A Christmas Carol
Enlighten, Rs 399
Rating: *** half
First released in 1938, this is the earliest screen version of the Charles Dickens classic — so we’ll treat it with the gentility reserved for elders.
As the first screen Scrooge, character actor Reginald Owen couldn’t have known that he was starting a coveted line that would one day be taken up by worthies such as George C Scott, Pat Stewart, Michael Caine and Jim Carrey. So we’ll spare Owen the discomfiture of another visitation by the Spirit of Christmases Yet To Come. Let’s say that like the rest of the film, Owen’s Scrooge is slightly simplistic and theatrical. But then, that’s part of the charm of old black-and-whites, isn’t it?
This film hits the storyline when Scrooge’s Tony Blair-ish, smiling nephew Fred (played by the very Tony Blair-ish Barry Mackay) meets Scrooge’s only employee Bob Cratchit’s sons, Tim and Peter. Their fear of meeting the miserly old codger immediately establishes the who’s what of the plot. Gene Lockhart, as Bob, carries his podge portly and does a wonderful good-man act. And Owen succeeds in negotiating the three spirits in the night of his ‘reclamation’ with, um, aplomb. Pity there’s no Topper, Fred’s friend who’s infatuated in the story with “that plump sister in the lace tucker”.
Fewer people will watch this version than, say, the latest one in which Carrey is Scrooge; but those who do might just like this one better. We must also give an extra star to Enlighten, the DVD’s publisher,
for throwing Dickens’s book into the deal.