A couple of years ago, in the first installment of this essay, I wrote about the plot devices that were added in the 1951 and 1984 movie versions that weren’t written in Dickens’ novella. And those two versions are my favorites. The actors playing Scrooge in each case do a memorable job with the part. And the productions are very good.
There are several other versions that I have watched several times. There is a musical version with Albert Finney as Scrooge which has its points. And the 1938 movie with Reginald Owens as Scrooge is acceptable. But I’ve never cared for his acting style in the part.
But recently a friend told me he regards the 1938 version as his favorite. Well, tastes differ so I just chalked it up to that. But when this came up again during a conversation I asked if he thought Owens was the better Scrooge. He said no. What he liked about the 1938 version was the greater screen time given to the Cratchit family. He thought that Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit and the rest of the family made the movie.
Since I had never analyzed the movie in that sense, I decided to give it another viewing. In the 1938 version Gene Lockhart’s wife Kathleen plays Mrs. Cratchit and his daughter June Lockhart played Belinda Cratchit, one of the daughters. Watching the various scenes they are in, it’s apparent that the Cratchit component of the story has been amplified. The Christmas dinner scene is quite long and includes much more detail than any of the other versions. And several other additional scenes involve Bob, Tim or Peter Cratchit interacting with either Scrooge or his nephew Fred.
And I noticed that Scrooge’s part had also been modified in this version. Instead of the Ghost of Christmas Past bringing Scrooge to see his corruption by money he stops the ghost after the earlier Fezziwig scene. Considered in the sense of time on the screen, the Cratchits are actually a larger part of the movie than Scrooge. I think that is why someone might prefer this version. It minimizes the amount of time spent with Scrooge. So, if you aren’t primarily interested in Scrooge’s transformation then this would be the version that you would be drawn to.
Looked at in that light I understand the opinion. But even though I will admit that the Cratchit family scenes in this version are attractive and enjoyable I have to go back to the story of Scrooge. That is the center of the story and the reason for the action.
But it does bring up another trivia question. Which is the best Cratchit family? The most pitiable Tiny Tim is the one in the 1984 version. He looks like he may keel over at any moment. But for the rest of the Cratchit family including Bob I’d pick the ones in the 1951 version. They seem the most authentic.
One thing that I notice is that no matter how many times I watch the various versions of A Christmas Carol I’m still affected by the emotions. The Cratchits’ sorrow over Tim and Scrooge’s contrition and almost manic joy at being given a second chance always warm my heart. Obviously, I’m over-sentimental and probably associate the feelings I felt when seeing these movies in my youth. But whatever the reason they still work after all these years. This is a tribute to Dickens’ genius but also to the culture that honored the humanity embedded in the Christmas spirit. Peace on Earth, good will to men. Or as Tiny Tim says, “God bless us all, everyone.