Scrooged (1988)

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A modern retelling of A Christmas Carol, Scrooged is a film as fondly remembered for the many enjoyable comedy moments as it is also dismissed for the overdose of schmaltz that fills up the grand finale. But this is A Christmas Carol, a tale that does have moments of schmaltz, especially at the end, so I don’t hold those moments against the movie as most people do. Though they still make me cringe slightly.

Bill Murray stars as Frank Cross, a cynical and selfish big cheese in the world of TV. Christmas, to Frank, is all about getting people glued to their screens and making lots and lots of money from ad revenue. The jewel in the TV station crown for the holiday season will be a huge TV adaptation of  Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” – titled “Scrooge” by the studio. It’s a big, big job and one with a lot depending on it – so much, in fact, that Frank even asks if false antlers can be stapled on mice when adhesives don’t work. He’s that kind of guy. The polar opposite of the woman he was in love with for most of his life (Claire, played by Karen Allen), a woman who spends her Christmas time looking after the hungry and homeless. Frank is also the polar opposite of his fantastic secretary, Grace (Alfre Woodard), a woman who struggles to get by on her wage while looking after her family and getting extra care for one of her children who hasn’t spoken since witnessing a tragedy some years ago. Yep, basically you have a Scrooge, a Bob Cratchit (though Bob is a woman in this version) and a Tiny Tim figure. Which means you get ghosts. First of all, Frank is visited by his old boss and forewarned of the events that will unfold later on. Then we get a gruff cabbie as The Ghost Of Christmas Past (David Johansen), a violent fairy as The Ghost Of Christmas Present (Carol Kane) and the standard, scary and inhuman Ghost Of Christmas Future.

Scrooged starts off brilliantly. There’s a hilarious selection of TV programming shown, with the best featuring a guest appearance by Lee Majors, and a number of great lines in a script sharply updating the traditional Christmas tale. The middle section isn’t too bad either, though it starts to falter here and there and the edge is certainly dulled compared to the great first act. Then the ending still fits in a few laughs but nosedives terribly in a grand finale that forces people to swallow a spoonful of brandy-coated mistletoe.

Richard Donner directs the movie and does a fine job, working with a decent script by Michael O’Donoghue and Mitch Glazer, but the movie is really boosted by the performances of almost everyone onscreen. Murray gets to give the kind of deadpan, hangdog, comedy performance that he excels at (in a way it’s ironic that this supernatural time-twisting comedy leading a man toward his own redemption is almost a precursor to the superior Groundhog Day, itself a film perhaps more than a little influenced by the core of the Dickens tale). Karen Allen is adorable so believing that Frank Cross could have been in love with her is no problem. Alfre Woodard is fantastic, Bobcat Goldthwait is hilarious, Robert Mitchum also provides some laughs and John Forsythe and John Glover remind you of why they’re always great to see onscreen. As for David Johansen and Carol Kane in their ghostly roles, both are very different and also very entertaining (with Kane edging ahead thanks to her sweetness and light manner mixed with intermittent violence). John Murray is just fine as James Cross, the cheery brother to Frank, Wendie Malick is also fine as Wendie Cross (wife of James) and it’s always nice to see even small roles for people like Michael J. Pollard and the memorable Anne Ramsey.

It’s a shame that this couldn’t have been polished and tweaked at every point to make it the potentially superb modern adaptation of the tale that it could have been but, as it stands, Scrooged remains 75% excellent and 25% sickening, which completely justifies my rating.

DIRECTOR: RICHARD DONNER
WRITER: MITCH GLAZER, MICHAEL O’DONOGHUE, BASED ON “a CHRISTMAS CAROL” BY CHARLES DICKENS
STARS: BILL MURRAY, KAREN ALLEN, JOHN FORSYTHE, JOHN GLOVER, BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT, DAVID JOHANSEN, CAROL KANE, ALFRE WOODARD, ROBERT MITCHUM, BUDDY HACKETT
RUNTIME: 101 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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