Christmas Movies

Movie Review: Scrooged – A Twisted, Sarcastic, Semi-Modern Take on a Christmas Classic

Written by Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue, and Charles Dickens
Directed by Richard Donner

A few weeks before Christmas last year, I went to the store and looked at the newest releases on blu-ray. My thoughts were “Do I really need to buy these?” There was actually nothing there that really appealed to me in the flurry of pre-Christmas released DVDs.

Yet when I happened to catch the tail-end of Scrooged on television, I had the immediate need to go out and find the blu-ray. To me, it was a classic that I needed to view and have around for the next holiday season to watch with my family.

Why is a more than forty-year-old film more enticing than the newest releases, despite such dated references as West Berlin, the Solid Gold Dancers, Mary Lou Retton, TAB, and more? There’s something timeless in much of the comedy which still brings a smile to my face. Bill Murray has always been one of my favorites and his comedic pacing is excellent in a sharp, dark way.

Bill Murray is Frank Cross, a television executive who sees Christmas as nothing more than a way to grab more ratings for his network. On Christmas Eve he fires an executive (Bobcat Goldthwait) who dares to question the commercial Cross has created for the network’s presentation of “Scrooge”. To him, it’s a game. He doesn’t see the man – or any of the people he works with – as human beings but more like subjects he can spar with and not have to worry about the consequences of his actions.

Cross becomes the Ebenezer Scrooge of the film, visited by three ghosts who show his life in the past, present, and future. He sees a past girlfriend, his brother and wife, his secretary, and a variety of people he has known throughout the years.

Bill Murray is an excellent actor in the role. He’s different from the affable cut-up roles he’s played in the past. There’s something sinister going on with him at the beginning of the movie. It’s almost believable that this is the evolution of some of the previous characters he’s portrayed, caught up in the dog-eat-dog corporate world.

The dark edge to the film is really what makes it great. In sharp contrast to sappy movies like It’s A Wonderful Life or Elf, Scrooged has a darker side. Cross is not a nice man and doesn’t appear to have any redeeming qualities at the beginning of the film, wallowing in greed and using bullying tones and sarcasm to get his way.

Alfre Woodard is terrific as his long-suffering secretary. I had to wonder why she’s taken Cross’ garbage all these years since he doesn’t seem to even regard her as enough of a human being to have realized that she lost her husband a few years back. She’s nothing to him and yet she tries to run interference for him and help his career, all the while being treated like dirt. Woodard does a good job with the role as she tries to balance a career and raising a family, especially when her son takes on the role of the story’s “Tiny Tim” and we see that she has a great sense of morality. She has good times with her family, even when they dress “Tiny Tim” up as the tree and plug him in. It’s a moment that could have ended in an argument and she sees the humor in it.

Karen Allen is Cross’ do-gooder ex-girlfriend whom he hasn’t seen in fifteen years. They are a complete contrast to each other. Claire has a heart of gold and runs a homeless shelter. She may be too much of a goody-goody in some ways, but in the sequences with Cross during “Christmas past” it’s evident that she brought out the humanity in him. His own selfishness drove her away and drove out his humanity. This is the first time there’s a clue in the film that he’s ever thought of something beside ratings and getting ahead.

Murray’s brother John portrays his brother James here. Another brother, Brian Doyle-Murray makes an appearance like their father in a sequence in the past.

David Johansen is hysterical as a ghost of Christmas past – a cab driver. Many people under thirty won’t know the name from his glamour-rock days with the New York Dolls. Carol Kane is funny as the Ghost of Christmas Present in a ballerina costume as she and Murray spar. There’s a lot of slapstick comedy in their sequence, but the film never loses its dark edge. The Ghost of Christmas Future is a hideous incarnation of the spirit. Together these three really bolster the film and are quite memorable characters.

Even Bobcat Goldthwait is good here in the role as the man Cross fires the day before Christmas. He’s not so over-the-top in his routine the way he got later in his career. He’s just right with the squeaky voice and nerd-like antics that he fits the role in a comedic way.

The makeup effects are also excellent. Particularly when Cross’ long-dead boss comes back from the dead to warn him of the visitors who are about to come his way.

Director Richard Donner created a nicely paced film without too much sentimentality. Even the ending, while heading off for more sappy territory, has a dark edge to it as Goldthwait holds the control room hostage and sticks it to the up-and-coming executive who’s waiting in the wings to take over for Cross. Again, it’s a dark and funny part of the film that may not suit everyone. I thought it was hysterical.

Some people may object to some of the language in the film. Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present is a ballerina dancing in “The Ballbreaker Suite”. People are called bitch and words like god-damned are used. For us, it’s not a big deal, (words like this they hear on the playground and in movies better not be repeated in my presence) but to others, it might be a deterrent to anyone in the pre-teen set. It’s rated PG-13, so use your own judgment.

If you find yourself having to explain to your kids just who the “Solid Gold Dancers” are, that’s okay. Really.

And if you don’t know who the “Solid Gold Dancers” are, here’s a reference you whippersnapper:

5 replies »

  1. I’ve never seen this movie… and yes, I remember the Solid Gold Dancers… but that it’s dark perhaps reflects Dickens’ original, which is quite dark, sappiness notwithstanding. Most all the modern retellings overlook the original darkness.

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