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A Christmas Carol (1938)

Passed  -  Drama | Family | Fantasy  -  16 December 1938 (USA)
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On Christmas Eve, an old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the spirit of his former partner, Jacob Marley. The deceased partner was in his lifetime as mean and miserly as Scrooge ... See full summary »



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On Christmas Eve, an old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the spirit of his former partner, Jacob Marley. The deceased partner was in his lifetime as mean and miserly as Scrooge is now and he warns him to change his ways or face the consequences in the afterlife. Scrooge dismisses the apparition but the first of the three ghosts, the Ghost of Christmas Past, visits as promised. Scrooge sees those events in his past life, both happy and sad, that forged his character. The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, shows him how many currently celebrate Christmas. The Ghost of Christmas yet to Come shows him how he will be remembered once he is gone. To his delight, the spirits complete their visits in one night giving him the opportunity to mend his ways. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Greater than "David Copperfield" !


Drama | Family | Fantasy


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

16 December 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Although he seemed much older, Reginald Owen was only 4 years older than Gene Lockhart. See more »


Young Scrooge and Dick Wilkins talk to each other while closing up Fezziwig's warehouse, yet their lips do not move. See more »


Ebenezer Scrooge: [to Marley's ghost] We'll soon see how real you are.
[Calling out the window]
Ebenezer Scrooge: Watch! There's an intruder in my room!
Leader of watch: Right up, sir - law and order!
Jacob Marley's ghost: It was for your welfare that I made this visit, Ebenezer Scrooge.
[He disappears]
Leader of watch: [unable to find him] Your intruder seems to have extruded, if I may say so, sir.
Ebenezer Scrooge: He was here! He was a spirit!
Leader of watch: [laughing] Of course, sir! A fine night for spirits - of one form or another, sir!
See more »


Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
(1856) (uncredited)
Music by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1840)
Lyrics by Charles Wesley (1730)
Arranged by David Snell
Sung by an offscreen chorus during opening credits
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Entertaining version, though not faithful to novel
6 April 2006 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

We are tremendous enthusiasts of A Christmas Carol in our household and watch virtually all the versions each Christmas, including the modern 1984 George C. Scott and the 1999 Patrick Stewart. Our overall favorite, however, is the 1951 black & white classic with Alastair Sim, who absolutely IS Ebeneezer Scrooge, his conversion ringing the truest. (See my comments on these other films, if interested) This older 1938 version makes a delightful story with a fine, though Hollywood generated, atmosphere. Of course one could never expect in those days to see all the location filming or special effects available today.

Reginald Owen, with his stooped figure and awkward gait, makes a likely looking Scrooge. My main problem with this movie is that he simply repents far too early. Before the Spirit of Christmas Past has taken leave, this Scrooge regrets his past miserliness and is ready to give generously & make merry. What is the point of the other two Spirits?

In addition to Scrooge's totally premature conversion, however, this movie takes far too many liberties with the novel. To name but a few... First, during Marley's ghostly visit, Scrooge summons to his chambers a trio of police officers from the street below his window. Not only is this unfaithful to the book, but totally destroys the ghostly, eerie, haunted atmosphere of the spectre's visit and poor Scrooge's resulting terror.

This adaptation makes no mention whatsoever of the young apprentice Scrooge's sweetheart, Belle, or his tragically failed romance. It does depict his sister, Fan, as younger, in keeping with the novel ...unlike most versions, which erroneously portray her as older, and claim that Scrooge's mother died in childbirth when he was born. However, Fan is, frankly, an annoying little chatterbox here!

The nephew, Fred, is supposed to be married, but in this tale he is engaged to Bess, their marriage apparently contingent on an improvement in his financial prospects. Lots of fabricated scenes, with the pair sliding in front of a church. However, I can forgive all this as Fred is wonderfully jolly & hearty, true to the book. In fact, he's one of the best Freds.

Bob Cratchit is jolly & likable but a wee bit too plump for the role of the poor clerk! Also, there's a fabricated story here in which Scrooge sacks Bob altogether. Tiny Tim is cute but far too old for the role; he's practically as tall as his father. Mrs. Cratchit is convincing, except that she is actually the one who proposes a toast to Scrooge after their Christmas dinner...quite the opposite of the novel's Mrs. Cratchit, who must be coaxed and cajoled by Bob before deigning to lift her glass to the health of her long-suffering husband's oppressive, stingy employer. That being said, otherwise it's one of the better versions of the Cratchit family's dinner, the goose & pudding scenes all beautifully done.

The worst offense is a complete elimination of the 'morning after Christmas' office scene, in which Scrooge normally shows his newfound benevolence to the flabbergasted Bob. This is usually my favorite scene in the entire movie. In this version, Scrooge actually delivers his Christmas turkey to the Cratchits personally himself on Christmas Day, with nephew, Fred, and his fiancée, Bess, both in tow.

However, the Spirits are well depicted, Christmas Past a beautiful & ethereal young lady, Christmas Present a hearty & benevolent giant (who sprinkles from his torch the essence of Christmas cheer five times distilled), and Christmas Yet To Come the typical darkly shrouded & foreboding figure. It's all well intended and difficult to really ruin this wonderful story. For all its omissions, embellishments, and deviations, it still makes for entertaining and heartwarming holiday viewing.

26 of 30 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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did anyone prefer this version to the 1951 version? silverlining731
A little TOO cheery an adaptation? angmc43
Film Location tadams5
Where's Belle? ytrewq321
Some interesting notables about Scrooge's sister Fran EyeDunno
When Will This Be Aired This Year? lindsey-j-russell
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