Monthly Archives: December 2022

re the 1938 “A Christmas Carol”


Regarding the 1938 film A Christmas Carol starring Reginald Owen (as Ebenezer Scrooge) and Gene Lockhart (as Bob Cratchit). This is a seriously flawed film.

The 1951 version with Alastair Sim as Scrooge and Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit is not only a much better film – it is the best Christmas Carol ever.

Some flagrant flaws of the 1938 film, which I watched with my son on Christmas Eve this week:

In the opening scene, after Scrooge dismisses Cratchit and the latter shuts down the office and leaves (on Christmas Eve), Cratchit, walking home, encounters some boys having a snowball fight. One of them knocks down Cratchit, who is momentarily flustered, then takes in all in good humor and merrily and joins in the fight.

If that isn’t enough, along comes Scrooge, walking home. One of Cratchit’s snowballs plunks Scrooge, who falls on his back. Scrooge’s hat is damaged when he falls on it. Scrooge is enraged. He fires Cratchit on the spot and makes him pay for the hat.

None of this happens (including any snowball fight), whatsoever, in Dickens’s novella.


“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.”

The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl. The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve, and then ran home to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blindman’s-buff.

Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker’s-book, went home to bed.


What outages me about this (yes, outrages, since I cherish the novella and know it by heart) is that the filmmakers thought the story as it is wasn’t good enough or dramatic enough (how could it be any more compelling and heart-wrenching than it actually is?), and so they thought they had to make it more dramatic with Scrooge getting hit by Cratchit’s snowball. And, by the way, Scrooge does not fire Cratchit in the Dickens story. Cratchit reports to work the day after Christmas, in what is one the most compelling of many unforgettable scenes in the novella.

But, in this God awful, stupid movie, Cratchit tearfully tells one of his daughters on Christmas day that he has been sacked.


After Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge (briefly), Scrooge — in the novella — goes to bed:

“I—I think I’d rather not,” said Scrooge.

“Without their visits,” said the Ghost [Marley’s], “you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first to-morrow, when the bell tolls One.”

“Couldn’t I take ’em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?” hinted Scrooge.

“Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!”

When it had said these words, the spectre took its wrapper from the table, and bound it round its head, as before. Scrooge knew this, by the smart sound its teeth made, when the jaws were brought together by the bandage. He ventured to raise his eyes again, and found his supernatural visitor confronting him in an erect attitude, with its chain wound over and about its arm.

The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that when the spectre reached it, it was wide open.

It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, Marley’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer. Scrooge stopped.

Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night.

Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded together; and the night became as it had been when he walked home.

Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say “Humbug!” but stopped at the first syllable. And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull conversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant.


Not so in the 1938 film. Scrooge (Reginald Owen), after Marley leaves, opens a window and calls for a night watchman to report an intruder. Three watchmen respond and visit him briefly. They decide he is maybe a little batty.

What reason was this stupid scene interpolated for?

Enough said. On, no, not quite. Many scenes are way too brief for the point to get across, for us to enjoy them. Christmas Eve at Fezziwig’s establishment. Christmas day at Scrooge’s nephew’s. The scenes with each of the three spirits, particularly the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come. They are skipped through without many of the best parts.

And, of course, the concluding scene when Cratchit reports to work the next day is entirely omitted. After all, Cratchit has been fired! In the film, that is.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  December 2022

my father and Dr. Colp


One reason there was such a meeting of minds — a fusion — with my therapist Dr. Colp — he called it the X factor — was similarities in our relationships with our fathers.

I remember when Dr. Colp’s father passed away. I read the latter’s obituary in the Times.

Dr. Colp’s father was a surgeon. Dr. Colp became a surgeon. He said he could never equal his father professionally. And he found that he didn’t particularly like surgery.

But what caused him to, in a sense, defy his father and assert himself by forging a new identity was that he found he was, above all, interested in talking with his patients and learning about them, something most physicians don’t see as a primary function or concern. He said he wrote some short stories based on his patients.

The result was that Dr. Colp “started all over again” and did a second residency in psychiatry.



Early on, I told Dr. Colp: I can feel the interest in me. That alone is therapeutic.

What a person. His capacity for empathy. And for LISTENING. Rare in anyone, even therapists, it seems.



Charles Darwin’s father was a physician. He felt that his son Charles would probably never amount to anything. His persona vis-à-vis his son was remarkably similar to that of Dr. Colp’s father; and Dr. Colp (the younger, that is, Ralph Colp Jr.) became a preeminent Darwin scholar.

The parallels were apparent to me. I commented on them to Dr. Colp, who expressed approval for and admiration of my insight.

Dr. Colp’s relationship with his father was a lot like mine.

At some point — in his writings, in our discussions, in general, and when my own father died — I gathered among Dr. Colp’s views that the death of a man’s father (and, by extension, a woman’s mother, which did not pertain to our discussions, but can be implied or inferred) was a crucial event in one’s life (he said this explicitly to me) — I am sure he was speaking for himself. And, that death is profound in terms of loss and grief, but there is also a release. In the case of a parent, you are free of the parent: free of demands and expectations they placed on you; of criticisms that may have crippled you emotionally, undermined your self-confidence.

Dr. Colp saw all this.

You are free to grow. To become, more than heretofore, your own person.

And …

to incorporate into yourself — your personhood, character; your personality; your demeanor — hitherto unappreciated and overlooked strengths and admirable features of the deceased loved one, parent.

In conclusion

I forgive my father his faults.

They are all of ours. My own.

I appreciate much more than I ever did his admirable qualities, Without being aware of it, I absorbed, unconsciously, and mimicked many of them.

I had an excellent male role model without knowing it.

My father.

Perfect. No. A good father. Yes and no. Someone to emulate and admire. Yes.

And – this is in afterthought which may seem to undercut what I have said – I recall moments of genuine affection. His delight in getting me something I really wanted for my birthday once when I was a preadolescent and surprising me with it; affectionate hugs from him when, after a long absence, I came home for visits in my twenties and thirties; and our last long distance phone conversation, which meant so much to me (that we had it), on a Sunday night two days before his death on the following Tuesday — he told me at the end of a long talk that he loved me. He may have said this because he had a sense of impending death, but our conversation was not gloomy, he was in good humor, and as far as he knew he was going to have a routine operation that he was scheduled for on the day that he died.


Roger W. Smith

   December 2022

Nikolay Andreyev, introduction to Leo Tolstoy, “Master and Man and Other Parables and Tales”


Andreyev, Introduction – Tolstoy, ‘Master and Man’


Posted here as a PDF is Nikolay Andreyev’s introduction to Leo Tolstoy, Master and Man and Other Parables and Tales (Dent, Everyman’s Library, 1957).

I purchased this book in the 1970s — the title story made a strong impression on me.

Andreyev’s concise introduction to Tolstoy is very illuminating — about the man and his works in general, not just Tolstoy’s short stories.


— Roger W. Smith

   December 2022

visiting one of Walt Whitman’s residences


photos by Roger W. Smith

99 Ryerson Street, Brooklyn

On Ryerson Street in Brooklyn. On December 24, 2019, the day before Christmas.

I walked and walked, thought I would never find Ryerson Street. No one seemed to know where the street was located. The house is in a Brooklyn neighborhood known as Clinton Hill. It is close to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Whitman and his family lived there briefly, in 1855, and were possibly still there in early 1856. But by the time two Concord intellectuals and writers, Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau, visited Whitman in October 1856, the Whitman family had moved to another house in the area. (The visitors had to take the ferry from Manhattan to get to Brooklyn, which was then a suburb.)

I have posted the following articles here:


“Should Walt Whitman’s House Be Landmarked” The New York Times, December 24, 2019

‘Should Walt Whitman’s House Be Landmarked’ – NY Times 12-24-2019


selections from the diary of Bronson Alcott and the correspondence of Henry David Thoreau

‘Whitman in His Own Times’ (Alcott, Thoreau)


Lawrence Buell, “Whitman and Thoreau. Calamus no. 8 (August 1973), pp. 18-28.

Lawrence Buell, ‘Whitman and Thoreau’


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2022

how NOT to do footnotes


Such footnoting will drive a scholar to tears.

Examples of the footnoting in three books are provided in the PDFs posted here below the covers of each.









— posted by Roger W. Smith

  December 2022



See also my post