johnlink ranks A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938)

As I said in last year’s write-up of the Jim Carrey version, this story is very special to me. It was a big part of the reason I fell in love with theater, and I just adore its message. So here’s a short (about 70 minutes) 30s version with Reginald Owen in one of the most famous roles in literary history.

I watched A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) on 12.8.10. It was my first viewing of the film. Here is an interesting trailer with Lionel Barrymore introducing the film. He was supposed to play Scrooge, but backed out due to illness. He was friends with Reginald Owen (actually suggested him as his replacement) and wanted to help out the production.

This version of the film does a few things well. Its Christmas ghosts are very good, and the feel of the schoolyard scene and the pre-visit build works, though it differs from the book.

But much doesn’t quite work. I am very critical of Scrooge, because I’ve seen him played on stage by many great actors. I thought Carrey nailed the character in last year’s release. But some of Owen’s choices, in terms of when to be a, well, Scrooge, and turning on the switch towards compassion, they don’t quite work. I think the script is most to blame. They have eliminated his lost love, which is a major source of his demeanor. Christmas Past gives us only two scenes, so we don’t get to experience his deterioration. In fact, we only see happy memories.

They made a choice to have Fred be a much larger character. While this gives the end a nice moment, it does detract from some needed Scrooge time. The biggest problem with this version is that we don’t get enough time with Scrooge. The transition should be a slow, almost painful, difficult one. In this film, it’s very quick.

The children in this film are horribly directed. The six Cratchit children must have been told ‘When anything remotely interesting happens, all talk at once and react like you just won the lottery.’ The idea, I understand, is to show the joy in the mundane for those who are poor. The effect, however, is a shrill build of unpleasantly screeching children. Guess I’m the Scrooge now.

I’m usually not a source-material snob. And in fact, I’ve never read Dickens’ novel. But the versions of this story which usually do well stay true to it. This one does not, and it is far less successful.





~ by johnlink00 on December 8, 2010.

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