12 Films of Christmas #10: Scrooged

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Scrooged (1988)

All right, so I’ve commented on my disdain for A Christmas Carol adaptations, and yet here we are at entry number 10 and I’m already writing about a second such adaptation. There will be no more, but it does seem crazy. That’s because I can’t separate my dislike of A Christmas Carol from my love of Bill Murray.

I may sound like an elitist teen with this one, but I loved Bill Murray before it was cool, damnit! I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a fondness for the guy. I’m too young to have grown up with him on Saturday Night Live and I experienced Caddyshack well after its release. If I had to guess, the first movie I saw with Murray must have been Ghostbusters, which I assume is true for most men my age. Peter Venkman was my favorite character in that movie, but I don’t know if that was because of the character or if it was simply because that was my favorite Ghostbuster from The Real Ghostbusters animated series, which I was exposed to before the film. Either way, I probably would have liked Venkman the most because that’s really what the film is going for. I would love Murray in just about any role he played to the point where it seems impossible to conceive that there are people who don’t like Bill Murray. Everyone must love Bill Murray!

All that being said, Scrooged does test my love of Murray. There are moments in Scrooged where Murray is as unlikable as he could possibly be. He’s essentially playing Ebenezer Scrooge in this film, even if his character goes by another name (Frank), so we’re not supposed to like him, but Murray’s approach to the character is just so abrasive at times it makes me hate the man. He changes on a dime, will get real loud for no reason, and it’s pretty incredible that anyone is still around by the time the picture concludes to embrace him during his redemption arc. I’m also left to wonder if his character just went back to being an asshole on Boxing Day, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me.

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Few product placements scream “Eighties!” louder than a can of Tab.

Richard Donner directed this one and it seems his goal was to really take the Scrooge character and modernize him. Not only did this mean giving Scrooge a reason to exist in 1980’s society, but making him appropriately hateable in a world where horrible people are routinely featured on television. To do so, the character of Frank Cross really had to be amplified to ridiculous levels to make him seem despicable enough. The film spends so much time on him that it really has little room for the Cratchit character, Frank’s secretary Grace (Alfre Woodard). The ending sequence where Frank comes to embody the spirit of the season is also just as over the top as Frank’s scenes of misery. The presentation is so uneven and jarring that it’s hard to take at face value.

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Johansen apparently landed this role through his friendship with Murray. Does that mean Murray is a fan of the New York Dolls?

Despite all of that, Scrooged is made worthwhile through its humor and special effects. Even though Murray’s portrayal of Frank is hard to like, it doesn’t mean it isn’t funny. It’s dark humor, which helps elevate the film above the usual Christmas fair. Other comedies have improved on this approach, but it doesn’t render Scrooged dated. The visual effects have also held up really well. They’re mostly practical effects, with the makeup for Frank’s old boss Lew Hayward (John Forsythe), playing the Jacob Marley character, being the best. David Johansen is a scene-stealer as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Karen Allen is her usual sweet, likable self as Claire, Frank’s old love.

If you want to read more about Scrooged, I did a full write-up on the film a few years ago. Feel free to peruse it and see if I contradicted myself in some way or if my opinion has changed at all. We only have one Bill Murray Christmas movie, and we must treasure it, warts and all.

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