A Christmas Carol (lost silent film adaptation of Charles Dickens novella; 1908)

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The cover to a 1908 edition of the A Christmas Carol novella.

Status: Lost

A Christmas Carol is a 1908 silent film directed by and starring Thomas Ricketts that was an adaptation of the 1843 Charles Dickens novella of the same name. The film was produced and distributed by Chicago-based production company Essanay Studios and was the first American-made film adaptation of the novella as a whole.


A plot synopsis for the film was provided in the December 5th, 1908 issue of the American film magazine The Moving Picture World, and from the information that is given, the film seems to have been a somewhat accurate adaptation of the novella, though with some key differences (notably combining the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come into a single entity).

The film focuses on Ebeneezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who strikes a young beggar to the ground on the way to work at his counting house, whereupon a spirit appears and warns Scrooge that the beggar will appear again that night. The beggar briefly materializes before Scrooge as he enters the counting house, before disappearing again. Scrooge's nephew Fred announces that he has just gotten married, and he and fellow employee Bob Cratchett beg Scrooge for a Christmas holiday off of work, which he eventually allows. The spirit reappears and leads Scrooge out into the street, where a crowd has formed around a man passing out money to the children around him. The spirit encourages Scrooge to try and speak to the crowd, but he is shunned and driven away by them.

The spirit leads Scrooge home, where he finds the beggar warming himself by the fire. Scrooge attempts to strike the beggar in anger, but the beggar changes forms into that of Scrooge's deceased partner, much to Scrooge's horror. Scrooge stares into the fire, and, to his distress, sees a vision of his childhood. The spirit tells Scrooge to keep looking into the fire, whereupon Scrooge sees visions of his former lover and of himself as a young businessman.

Although he is thoroughly overcome and exhausted by the experience, Scrooge is led by the spirit to the home of the Cratchetts, where he sees their meagre living conditions firsthand. At the spirit's command, Scrooge showers the family with money before being led away. The spirit brings Scrooge to Fred's house, where a party is in full swing. Fred proposes a toast to Scrooge, but the guests refuse to take part. Scrooge witnesses this from afar, and comes forward and similarly showers the guests with money, promising to change his ways and live a better life. Scrooge is returned home and falls to his knees in prayer. The next morning is Christmas day, and Scrooge organizes a massive banquet in his house for all his friends, including Fred and the Cratchetts, with Scrooge promising that in future he will live to achieve the happiness of others.[1]

Release and Availability

The film was released on December 9th, 1908, and received mostly positive reviews from critics of the time, with a review in the January 1909 edition of American magazine The Nickelodeon calling the film a "serious-comic Christmas story in ten elaborate scenes", and a review from the January 2nd, 1909 edition of The Moving Picture World stating that “It is impossible to praise this film too highly. It reproduces the story as closely as it is possible to do in a film and the technical excellence of the work cannot be questioned"[2] (though an earlier review in the magazine from December 12th, 1908 was less enthusiastic, calling the film “An effort at some high-class work, but in which the details lack some care").[3]

The film has since been rendered entirely lost, as film preservation during the silent film era was something that was not often partaken in, with film reels that were no longer in use often being thrown away or destroyed in order to make room for new ones, resulting in countless films of legitimate historical value being lost forever (with Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation estimating that over 90% of American films produced before 1929 experienced this fate).[4] No footage, stills, or promotional material from the film have surfaced over a century since its release, and while YouTube videos will occasionally appear that claim to feature the film, these have all invariably been mislabeled uploads of other silent Christmas Carol adaptations that can easily be found online.

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