The second of my four recommended holiday movies brings us to Scrooged. Charles Dickens first wrote “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 and since then, there have been countless versions on both stage and screen. In this particular version, the story was updated for 1988 and Bill Murray.
The story follows Frank Cross, a very Scrooge-like President of the IBC television network. As his network is preparing to air a live version of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, he is forcing everyone to work on the holiday. He fires Eliot Loudermilk for daring to disagree and asking if they can go home, and refuses to give anyone Christmas bonuses; and sends everyone on his Christmas list a monogrammed towel. While he’s busy being a dick; his boss has hired Brice Cummings, a dude clearly after Frank’s job. Before the show is scheduled to start, Frank has an encounter with the ghost of his mentor, who of course, warns him that he will be visited by three spirits.
The first of the spirits – the Ghost of Christmas Past - takes Frank back to his childhood in 1955. His father was cold, and Frank fell in love with TV. Then they head to 1969 to see Frank meet Claire, and as he slowly rises in his career, how badly he began to treat her. When Frank pops back into the present, he heads down to visit Claire, but reverts back to his terrible self, telling her that she is letting her life pass her by and she should only care about herself.
After blowing that encounter, Frank heads back to the studio – double checking the final preparations when the Ghost of Christmas Present arrives as a violent fairy-type. She shows Frank how his assistant Grace has been struggling to take care of her family because of the hours Frank makes her work. Her son, Calvin, is mute, and has been since the death of his father. They also get the chance to see Frank’s brother James who still invites Frank to come every year, even though he never does. After witnessing all this, Frank is starting to go a little crazy, so his boss puts Brice in charge.
Eliot, returns to shoot Frank for ruining his life and while Frank tries to hide in an elevator, he runs right into the Ghost of Christmas Future, who, like in all previous versions – is mostly terrifying. Here, it’s a huge cloaked skeleton with tortured souls trapped inside and a TV for a head. The ghost shows him that his current path will result in him dying alone and unloved. Terrified, he snaps back to the present, rehiring Eliot immediately. Frank goes on camera during the live show to apologize to Claire and James, and to basically everyone. Claire, witnessing this epiphany on TV, rushes to the studio to see Frank, just in time for Calvin to speak and everyone to break into song.
The movie is directed by Richard Donner, yes, the same Richard Donner who did Superman. The story is predictable, because it is the classic version, just updated. But that doesn’t make it any less chaming, or relatable. After being shown the error of his ways, Frank is reminded that it is not too late to make a change for the better – and that is a moral that will never go out of style. The movie is really funny, but does have some genuine frightening moments in it with the Ghosts and especially the casket sequence.
- Bill Murray is the perfect choice for this role, taking the snarky self-involved character he had perfected prior to this and elevating it just enough to make him unbearable. That makes the transformation after the evening of ghosts even more meaningful.
- Karen Allen (yes, Lois) plays Claire, and straightforward and calm to Murray’s crazy.
- Jon Forsythe plays Frank’s mentor Lew, who tries to warn Frank about his ways, as they have affected Lew in his own afterlife.
- John Glover (who would eventually be Lionel Luthor on Smallville) plays Brice Cummings, the up-and-comer who tries to take Frank's job.
- Alfre Woodard plays Grace, Frank’s overworked and underappreciated assistant.
- Bobcat Goldthwait plays Eliot – working his particular brand of crazy into a specific crazy that would attempt to kill the boss who fired him on Christmas Eve.
- David Johansen plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, and drives his cab all over Frank's memories.
- Carol Kane plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, and is surprisingly violent for a fairy-type creature.
- Robert Mitchum plays the station president.
- John Murray plays Frank’s brother James and Wendie Malick plays his wife Wendie, while Brian Doyle-Murray plays their father.
Overall, the movie holds up because Dickens wrote a great story and because of the fabulous cast and entertaining circumstances. If you haven’t seen it in a while, be sure to check it out this holiday season.
8 out of 10