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Legacy Review

A Christmas Carol (1938)

Every Christmas Carol adaptation has its own personality trait, and this early Code-era rendition is just so damn cheery.

The film is only 68 minutes long, but about 10 of those are spent just watching the Cratchit family have a delightful Christmas dinner during the Christmas Present segment. And it works! I wanted to hop in the screen for a cup of punch with this charming family!

Meanwhile, nephew Fred and his fiancee have big movie star smiles and are exceptionally pleasant people. There’s truly no one less than lovable in this Christmas Carol.

Reginald Owen plays Scrooge as a surface-level curmudgeon, someone easily swept away to holiday whimsy and wonder. The film has stripped away almost all of Scrooge’s darkness and deeply held regrets: Belle, the lost love, is completely cut from the story; and Scrooge’s family history is less fraught. Owen makes for a shallow but amiable Scrooge, far from the worst outcome.

Maybe the biggest highlight of this adaptation is its excellent production quality. The black and white photography is tremendously sharp and clean; the sets are vivid and engaging; the sound design is rapturous and musical; the entire cast has Hollywood charisma. It’s just a big ol’ Christmas feast of studio system craft.

So where it might lack the deeper character work and passion of other adaptions, it ranks among the most watchable Christmas Carol films, and certainly the most cheerful I’ve seen.

Is It Good?

Very Good (6/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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