don’t think Reginald Owen is compelling as Scrooge, but I think that because of how the character is written to match the over-animation and what notes are left out from the story--I think that Owen does a grand job when he’s allowed to be Scrooge, especially in Stave I--there’s a reason Lionel Barrymore specifically hand-picked him when he himself couldn’t do the role. Gene Lockhart may not look like a poverty-riddled Cratchit (none of the brood do this time around), but that doesn’t stop him from giving a very endearing performance. Terry Kilburn, despite looking like the only hardships he’s faced is missing the last homer at his baseball game, is as innocent, sweet, and surprisingly frail as you could want this Tim to be. Barry Mackay does his darnedest to make Fred more than the background character Dickens had him initially be. The Spirits are all there to serve their purposes, and fit in with this version of the story well: nothing is too overbearing, or daring, or taking away from seeing Fred and Bob enjoy Christmas.
(A neat little aside; Terry Kilburn is still alive, and from 1970 to 1994 worked as the artistic director for Oakland University’s Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester, Michigan--known best for its yearly production of “A Christmas Carol,” adapted by Kilburn’s partner Charles Nolte!).
All in all, I think this is an easy version to rag on because of how different it may feel, or how sickly-sweet. But, to put things into perspective, this was the 1930’s in America. People remembered the first World War, and by now Europe was staring down the grim prospect of a second one. The American economy had hit rock bottom, and was finally at the tail end of clawing desperately for any way out. Americans needed entertainment--at the beginning of the decade, that might’ve been Universal’s Monsters, but those stalled out, especially after 1934’s “The Black Cat” went insane and Hollywood established the Hays Code to regulate what could and couldn’t go onto the silver screen. So, with a public in desperate need of joy, a studio system that couldn’t show or even imply a lot of grim stuff, and a world teetering on the precipice of yet another cataclysmic conflict--is it any wonder that we got a version where the darker side was watered down and scraped off as much as possible?
This isn’t my favorite version of “A Christmas Carol,” but it is very well-made. It is lovely, it is delightful, and it is a version you could absolutely use to introduce your children to. It’s not the deepest or subtlest or best, but it holds a kind of early-Hollywood charm present in “The Wizard of Oz” and other early productions that’s unable to be reproduced the same in modern ways. I can see why it was a mainstay of televisions everywhere: it’s not the most straightforward adaptation, but it is certainly one of the most genuinely good-natured, cheery, goodwill-to-all Christmas films.
I realized just today that I've only shown ONE of the UK 2022 Christmas ads, so far, so let's rectify that situation right now. First up is the Marks & Spencer's ad, with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders providing the voices. As they do every years, M&S leave you salivating over their scrumptious choices for your Christmas Feast. Take a look!
Next up is Aldi's 2022 ad, with the return of Kevin The Carrot! I cant really explain the appeal of this 'little vegetable that can', but he's an iconic figure in Great Britain. In this year's ad, Kevin does his own version of HOME ALONE - the burglars never had a chance.
After you share Kevin's adventure (and his previous antics if you're not familiar with him), you can also see the remaining six contenders for Best UK Christmas ad from the other stores, all conveniently lined up for your viewing pleasure.
We'll close out the day with a piece of roaring history. J mentioned the MGM Lion looking different in the trailer for the film; that was because he was the FIFTH beast in the role! His real name was Coffee and he was a sweetie. To read about ALL the MGM Lions, their real names and more feline trivia, click below!
Back tomorrow with more!