Christmas Carol, A (1938): Edwin Martin’s Adaptation of Dickens, Starring Reginald Owen (Christmas Movie)

A Christmas Carol, Edwin Martin’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s 1843 famous novella, stars Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge, a wicked old miser who learns the error of his ways on Christmas Eve after encountering three spirits.

On Christmas Eve in 19th-century London, Fred is sliding on ice on a sidewalk. He meets Peter and Tim Cratchit, sons of his uncle Ebenezer’s clerk, Bob Cratchit.

Fred arrives at the counting-house of his maternal uncle, Ebenezer Scrooge. After declining an invitation from his nephew to dine with him on Christmas, Scrooge rejects two men collecting money for charity.

That night, Scrooge reluctantly allows his employee Bob Cratchit to have Christmas off with pay but orders him back the day after. Later Bob accidentally knocks off Scrooge’s hat with a snowball. Scrooge dismisses Bob and withholds a week’s pay to compensate for his ruined hat. Bob spends his last wage on food for his family’s Christmas dinner.

Scrooge is confronted by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him to repent, or he will be condemned in the afterlife. He tells Scrooge he will be haunted by three spirits.

At one o’clock, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes him back to his early life. Scrooge is seen unhappy when left to spend the holidays alone at school. He is happy when his sister Fran came to take him home for Christmas. The spirit reminds Scrooge that the dead Fran is his nephew’s mom

At two o’clock, Scrooge meets the merry Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows Scrooge how others celebrate Christmas. At church, Fred and fiancée Bess are happily in love. The couple must wait to marry because of Fred’s financial circumstances.  The spirit observes that might not marry, and their love may end, just as Scrooge had lost his fiancée.

Scrooge is then shown the Cratchit home. He wears cheery manner for his family’s sake, but Bob is deeply troubled by his lost job; he confides only in his daughter Martha. The spirit hints that Bob’s youngest son, Tim, will die of a crippling illness by the same time next year if things do not change.

At three o’clock, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives, as a silent, cloaked figure. The spirit shows Scrooge what will happen if he does not change–Tiny Tim is dead and his family mourns for him. After realizing that his own death will not be mourned, Scrooge promises to repent.

Awakening in his bed on Christmas Day, Scrooge is a changed man. He asks a boy to buy a turkey for him, in order to take it to the Cratchits. Running into the two men who petitioned him for charity, Scrooge gives a large donation. He visits Fred and makes him his new partner, then goes to the Cratchit house where he rehires Bob with increased wage.

The original choice to play Scrooge was Lionel Barrymore, who had been doing annual readings of Dickens on radio, but due to illness he was unable to assume this coveted role,

This (and other) version deviated from the time frame of the ghosts arrival in Dickens’ tale.  In the original novel, the second ghost appears the next night at 1:00 and the last appears the third night when the last stroke of 12:00 ceases to vibrate.

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 fiancée)
Bunny Beatty as Martha Cratchit
June Lockhart as Belinda Cratchit
John O’Day as Peter Cratchit
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
Ronald Sinclair as Young Scrooge


Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay by Hugo Butler, based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography: Sidney Wagner, John F. Seitz
Edited by George Boemler
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date: December 16, 1938
Running time: 69 minutes


I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on December 9, 2019.