Classic Cinema #38: A Christmas Carol (1938) – By Jason S. Lockard

My name is Jason S. Lockard and I love Charles Dickens novelette, A Christmas Carol. I love the films and have almost every version on DVD, but my favorite of all of them without a doubt is 1938’s version featuring Star of the Month Reginald Owen.

John Reginald Owen was born on August 5th 1887. Owen studied acting at Sir Herbert Tree’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made his professional debut in 1905. He came to the United States in 1920 and began working on the stage on Broadway, but soon caught the eye of Hollywood and moved there.

Reginald Owen had a lengthy career in many MGM productions he even play the legendary Sherlock Holmes in 1933’s A Study in Scarlet. Just a short five years after he stared as the legendary Sherlock Holmes; Owen would star as the legendary Scrooge in our film A Christmas Carol.

MGM studios went into pre-production intended to star Lionel Barrymore to portray Ebenezer Scrooge, simply because he played the role on radio every Christmas, but Barrymore had to drop out because of crippling arthritis, so the role went to Reginald Owen.

Ebenezer Scrooge is an elderly miser, who doesn’t care for Christmas or for the spirit of giving. He doesn’t even pay his clerk Bob Cratchit [Gene Lockhart] a livable wage yet The Cratchits take the meager amount and enjoy the blessed time of the year, for they realize it’s more than about gifts and a tree.

When Ebenezer arrives to his home he is visited by his former partner Jacob Marley bound in chains who informs him he has one chance of escaping his fate. He will be visited by 3 spirits, The Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future! Jacob leaves and Scrooge goes to bed thinking he had a hallucination.

At the strike of 1 AM it begins and the ghosts come and show Ebenezer his past, present and his grim future unless he changes his ways. When he awakes in his bed, he realizes he is not dead and finds out he hasn’t missed Christmas the change begins. "Scrooge was true to his word."

While this version is not completely true to Dickens’s novelette. Many of the grimmer aspects of the film were left out to make this film family-friendly, but the spirit of Dickens’s story lives on in this film.

While some find Reginald Owen’s portrayal of Scrooge lacking especially in comparison to Alastir Sims’ 1951 version what makes this film stand out is the work of The Lockharts portrayal of Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit. In 1988 MGM released for the 50th anniversary a colorized version of this classic.

Later in his career Owen would move to the small screen and appeared opposite James Garner in the television series Maverick in the episodes "The Belcastle Brand" and "Gun-Shy". He even guest stared on the series "One Step Beyond". In the 60’s Owen would go back to the silver screen in Walt Disney’s productions of Mary Poppins (1964) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). He also had a small role in the 1962 Irwin Allen production of the Jules Verne novel "Five Weeks in a Balloon".

On November 5th 1972 Reginald Owen died from a heart attack at the aged of 85 in Boise, Idaho. He was laid to rest in Boise’s Morris Hill Cemetery. Reginald Owen a great actor, and in my humble opionon a great Scrooge.

Until next time this is Jason S. Lockard reminding you if you want to see a good movie, check out a classic!

Moral Rating: Nothing offensive
Audience: All Audiences
Genre: Drama
Length: 69 min.
Released: 1938
Our Rating: A-