“Scrooged” is one of those Christmas films that I liked when I first saw it on HBO years ago, but haven’t watched in a good deal of time, so I decided to revisit it. The film is a modernized version of the Charles Dickens classic. “A Christmas Carol,” which was first published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843. BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) portrays the cold hearted Frank Cross. He is the modern day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. In the film, his character, is a television executive at IBC Television, in charge of overseeing an ambitious live Christmas Eve airing of a “A Christmas Carol.” Cross is reminded of the importance of the production going off without a flaw by IBC Television’s Chief Executive Officer, Preston Rhinelander, a small role played by Golden Globe winner Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter). Rhinelander has lost confidence in Cross and has brought in Brice Cummings, played by five time Emmy nominee John Glover (Smallville), to oversee his progress.
Cross fearing for his job, begins to act like a tyrant on set. The viewer will not need long to ascertain, that Cross is someone, who is not imbued with the holiday spirit; he is truly interested in profit over people, making work the focal point of his existence. In the original Dickens story, Scrooge detested Christmas because it meant he lost income, conversely, Cross is as happy as a man like he can be, because he uses the holiday as a means of maximizing his bottom line. Amongst numerous mean spirited acts the viewer sees Cross commit: For disagreeing with him, he fires his timid employee, Eliot Loudermilk, played by ‘Bobcat’ Goldthwait (Maron); turns his back on Claire Phillips, the woman who loves him, portrayed by Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark), because she’s interested in helping the homeless, something he feels is a waste of time; and encourages his employees to up the violence factor to an outlandish degree in the promotional material for the beloved holiday classic.
During the film’s 101 minute runtime, in sticking with the structure of the Dickens story, Cross is first visited during the evening by his zombified, former mentor and business partner, Lew Hayward, portrayed by two time Golden Globe winner John Forsythe (Dynasty). Hayward, in the guise of Jacob Marley, informs Cross that he will be visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve, and indeed he is. Cross is visited by the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ played by David Johansen, the former lead singer of the “New York Dolls,” and the critically acclaimed “David Johansen Group.” Johansen, however, is perhaps best known, under the name Buster Poindexter for his hit song “Hot Hot Hot.” In the film, Johansen’s version of ‘The Ghost of Christmas Past’ is a cigar smoking, cab driver, whose magical checkered cab transports Cross back to 1955. In the role of the pink dress wearing, feisty and borderline insane, ‘The Ghost of Christmas Present’ is two time Emmy winner Carol Kane (Taxi); and the part of the ‘The Ghost of Christmas Future,’ whose face takes the shape of a television set, is acted by Chaz Conner (Meet the Hollowheads). The three ghosts combine in a more comedic manner, albeit cynical, to show Cross what a truly despicable person he’s turned into, and what a miserable existence he is living. Furthermore, they impart to him how his choices have negatively affected the people in his life, both past and present. For example, his current secretary, Grace Cooley, portrayed by Golden Globe and four time Emmy winner Alfre Woodard (Miss Evers’ Boys), is a single mother, taking care of her son, Calvin (Nicholas Phillips), who has never uttered a word. Cross learns via the ghost, that his task master mentality toward Grace, keeps her away from her special needs son. He also sees, however, that the little time they do spend together, there is more love and happiness that takes place between mother and son, than Cross has experienced himself in a long time.
Does Frank Cross learn from the errors of his ways? Will he have the same epiphany that all of the Ebenezer Scrooges have had throughout the stories recreations in various television, stage, and film productions? Could the film go in a different direction? Is it too late for Cross? Has he become so immersed in his quest for money and power that there is no turning back? All of the questions will be answered by the film’s conclusion.
“Scrooged” was directed by Richard Donner (Superman), and written for the screen by Emmy nominee Mitch Glazer (Magic City) and two time Emmy winner Michael o’ Donoghue (Saturday Night Live). The film premiered in Los Angeles, California on November 17, 1988. The score by two time Emmy winner Danny Elfman (Milk) helps to set the mood for what transpires on screen. Trivia buffs take note: Bill Murray has three brothers, Brian, Joel and John; all three of them appeared in the film. During one scene in the movie, Murray insults a group of street musicians, two of whom are played by four time Emmy nominee Paul Shaffer (A Very Murray Christmas), and Grammy award winner Miles Davis (Elevator to the Gallows). Comedian Sam Kinison was originally cast to play the part of ‘The Ghost of Christmas Past.’
I am glad I decided to re-watch “Scrooged.” I didn’t feel it necessary to get into an overabundance of specific plot points in this review. I’ll assume, which in general, I don’t like to do, but in this instance, I’ll assume most of you who are reading this post are familiar with the Dickens classic. For those of you who perhaps haven’t experienced “A Christmas Carol” yet, I recommend reading the story, and then watching the iconic 1951 film version starring BAFTA nominee Alastair Sim (Stage Fright), or my personal favorite of the different versions, the 1984 television movie starring Oscar winner George C. Scott (Patton).
Great review and very informative as always (I knew about Bill Murray’s brother Brian, who pops up in various things including ‘Groundhog Day’ but didn’t know about the other two!).
I’m a big Bill Murray fan so I always try and revisit this every couple of years around Christmas, I first saw it at quite a young age and sometime before I’d read the original Dickens story and the Alistair Sim film, which has to be the best (I have a soft spot for Disney’s 1984 ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ too). It’s a story that’s been endlessly adapted but ‘Scrooged’ provides a slightly different more screwball take on it,
Apparently Murray’s speech at the end wasn’t scripted…genius!
Thank you so very much for your kind compliment.
I also like the Disney film, and watched it a few days before Christmas.