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A Christmas Carol (1938)

Not Rated | | Drama, Family, Fantasy | 16 December 1938 (USA)
2:44 | Trailer

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In 1 theater near Ashburn VA US [change]

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 »


Edwin L. Marin


Charles Dickens (novel), Hugo Butler (screen play)
1,056 ( 2,632)



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Complete credited cast:
Reginald Owen ... Ebenezer Scrooge
Gene Lockhart ... Bob Cratchit
Kathleen Lockhart ... Mrs. Cratchit
Terry Kilburn ... Tiny Tim
Barry MacKay ... Fred (as Barry Mackay)
Lynne Carver ... Bess
Leo G. Carroll ... Marley's Ghost
Lionel Braham Lionel Braham ... Spirit of Christmas Present
Ann Rutherford ... Spirit of Christmas Past
D'Arcy Corrigan D'Arcy Corrigan ... Spirit of Christmas Future
Ronald Sinclair ... Young Scrooge


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


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

16 December 1938 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Lionel Barrymore was originally set to play Scrooge, but had to back out due to illness. Barrymore instead suggested his friend Reginald Owen take over the role. Barrymore did not perform the radio version of "A Christmas Carol" in 1938 so that it would not interfere with the success of the picture, and he appeared in a special trailer for it called A Fireside Chat with Lionel Barrymore (1938), which was produced by Frank Whitbeck and directed by Edwin L. Marin. See more »


The voice-over at the beginning of the film announces that this story takes place over a hundred years ago. Dickens wrote and published the novel in 1843, which is less than a hundred years from 1938. See more »


Ebenezer Scrooge: Please let me stay!
Spirit of Christmas Present: Nonsense! You don't want to stay!
Ebenezer Scrooge: Yes, I do!
Spirit of Christmas Present: No! You don't like Christmas!
Ebenezer Scrooge: Yes! Yes I do! I like Christmas! I LOVE Christmas!
See more »

Alternate Versions

Also available in a computer colorized version. See more »


Version of A Christmas Carol (1923) See more »


Adeste Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful)
Music attributed to John Reading (16??)
English lyrics by Frederick Oakeley and John Francis Wade
Played on an organ and sung at church by Gene Lockhart, Terry Kilburn, Barry MacKay,
Lynne Carver, St. Luke's Episcopal Church Choristers and parishioners
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Entertaining version, though not faithful to novel
6 April 2006 | by roghacheSee 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.

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