A Christmas Carol (1938)

Film and Plot Synopsis

In one of the first adaptations of the classic Charles Dickens’ tale, Reginald Owen plays Ebenezer Scrooge, a cold-hearted businessman who hates Christmas and looks down upon anyone who celebrates it. However, when the ghost of his former partner appears to him on Christmas Eve and warns him that he may share his fate of damnation unless he changes his ways, Scrooge begins a magical journey through the past, present, and future that will give the miser a new perspective on life and Christmas.

‘A Christmas Carol’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
A Christmas Carol (1938)In one of the first adaptations of the classic Charlies Dickens’ tale, Reginald Owen plays the story’s central character of Ebenezer Scrooge. In 1843 London on Christmas Eve, Fred (Barry MacKay) is sliding on ice on a sidewalk with Peter and “Tiny” Tim Cratchit (John O’Day and Terry Kilburn). Fred is the only living relative of Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen). Scrooge is a cold-hearted businessman with an incredibly bad temper and tendency to be a skinflint. Scrooge hates Christmas and everything that it stands for and looks down on anyone who celebrates the holiday, including his own nephew Fred. As the film opens, Scrooge rejects his nephew’s invitation to Christmas dinner and lambasts two gentlemen (Charles Coleman and Matthew Boulton) who are collecting money for charity. Scrooge would rather see the poor placed into the poor houses or graves before he would contribute to help anyone.

Scrooge has a loyal employee by the name of Bob Cratchit (Gene Lockhart) who works alongside Scrooge in the freezing counting house. At the close of business, Cratchit engages in a snowball fight in the street, and accidentally knocks Scrooge’s hat from his head. Scrooge fires Cratchit and withholds a week’s salary to compensate for the ruined hat. Cratchit uses the last of his wages on food for his family’s Christmas dinner, while Scrooge heads home.

Scrooge lives alone with minimal amenities. That night, Scrooge encounters the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley (Leo G. Carroll). Marley warns Scrooge that he needs to repent and except Christmas into his heart or he will be doomed to share his miserable fate in the afterlife. The deceased businessman informs Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits during the night. However, once Marley leaves, Scrooge convinces himself that he imagined the ghost.

Shortly after midnight, Scrooge is visited by the Spirit of Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford). The Spirit whisks Scrooge to his past and shows the miser a younger version of himself (Ronald Sinclair) that was placed at boarding school after Scrooge’s father didn’t want the boy due to his mother’s death in childbirth. A visit from Scrooge’s sister Fran (Elvira Stevens) brings a sliver of light into Scrooge’s otherwise dreary existence. His sister brings the unexpected news that she is there to take him home as their father has changed. The Spirit also shows how Scrooge’s unbreakable focus on accumulating wealth as an adult drove a wedge between him and society, and also reminds Scrooge of Fran’s death, Fred’s mother. At the conclusion of their journey, Scrooge is returned to his bed chamber.

Soon after, Scrooge is visited by the Spirit of Christmas Present (Lionel Braham). The Spirit shows Scrooge how others keep Christmas. At a church service, Fred and his fiancée, Bess (Lynne Carver), are seen as happy and in love. However, the couple are forced to wait to marry because of Fred’s financial circumstances. The Spirit informs Scrooge that the couple may not marry at all and their love may end, just as Scrooge lost his fiancée in his youth. The Spirit takes Scrooge to Bob Cratchit’s house, where Scrooge is surprised to find that his clerk has such a large family. Scrooge watches as the Cratchit family celebrates Christmas with a meager meal made up of goose and pudding. Cratchit is deeply troubled by the loss of his job, though he confides in no one except his daughter Martha (Bunny Beatty). Scrooge takes pity on Bob’s ill son Tiny Tim. The Spirit warns Scrooge that unless things change, Tiny Tim will die.

Finally, Scrooge is confronted with his final apparition, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come (D’Arcy Corrigan) who appears in the form of a silent, cloaked figure. This Spirit shows Scrooge what lies in store the following year. The Spirit shows the Cratchit family in mourning, as Tim has died. Additionally, the Spirit shows that Scrooge’s own death will not be mourned by anyone and is actually celebrated by some. Overcome with guilt and emotion, Scrooge vows to change his ways and embrace every day as if it was Christmas.

Suddenly, Scrooge awakens in his own bedroom on Christmas Day. Thrilled to be alive and having a chance to repent, Scrooge begins to make up for the years of being miserly. He ventures out onto the streets of London and begins to spread happiness and joy to its citizens. He encounters the two businessman who were collecting money for the charities and contributes a sizeable donation. Scrooge sends a turkey dinner to the Cratchit family home. He also attends his nephew’s annual Christmas dinner, where surprisingly he is warmly welcomed. Scrooge offers Fred a job as Scrooge’s new partner at the counting house.

After dining at Fred’s, Scrooge visits the Cratchit household and rehires Cratchit as his clerk. Additionally, he raises Cratchit’s wages and promises that he will help pay for Tiny Tim’s medical costs.

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released A Christmas Carol (1938) on December 16, 1938. Edwin L. Marin directed the film starring Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, and Kathleen Lockhart.

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