A Christmas Carol is a 1938 American film adaptation of Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella of the same name, starring Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who learns the error of his ways on Christmas Eve after visitations by three spirits.
On Christmas Eve in 19th-century London, Fred is sliding on ice on a sidewalk. He meets Peter and Tim Cratchit, sons of his uncle Ebenezer’s clerk, Bob Cratchit. When Fred reveals who he is, the boys take off in terror. Fred soon arrives at the counting-house of his miserly maternal uncle, Ebenezer Scrooge. After declining an invitation from his nephew to dine with him on Christmas, Scrooge dismisses two gentlemen collecting money for charity. That night, Scrooge reluctantly allows his employee Bob Cratchit to have Christmas off with pay but orders him back all the earlier the day after. Later Bob accidentally knocks off Scrooge’s hat with a snowball. Scrooge fires Bob and withholds a week’s pay to compensate for his ruined hat, also demanding a shilling to make up the difference. Bob spends the last of his wages on food for his family’s Christmas dinner.
In his house, Scrooge is confronted by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns Scrooge to repent his wicked ways or he will be condemned in the afterlife as Marley was. He tells Scrooge he will be haunted by three spirits.
At one o’clock, Scrooge is visited by the youthful Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes him back in time to his early life. Scrooge is shown his unhappiness when he was left to spend the holidays alone at school, and his joy when his sister, Fran, came to take him home for Christmas. The spirit reminds Scrooge that Fran, dead for some years, is the mother of his nephew. Scrooge is shown his early career in business and money lending as an employee under Fezziwig.
At two o’clock, Scrooge meets the merry Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows Scrooge how others keep Christmas. At a church service, Fred and his fiancée, Bess, are seen as happy and in love. The couple must wait to marry because of Fred’s financial circumstances, and the spirit observes that perhaps they will not marry at all and their love may end, just as Scrooge lost his fiancée in his youth. Scrooge is then shown the Cratchit home. Despite wearing a cheery manner for his family’s sake, Bob is deeply troubled by the loss of his job, though he confides in no one except his daughter Martha. The spirit hints that Bob’s youngest son, Tim, will die of a crippling illness by the same time next year if things do not change.
At three o’clock, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives, appearing as a silent, cloaked figure. The spirit shows Scrooge what will happen if he does not change. Scrooge discovers Tiny Tim is dead and his family mourns for him. Scrooge also discovers that his own death will not be mourned. Scrooge promises to repent and returns home.
Awakening in his own bed on Christmas Day, Scrooge is a changed man. He orders a boy in the street to buy a turkey for him, meaning to take it to the Cratchits. Running into the two men who petitioned him for charity the evening before, Scrooge gives a large donation. He visits Fred and makes him his new partner, then goes to the Cratchit house where he rehires Bob and increases his wages.