Directed by Richard Donner
November 23, 1988
If you have seen any version of A Christmas Carol then you know what this movie’s plot is. This time though it is IBC Television president Frank Cross who has lost the Christmas spirit.
Scrooged is a genuinely funny movie that also has genuine heartfelt moments. You can view it in part as a commentary on the entertainment business. Frank (Bill Murray) is pushing a version of A Christmas Carol to be aired on Christmas Eve that is an international spectacle devoid of any actual Christmas spirit. It is ridiculously commercialized and the marketing that Frank uses is terrifying.
Scrooge lampoons the commercialization of Christmas in entertainment. In the film’s opening they feature a lineup of specials such as “Robert Goulet’s Cajun Christmas” actually featuring the singer in the brief clip and an action themed Christmas film set at the North Pole featuring Lee Majors as himself in “The Night the Reindeer Died.” But the Coup deGrasse is the aforementioned A Christmas Carol featuring cheesy stars like John Houseman, the Solid Gold Dancers, Buddy Hackett, gymnast Mary Lou Retton (as a somersaulting “Tiny Tim” Cratchit) and Jamie Farr.
Frank is a bit of a jerk that has prioritized his career in television to the point his relationship with his brother suffers and it even costs him a girlfriend. He treats his secretary Grace (Alfre Woodard) like a slave and even fires executive Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve for disagreeing with him during a meeting.
Karen Allen had a career high point in acting during the 80s. She was in so many good movies back then and here in the part of Claire is a high mark of that time. The chemistry between her and Murray is genuine. She is perfect as the purer than pure object of Frank’s affections that works at a local homeless shelter. She is too good to be real but through directing by Donner and Allen’s talent she does not come off as implausible or ridiculous.
This was an early role for John Glover as Brice Cummings. He went on to so many very good roles afterwards. He is an amazing actor and he is perfect as the suck up trying to take Frank’s job. He is all fake kindness and charm. He makes your skin crawl.
Obviously Frank is visited by the Three Ghosts of Christmas. They are:
- The Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen)-a cigar chomping cabbie that takes Frank to his miserable childhood as well as his first meeting with Claire all the way to the moment his decision to hang with his boss Lew Hayward (John Forsythe) kills the relationship.
- The Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane)-a clumsy and anger prone fairy who takes Frank to Grace’s apartment to show him what she is going through followed by visiting Frank’s brother James (Bill Murray’s real life brother John Murray) who still loves him before finally ending up in a utility space with a man from the homeless shelter named Herman (Michael J. Pollard) who is now frozen to death.
- The Ghost of Christmas Future-a Grim Reaper-like silent being that takes Frank to a miserable future where he dies unloved and Claire has become just like Frank.
The film fluctuates between mean in how Frank treats those around him as well as what others (mostly injuries while with the Ghost of Christmas Present) do to him and in events that occur to characters to the sentimental and sweet moments. Some may call that uneven but the darker things are front loaded in this film while sappier aspects come towards the end during or after Frank’s transformation. It is a dark comedy set at Christmas time after all. This helps to highlight Frank’s personal transformation.
Things are taken to the absurd here. Everything from the characters to the programming of the network is utterly ridiculous. And it works. It provides for some genuine humor juxtaposed with Frank’s emotional growth.
Despite serious gunplay and the appearance of the deceased Herman, the ending is uplifting. Frank’s speech, given after he and Eliot hijack the network broadcast and reportedly adlibbed by Murray, is sweet and moving. It is the perfect culmination to the story, and it is all capped off with the song “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” You will be moved by it.
Scrooged is a touching and darkly comedic Christmas classic. It is a beautifully produced film that really connects to the Holiday Season in a positive way. It is also one of the better variations on the Christmas Carol story. If you have not seen it treat yourself and do so. Watch it!