Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Radio Theater: Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles in A Christmas Carol (12/24/1939)

I wrote this blog post to participate in The Sixth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. 

A Christmas Carol

Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Frank Readick, Erskine Sanford, George Coulouris, Ray Collins, Georgia Backus, Bea Benaderet, and Edgar Barrier

Aired: December 24, 1939

My Rating★★★

In all the world, there is no story I love better than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I collect different and unique print copies of the book, have watched countless versions so long as they preserve the spiritual and social message of Dickens, and have tracked down many different radio dramas and narrations performed throughout the years.

But my favorite radio version, by far, aired on December 24th, 1939, and stars the superlative Lionel Barrymore in the role of Scrooge, with Orson Welles as the narrator.

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

There is a radiant nostalgia in this particular performance. Orson Welles has always been and will always be my favorite radio theater performer, and so I know I have a lot to thank him for in regards to this version. But there is nothing like Lionel Barrymore's performance. Orson actually played Scrooge in the 1938 production of A Christmas Carol, and I like that version as well, but just as I feel that Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson were meant to perform as Holmes and Watson in their radio series, so too was Lionel Barrymore born to play Scrooge.

Lionel's performance helps the listener see the events as they happen. He sells the idea of ghostly apparitions and heartfelt grief over memories and choices made in the past, and his fear of the future. Two years ago, my father and I sat in front of the fireplace in the living room and just listened to this play, completely ensconced in the world of Charles Dickens. That takes not only a magnificent author like Charles Dickens, and a magnificent narrator like Orson Welles, but a superior performer like Lionel Barrymore for Scrooge.

The briefest segment is with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, chopping out the scenes with Scrooge's business partners and the characters who stole from "Scrooge's" corpse. It's an unfortunate omission, but they couldn't fit everything into the production and squeeze it into an hour. Overall, the story itself preserves all of the spiritual and supernatural elements that make up A Christmas Carol. It's a stunning representation of redemption and proof that a person can change and be someone else, a fact I have always and will always believe, but is important to be reminded of sometimes in literature.

A Christmas Carol aired over the American airwaves as a Christmas gift from the Campbell Soup Company to their buyers and listeners eighty-one years ago. And we have the blessed opportunity to listen to it today. What a miraculous job of preservation, and I extend a heartfelt thanks to Campbell Soup for this beautiful production of A Christmas Carol.

I wrote this blog post to participate in The Sixth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Please click the link or the photo below to read the posts by the other participants.

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