Tag Archives: A Christmas Carol 1938 Reginald Owen Gene Lockhart

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