Before Mel Gibson played the not so Jolly Saint Nick in Fatman there was another modern take on Christmas with Bill Murray playing the main character of Ebenezer Scrooge (Frank Cross) in Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol.
The Dickens classic has been adapted for the big screen multiple times over the years, but mostly stuck to the main themes of the story. Then Richard Donner (Superman/Lethal Weapon series) took the helm in 1988 with a modern day take on Ebenezer Scrooge in a story written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue and the guy who made us believe a man could fly made us believe a man could change.
The themes from the Dickens classic are all here from the effects of isolation, to the importance of love and understanding, and the chance for redemption. Except this time, they are brought into the 20th century. Hard to believe it has been over thirty years since this movie was made. Given the number of times the story has been remade, it might be a great time to revisit it, but can anyone do a better job than Donner and Murray did with Scrooged?
It seems most fitting in 2020 to revisit Dickens’ classic themes. The story is the same, a self-consumed evil boss, in this adaptation a TV executive played by Murray, tortures his assistant portrayed by Alfre Woodard with constant demands. In a Shakespearean twist using story telling of a play within a play, Cross has the entire office on edge while producing a made for television version of none other than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. To be broadcast live on Christmas Eve, Cross makes the entire staff work overtime on the production.
Hopefully you’ve seen Scrooged by now since the television networks play it annually along with other holiday classics including It’s A Wonderful Life. Instead of telling you the story again we’ll simply point out some of our favorite moments from the film.
Starting with Frank Cross’ much admired boss, another hard-nosed workaholic who died young, played by an almost unrecognizable John Forsythe (maybe it’s the mouse crawling around his head). Forsythe’s character, Lew Hayward, warns Cross he must change his ways and treat people better or he too will find himself in an early grave. He then tells Cross he’ll be visited by three ghosts and to pay close attention to their messages if he hopes to find redemption.
In a twist from the Dickens novel, Cross emerges from each ghostly visit with thoughts of his longtime girlfriend Claire, played by Karen Allen, discovering how he put her second to his career.
The best parts of Scrooged are the way they modernize the ghosts and scenarios they take Frank on. In Christmas past he sees himself as a boy hoping for a present from his dad, played by older brother Brian Doyle Murray. Instead of getting what he wanted his father, a butcher, gives him a couple of fresh cut pork chops. In another vision he sees his brother, played by Murray’s other real life brother John, receive a state-of-the-art VCR (it’s 1988) rather than a towel Cross instructed his assistant to send him. Each time Frank returns from a visitation and reaches out for Claire, he finds her busy volunteering, helping the less fortunate, and dropping everything to be with him despite not hearing from him for years.
During Frank’s final dream sequence, he experiences his own lonely death visited only by his younger brother. We also discover Claire finally took Frank’s advice to ditch the strangers she’d been caring for and focus on her own needs.
When checking IMDB to gather names and dates, it was shocking to see critics score this on average at 25%. Famous critic Roger Ebert writing “It was obviously intended as a comedy, but there is little comic about it, and indeed the movie’s overriding emotions seem to be pain and anger.” We disagree and find the film to be funnier with each passing year. Even the way classic lines such as “Bah Humbug” are delivered by Murray is so well done we cannot imagine it being handled any other way.
And no mention of Scrooged would be complete without acknowledging one of the funnier cameos in the film by legendary comedian Buddy Hackett. In what could have been a throwaway scene, Hackett delivers a hilarious line as Scrooge in Cross’ television production of A Christmas Carol while flipping a coin to a boy on the street below asking him to fetch the “finest goose in all of London”.
If Scrooged is not already part of your Christmas rotation, stop being a blockhead and make this the year you add it to the rotation between The Grinch and A Charlie Brown Christmas. We’d love to cover this classic in a podcast episode, but there’s already less than 25 days until Christmas and we have other films making our list this year!